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Jenny Baker
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Supporting Caregivers at the SIOP Conference

Vanessa A. Gaskins, Drake Van Egdom, Kristl Davison, Vipanchi Mishra, Samantha Chau, Rebecca Thompson, Jacquelyn Brady, Jenna Filipkowski, & Alexandra Zelin

Over the last few years, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and the Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) Committee within SIOP have made substantial progress toward advancing support for caregivers at the SIOP Annual Conference. In 2017, the SIOP conference first provided lactation rooms to allow caregivers the ability to breastfeed and pump milk while at the conference.1 2018 marked the first year in which WIN began a new SIOP tradition with a family-friendly reception to provide networking and support for SIOP members and their families. Although these caregiving supports are vital to the inclusion of and assisting caregivers at SIOP conferences, more can be done to support a range of caregiving demands, including child, elder, and disability.

The focus of this article is to highlight the importance of providing further caregiving support at the SIOP conference. First, we discuss why conferences are important for professional development and reducing inequities. Second, we discuss the prevalence of caregiving demands, the lack of caregiving support at psychology and management conferences, and input from SIOP members as important reasons why SIOP should support members’ caregiving needs. Third, we present a discussion of the challenges associated with providing on-site childcare and introduce the Family Care Grant as an alternative. The Family Care Grant promotes inclusivity, supports working caregivers and persons with disabilities, and is likely to increase conference attendance and participation.

Why Are Conferences Important?

In many professional fields, attendance at professional conferences is important to presenting research to the wider community to facilitate the discovery of, engagement with, and generation of new research. Beyond the learning aspects, professional conferences are valuable for one’s career. Formal and informal networking with other professionals can lead to research collaborations, contacts for jobs, connections with funders, and skill-building opportunities (Mata et al., 2010). Furthermore, conferences provide mentoring opportunities that build social connections and facilitate career and personal success, as more senior professionals can provide advice on the publication process, job market, and new institutional roles.

Currently, conferences tend to be male dominated, with women declining to present their research at over half the rate of men (Schroeder et al., 2013), which is in part due to disproportionate childcare responsibilities faced by women (Chelsey & Moen, 2006; Schroeder et al., 2013). The inclusion of women on conference committees may partially address these issues as they are linked to increased female representation on conference presentations, but they do not directly meet the needs of caregivers (Casadevall & Handelsman, 2014). We focus on gender, but there may be additional barriers that women of color may face in being able to attend and present at professional conferences (Tulshyan, 2019). The SIOP 2019 Income & Employment Survey provides an important first step in addressing intersectional issues within the field of I-O psychology by reporting income by race and gender (Antonik et al., 2020). SIOP’s policies and practices need to ensure that they promote inclusivity and address the intersectional barriers of women and Black people, Indigenous people, and people of Color. By supporting caregiving demands, conferences can potentially reduce these inequities and promote a more inclusive environment for career development.

Why Should SIOP Support Caregiving Needs?

Caregiving Demands

Conference attendance is particularly important for those early in their careers but also presents a challenge for individuals balancing careers and caregiving (Calisi, 2018). In recent decades, the United States has seen changes in the demographic make-up of the workforce. Half of parents are dual-earning couples, which is a 15% increase from 1970 (Pew Research Center, 2015). Further, 40.4 million of the U.S. population (16%) provide unpaid care to someone older than 65 years of age who requires assistance due to aging-related issues (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). The estimate of people with disabilities in the US is 12.8%, which is a fairly substantial part of the population (Kraus et al., 2018). Given these demographic shifts and prevalences, childcare, eldercare, and disability needs are widespread and challenges for working families. Despite the influx of women entering the workforce, women still complete two thirds of the household and child responsibilities even though they work about the same number of hours as men (Lachance-Grzela & Bouchard, 2010; Yavorsky et al., 2015). Fathers are taking on more of the childcare demands than in the past, and men are taking on eldercare demands as well, but mothers still spend more time on childcare and eldercare (Aumann et al. 2011; Livingston & Parker, 2019). These caregiving and household responsibilities make caregiving a significant hurdle for women to achieve their career goals.

Academia and research-related fields pose their own set of unique challenges for those with caregiving responsibilities. The most pivotal moments in an academic career, such as graduate school, post-docs, and junior faculty roles, coincide with typical child-rearing age. For instance, 90% of women have their first child prior to age 35 and about 80% before age 30 (Mathews, & Hamilton, 2016), with the age at first birth increasing, indicating that mothers are putting off child rearing until later in life (Martin et al., 2019). When women choose not to attend professional conferences for child-rearing reasons, their careers may pay a “baby penalty” in terms of promotions and unfair lack of opportunities (Mason, 2013). In addition, graduate students often face precarious financial situations that further inhibit their ability to invest in their career, including attending conferences.

For parents, childcare options during conferences may be limited. One parent may choose to leave children at home with another parent or to leave children with another relative (e.g., grandparent). These options may not be viable for a host of personal family reasons. For example, if both parents wish to attend the conference or if relatives are not physically close to the parents, leaving a child at home would not work as readily. Moreover, leaving children with aging relatives may not be possible, as increasing numbers of Americans find themselves in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both younger children and elderly parents (Parker & Patten, 2013). Some parents may find that the best choice is to take the children with them to the conference, especially those with infants who are nursing. Individuals with eldercare and disability needs will also need flexibility to effectively and comfortably meet the needs of their unique situations to attend the SIOP Annual Conference.

In addition to helping meet the needs of I-O psychologists with caregiving responsibilities and disabilities, supporting them can advance our field. Currently, SIOP provides lactation rooms, and WIN hosts a family-friendly reception. Although these are important steps to supporting parents, they stop short of providing enough support and inclusion to help reduce the financial burden on caregivers and those with eldercare and disability demands. SIOP can display strong leadership and serve as a role model for other professional conferences in this area as both psychology and management conferences tend to provide extremely minimal, if any, caregiving support.

Caregiving Supports at Psychology and Management Conferences

To get a better sense of the caregiving support offered at related conferences, Mishra and colleagues (2020) examined the websites of major professional conferences in the field of psychology and management held in 2019, specifically associations with 500+ members and a regional or national conference. Each conference website was coded for the availability of child supports-related information (see Table 1). A review of 43 major conferences websites held in 2019 indicated that eight (18.60%) of the conferences listed availability of a lactation room, three (6.98%) offered on-site childcare, and one (2.33%) offered a childcare grant. However, the majority of conference websites made no mention of childcare or caregiving at all.

Mishra et al. (2020) also looked at three factors that may influence child supports offered by conferences, including percentage of women in the association, management versus psychology conference, and whether the conference was held during the school year (see Table 2). Findings indicated that psychology conferences were more likely to mention providing childcare-related supports, conferences were more likely to mention childcare-related supports when they were held during the school year, and more supports were offered if the primary association had more than 50% female members. Within the psychology and management fields, much work still needs to be done to better meet caregiving and disability needs. In particular, as a field that is uniquely attuned to the intersection of psychology and work, we believe that SIOP should take a lead on addressing this work–nonwork issue.

SIOP Members’ Input

In the SIOP 2019 Income & Employment Survey of 1,403 members, a substantial portion (39%, n = 547) of the respondents reported having children under 18 living in their households, and of these, over two thirds (n = 377) reported being the primary caregiver or sharing caregiving responsibilities (Antonik et al., 2020). In addition, 16% (n = 218) reported having caregiving responsibilities for adults (Antonik et al., 2020). To better understand the childcare needs of SIOP members, we included a number of questions regarding childcare responsibilities as a potential obstacle to conference attendance in the SIOP 2019 Member Survey. Our questions were submitted several months prior to the expansion of this proposal to include other types of caregiving and therefore only pertain to childcare. Of the 491 SIOP members who responded to our question of whether or not childcare was a consideration in their participation at past conferences, 89 (18.1%) responded yes. Women (n = 58) were modestly more likely to agree than men (n = 27; χ2 = 6.74, p < .01). With respect to employment status, those who identified childcare as a consideration in their attendance were overwhelmingly faculty of all ranks and advanced practitioners. Childcare concerns weighed most heavily among the junior faculty group of respondents, among whom 42% (n = 23) indicated that childcare was a consideration in attendance.

Additional questions about childcare were posed to those 89 respondents who indicated that childcare was a consideration in their attendance. These participants indicated that they would be modestly likely to take advantage of affordable childcare offered by SIOP (n = 81; M = 3.49, SD = 1.52 where 1 = very unlikely and 5 = very likely). Their overwhelming preference was for coverage that included both daytime and evening events (71%), and for SIOP to facilitate on-site group childcare (87% selected this as their first preference for a childcare benefit). Respondents’ preferred second-choice options were most commonly off-site group childcare (55%) or a childcare grant to support individual childcare needs (27%). These results demonstrate that SIOP members still need more caregiving support with on-site childcare and a caregiving grant providing two potential options.

Potential Caregiving Supports

We have outlined a number of reasons that supporting members who require care or provide care to a dependent would be valuable for conference attendees, particularly those who are graduate students or early career professionals, and how this is beneficial to our field and its inclusivity. There are several ways SIOP could support conference attendees with these responsibilities, and our committee considered both on-site childcare and a caregiver grant. Despite the survey respondents’ preference for on-site group childcare, there were a number of barriers to this option (e.g., legal liabilities, parental concerns about unknown care providers, need to identify a local care provider annually in each city). Instead, we decided on the Family Care Grant for SIOP 2021 and SIOP 2022 to overcome these barriers and provide expanded support to members needing eldercare or persons with disabilities.

Family Care Grant

A family care grant would expand support options to help attendees meet the financial burdens of caregiving either for themselves or for their dependents. This would allow attendees to make decisions based on their unique needs, such as bringing a caregiver along or funding caregiving for a dependent at home. In summary, this is the most flexible option with the possibility of supporting various types of caregiving needs that may currently preclude members from attending the conference.

The SIOP Family Care Grant will provide $500 awards for up to 20 members who require caregiving support to facilitate their conference attendance. This option would allow members to use a lump sum of money for care as they see fit. The Family Care Grant will be offered for the 2021 SIOP Annual Conference in New Orleans and the 2022 SIOP Annual Conference in Seattle. We will evaluate the long-term potential of caregiver support based on the experiences at these conferences.

SIOP Conference Family Care Grant Eligibility

In order to be eligible to receive funds, applicants must (a) be a current SIOP member; (b) be a caregiver, defined as a person providing care to another person who requires care (e.g., children, elders, persons with disabilities) or a person who requires caregiving support at the conference (e.g., members with disabilities); (c) be the only caregiver in the family applying for the grant funds; and (d) report facing some financial difficulty attending the conference due to financial caregiving needs. If there are enough grants to serve each eligible applicant, all applicants will receive a grant. If there are more applicants than grants, our committee will prioritize graduate students and early career professionals (who likely have more limited funds than other members). More information on the Family Care Grant will be available on the SIOP conference awards website: https://www.siop.org/Foundation/Awards/Conference-Awards.



[1] Although this article frames some arguments from a binary view of gender, we acknowledge that people identifying as nonbinary will face similar barriers, and we affirm that SIOP caregiving policies and practices should be inclusive of everyone’s needs.



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