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The Career Column: I-O Psychology: An International Perspective

Lynn A. McFarland
                   George Mason University

We all know the world is becoming more interconnected, yet most Americans still seem to lack a general understanding of international developments. Speaking for myself, I recently realized how little I knew about I-O psychology in other countries. This point was made salient when I tried calling one of the interviewees for this article from my office. I learned my university prohibits faculty phone lines from making international calls. By the time I got home to call Neil Anderson, I was frantic because I was over a half-hour late. I later asked colleagues at other universities if the same was true for them. Several indicated they also cannot call internationally from the office. This says a lot about how U.S. academic institutions value international collaborations. 

To learn more about being an I-O psychologist outside the U.S., I spoke with some folks who could answer my questions: Were I-O psychologists in other countries dealing with similar practical issues? Were research paradigms the same? What professional issues must I-O psychologists in other countries consider? To shed light on these issues, I contacted five individuals who are international members of SIOP: Neil Anderson (University of Amsterdam), Helen Baron (independent consultant), Beryl Hesketh (University of Sydney), Filip Lievens (Ghent University), and Jesus Salgado (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela in Spain). Some of these individuals were also able to comment on what being an I-O psychologist is like in multiple countries. For instance, Neil is currently an expatriate because he is a native of the U.K. Helen went to graduate school in Israel and worked for SHL (a consulting firm operating globally) for several years and therefore has a broad perspective on I-O across cultures. Those interviewed indicated several similarities and differences between being an I-O psychologist in the U.S. versus other countries. 

Practice

The issues facing I-O practitioners vary tremendously from country to country. For instance, while employer litigation is prevalent in the U.S. and Australia, some countries are not overly burdened by these issues. Even in countries where selection practice is legally driven, the minority groups vary. For instance, in Northern Ireland I-O psychologists deal with the issue of fairness to religious groups. Selection practices must ensure fairness to all religious affiliations to avoid litigation. The minority groups in other countries also differ from those in the U.S. For instance in the U.K. Black is more likely to refer to someone of Afro-Caribbean origin and Asian to someone of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi extraction. Issues of privacy seem to be a major issue in Australia and Europe and unions are strong in many areas on both continents.

Further, Filip notes that in Europe diversity is becoming more important. Therefore, both researchers and practitioners are dealing with issues involved with a truly international workforce. 

Beyond the specific issues practitioners in other countries address, there is also the issue of where they are employed. While the U.S. government employs a substantial number of I-O psychologists, this is not the case in most of Europe. For instance, it was noted that in the U.K., very few I-O psychologists are employed by any level of the government. 

Research

In terms of research, there seems to be greater diversity in research prospective in Europe compared to the U.S. For instance, Filip noted that some countries (like Belgium) are similar to the U.S. in that they adhere to the positivistic and empirical research paradigm. This is not the case in other countries, which favor more process-oriented and qualitative research. Further, Neil suggests that theoretical work, particularly with respect to dissertations, is more favored in Europe. 

In terms of the journals researchers publish in, there is great overlap across countries. All of those I spoke with indicated the Journal of Applied Psychology and Personnel Psychology are considered top-tier publications. Thus, American journals are certainly held in high regard. However, several journals that are published in other countries are also considered top-tier, such as the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, and the International Journal of Selection and Assessment. Further, in some countries the most prestigious journals are in the native (nonEnglish) language. 

Since all of those interviewed indicated I-O psychologists in most countries value American journals, I asked if there were any particular difficulties in publishing in those journals. It seems American reviewers often question international samples and measures. Neil noted that oftentimes reviewers are unwilling to recognize similarities across cultures. Reviewers will question whether European samples are as advanced as American samples and are therefore inclined to believe the results will not generalize. The measures used may also be questioned. Helen noted many personality measures (which are common and well developed in Europe) are questioned by American reviewers. It can be tough to convince reviewers that a measure they have never heard of may actually be construct valid and worthy of study. Further, if researchers are addressing a practical issue of importance to their country, but the problem studied is not directly relevant for Americans, reviewers may not think the study makes a contribution. This lack of understanding and open-mindedness can make it difficult for those in other countries to publish in American journals.

Professional Issues

Besides the content of the work I-Os do in other countries, I wanted to learn more about the general professional issues they face. Most of those I spoke with indicated one of the key issues is the lack of other I-O psychologists in their countries. It is not always possible to find collaborators in ones own country, although this can have its benefits. As Beryl points out, working with people in other countries provides an opportunity to help cross-fertilize ideas because there is a slight tendency for approaches to become embedded within particular parts of the globe. There are many good ideas in the European context that tend to be missed in the U.S. and vice versa. Thus, Australians can pick the best of both and add value. 

What about the doctoral programs in other countries? The number of doctoral students in European universities tends to be much smaller than in the U.S. (e.g., five or six total students in a program is not unusual). There are also fewer opportunities for formal instruction. As Filip notes, many students must learn some material on their own. It is interesting that most of those who seek I-O degrees in Europe obtain academic positions. For instance, Neil noted that about 80% of those who obtain doctorates in the U.K. go on to take academic positions. Post-docs are also much more common in Europe than in the U.S. This allows one to focus exclusively on research early in ones career.

For those with academic appointments, the tenure process can vary tremendously. For example, it appears the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, and Belgium are similar in that all examine research, teaching, and service to determine tenure. In these countries there is considerable emphasis on the SSCI rankings when determining tenure eligibility. However, Jesus indicated the tenure process in Spain and France is very different from these other countries. In addition, while its common for those in psychology departments in the U.S. and U.K. to seek jobs in management, this is rare in other countries. For instance, in the Netherlands the pay structure is the same regardless of which department one teaches in. Thus, there is little incentive to leave a psychology appointment for an appointment in another area. Further, Jesus noted there is very little job mobility because much of Europe suffers from high unemployment. This makes jobs very valuable and changes are seen as highly risky.

Finally, in some countries, I-O psychologists are not valued. Helen noted that psychology in general does not have the status in the U.K. that it has in the U.S. Therefore, it can be difficult to convince others that what you do adds value.

SIOP and the International Community 

Most of those interviewed indicated SIOP is not their primary home. However, all of them indicated they enjoy attending the SIOP conference, especially those from countries with a small critical mass of I-O psychologists, because it gives them the opportunity to share their ideas and research with other people. 

While being a SIOP member has benefits, there are some difficulties being an international member of SIOP. First, there is no natural in for I-O psychologists who attend the SIOP conference from other countries. While Americans generally have faculty mentors to introduce them to SIOP, international members are frequently left on their own and many do not know anyone at the conference. This makes it much more difficult to become a part of the organization. Second, SIOP members frequently have very little knowledge of what goes on in other countries. Therefore, international members are constantly having to explain what they are working on and why. 

Over the years SIOP has improved its relationship with the international community, and those I spoke with indicated they feel quite welcome at SIOP. However, SIOP can do more to broaden its international community and influence. SIOP is in a unique position because it is so well-established it can lead the world in I-O psychology. Helen adds that although American I-O psychology is rich with ideas it is important to understand what others are doing. The best work happens with this kind of collaboration. For instance, such collaboration may do more to alleviate the scientist/practitioner divide that seems all too common in most countries.

So how might SIOP take a leading role internationally and ensure international members continue to feel welcome? First, as Jesus points out, SIOP should seek to increase its visibility elsewhere. This can be done if SIOP members participate in conferences in other countries. SIOP may even consider advertising at these international conferences to make members of other societies aware of what SIOP is about. Further, it was noted that until recently the SIOP Web site was not easily accessed through the APAs Division 14 Web site. This made it difficult for people in other countries to learn about SIOP. 

Second, more international members could be made SIOP Fellows. There are arguably many individuals who contribute to SIOP and the field that are from other countries, yet their efforts are less likely to be recognized and granted Fellow status than American members. Increasing the number of international member Fellows would be a gesture of SIOPs inclusion of international members. Further, perhaps there should be specific awards given to SIOP international members who have contributed a great deal to SIOP and particularly added to I-Os visibility and/or made international contributions. 

Third, it was suggested the International Committee be resurrected. Not only would this demonstrate SIOP is committed to international issues, but it would also be a vehicle for SIOP members to determine how to best communicate globally. 

Finally, Beryl suggested international students attending the conference should have some kind of a mentor to ensure they have an in at SIOP. One could further suggest a SIOP mentor be given to all International Affiliates of SIOP. This would not only benefit International Affiliates but also give our SIOP members the opportunity to learn more about I-O in other countries. 

Although those interviewed provided suggestions for improving the relationship between SIOP and the international community, its important to stress that all of those I spoke with thought relations were good. In fact, Neil notes that SIOP leads all other associations of its kind in terms of its professionalism and reach. 

Conclusions

Clearly I-O psychology practice and research vary by country, but there seem to be more similarities than differences. As noted by those interviewed, the differences that exist across countries can make international collaborations that much more exciting and meaningful. 

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