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SIOP Award Winners: Meet Mary L. Tenopyr Graduate Student Scholarship Award: Desmond Leung

Liberty J. Munson

As part of our ongoing series to provide visibility into what it takes to earn a SIOP award or grant, we highlight a diverse class of award winners in each edition of TIP. We hope that this insight encourages you to consider applying for a SIOP award or grant because you are probably doing something amazing that can and should be recognized by your peers in I-O psychology!

This quarter, we are highlighting the winner of the Mary L. Tenopyr Graduate Student Scholarship Award: Desmond Leung for his proposed dissertation research examining strategies for reducing backlash to diversity initiatives in organizations.


Why did you apply?

When I heard about the call for award nominations, I had just begun formulating an idea for my dissertation. I decided to submit an application not only because of the potential funding but also because doing so helped motivate me to start writing up my dissertation proposal.

Share a little a bit about who you are and what you do.

I am a PhD candidate (ABD) in the I-O psychology program at Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY. My research interests center around issues related to diversity and inclusion, leadership, and personnel selection.

Describe the research/work that you did that resulted in this award. What led to your idea?

This work was inspired in part by something I kept seeing in the news—reports about intense negative reactions in response to diversity programs at various organizations. For example, a few years ago, an engineer at Google infamously published a memo that was highly critical of the organization’s gender diversity programs. Other organizations, including Microsoft and the National Football League (NFL), have also recently received notable backlash from organizational members for their diversity programs. 

My faculty advisor had recently discussed his research on storytelling with me, so an idea occurred to me: Could we use this form of communication (i.e., stories or narratives) in an organizational context to reduce negative reactions to diversity initiatives? A large body of research suggests that narratives can be effective tools for persuasion. Thus, the primary aim of my proposed dissertation study is to investigate how narrative forms of diversity initiative messaging might attenuate backlash among organizational members compared to more traditional expository forms of diversity initiative messaging. 

To examine this research question, I am currently carrying out an experimental study that should be completed by 2022.

What do you see as the lasting/unique contribution of this work to our discipline? How can it be used to drive changes in organizations, the employee experience, and so on?

I think this study has a number of potential implications for science and practice in our field. The findings could help shed light on the psychological drivers of backlash against workplace diversity efforts. Findings might also highlight the potential benefits of integrating research from nontraditional I-O areas (e.g., communication) and applying them to organizational settings. Finally, as the social climate in the United States continues to grow increasingly polarized, findings of this proposed study may inform effective organizational strategies for communicating about diversity initiatives in ways that help foster greater buy-in among organizational members.

Who would you say was the biggest advocate of your research/work that resulted in the award? How did that person become aware of your work?

I couldn’t have won this award without the support of my faculty mentors. Initially, I was hesitant to submit an application, worried that I would simply be wasting my time. But the faculty at my program were extremely encouraging and assured me it would be worth the effort. Special shoutout to Dr. Logan Watts, who has continued to guide me through the dissertation process despite recently moving to a different institution. 

What’s a fun fact about yourself (something that people may not know)?

I used to be a shoe tester for New Balance. Every few months, the company would send me a pair of shoes that I would meticulously review on a variety of dimensions, including fit, comfort, cushioning, traction, and durability. I don’t test shoes anymore, but I definitely learned more about shoe anatomy than I ever thought I would.

What piece of advice would you give to someone new to I-O psychology? (If you knew then what you know now…)

Develop an effective “elevator pitch” that describes what I-O psychology is and what I-O psychologists do. Your family, friends, and people you meet will never stop asking about this when you tell them what field you’re in.


About the author:

Liberty Munson is currently the principal psychometrician of the Microsoft Technical Certification and Employability programs in the Worldwide Learning organization. She is responsible for ensuring the validity and reliability of Microsoft’s certification and professional programs. Her passion is for finding innovative solutions to business challenges that balance the science of assessment design and development with the realities of budget, time, and schedule constraints. Most recently, she has been presenting on the future of testing and how technology can change the way we assess skills.

Liberty loves to bake, hike, backpack, and camp with her husband, Scott, and miniature schnauzer, Apex. If she’s not at work, you’ll find her enjoying the great outdoors or in her kitchen tweaking some recipe just to see what happens.

Her advice to someone new to I-O psychology?

Statistics, statistics, statistics—knowing data analytic techniques will open A LOT of doors in this field and beyond!

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