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President’s Column: Moving Forward

Georgia T. Chao

If you can’t fly, run

If you can’t run, walk

If you can’t walk, crawl

But by all means, keep moving.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967 speech to students at Barrot Junior High School in Philadelphia, PA


We are living in tumultuous times. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over 100,000 American lives, job losses are at a historic high, and racism continues to plague our country. It is with these thoughts that I write my first President’s Column. My overwhelming reaction is that we need to move forward, to keep moving to improve our current situations with our health, our livelihoods, and our hearts. Thus, I decided that my presidential theme would be “Moving Forward.”  Moving forward, I-O psychology should address how the pandemic may leave us with new and permanent changes in many jobs and organizations. Moving forward, I-O psychology should address how we can tackle racism at work, not only with cases of police brutality but with all kinds of discrimination that harm individuals and organizations. Moving forward, SIOP itself needs to rebuild from the cancelled conferences that bring us together. Recovery will be slow, but I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words above—to be persistent and to focus on progress.

As the premier organization of I-O psychology, SIOP will keep moving forward. One giant step forward occurred when we hired Tracy Vanneman this year as SIOP’s fourth executive director. Under Tracy’s leadership, we were able to minimize financial losses from three cancellations: the SIOP Annual Conference, the Leading Edge Consortium, and the People Analytics conference. These cancellations were unprecedented. However, thanks to the hard work from Eden King, Scott Tonidandel, Elizabeth McCune, Alexis Fink, and others, a virtual conference was born that made many offerings from the annual conference available in June.

Another example of moving forward is SIOP’s statement against racism. After George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, MN, several members wondered if SIOP should release a statement. Within 4 days: (a) this was discussed by the Executive Board, (b) several drafts were circulated, (c) a formal proposal was brought to a vote for all 17 members of the Executive Board, (d) this was discussed again, (e) a unanimous vote to support the statement developed, and (f) the statement was emailed to all members. I have served on many SIOP committees and boards, but I have not seen such quick action before! Many thanks to all who helped make that statement a reality. Our statement stands with similar statements from many professional organizations, including APA, APS, and AoM. The protests related to Black Lives Matter and to George Floyd’s death might signal that this time, things might be different in how America deals with racism. It is important to SIOP because it involves organizations and people who are at work. This speaks directly to our mission to monitor and address “challenges to the understanding and practice of industrial-organizational psychology in organizational and work settings.” Police organizations can benefit from good research and practice in I-O psychology. We can help police organizations move forward with good selection, good training, good supervision, good leadership, and good organizational cultures that can heal the harm from racism. Moving forward, SIOP can further advance our science and practice related to all forms of discrimination at work and build a more diverse and inclusive work environment for everyone.

As we continue to endure the problems related to our health, economy, and society, I’d like to close this column with a positive story. Before our annual conference was cancelled, Modern Hire sponsored the production of 5,000 conference bags for SIOP 2020. What does one do with 5,000 conference bags that are no longer needed? SIOP and Modern Hire partnered with U.S. MakeIt Labs to convert the bags to face masks. The nonwoven polypropylene material of the bags is an ideal material for commercial, medical-grade masks. These masks were donated to help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a great example of moving forward!

Stay safe, stay healthy.

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