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Delivering on DEI: An Analysis of Coursework and Research in Graduate Programs

Vivian Woo, Sana Lall-Trail, & Sayeed Islam

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has repeatedly made the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP, 2021) annual list of Top 10 Work Trends since 2015. The increased prominence of DEI research and practice within industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is a positive step forward in creating better workplaces for people from all backgrounds and identities. However, there is an unfortunate truth that persists within many employing organizations, whether they are private companies or academic institutions: DEI is still viewed as a nice-to-have versus a critical feature of organizational functioning and effectiveness (O’Donovan, 2018). To reconcile these two patterns, we focused on the state of DEI in graduate programs. What kinds of messages about DEI are being communicated during the education of future I-O psychologists, and how do they relate to the patterns we are seeing in the DEI space? Graduate school is where we form our first expectations of our field, which we carry with us as we progress through our careers. Early exposure to DEI as a core part of I-O psychology can begin to dismantle the barrier where it is seen as nonessential.

To properly evaluate the presence of DEI in I-O graduate programs, it was necessary to compare I-O psychology to two other related fields of study in which DEI is of great importance: clinical psychology and business. It isn’t simply enough to know the numbers but to understand where we stand as a field compared to others. One added benefit of comparing I-O to these fields is the opportunity to establish cross-disciplinary best practices.

We focused on two main areas of graduate programs where students would gain exposure to DEI: coursework and faculty research. First, we explored DEI coursework in graduate programs to understand which programs have a DEI course and whether it is required.

Research Question 1: Across fields, how many graduate programs have a dedicated DEI course?

Research Question 2: Across fields, how many of these DEI courses are required coursework?

Beyond simply examining characteristics of the courses themselves, we wanted to examine the demographics of their instructors. There is the reality that DEI work tends to be done by people from historically marginalized groups (Campbell & Rodriguez, 2019), such as women or people of color (PoC), which continues to reinforce a mentality of us versus them, moving us farther away from the reality that people from majority populations play a critical role in making DEI a success; it cannot be achieved unless we all work together. In this current study, we chose to examine gender and race, as these tend to be the most salient individual characteristics associated with DEI. Furthermore, gender and race are usually some of the first personal characteristics discerned about an individual, whether visually or by name.

Research Question 3a: Across fields, what is the racial/ethnic makeup of the DEI course instructors?

Research Question 3b: Across fields, what is the gender makeup of the DEI course instructors?

Although coursework is the most formal way for graduate students to be exposed to DEI during their education, working with faculty on their research interests is another way in which they can learn about DEI.

Research Question 4: Across fields, how many DEI researchers do graduate programs have among faculty?

In investigating the number of DEI researchers in each field’s graduate programs, an issue arose regarding the difference in the size of programs between fields. Although the average number of faculty per field was unavailable, we were able to infer relative size based on graduation rates from data from the National Center for Education Statistics (awards/degrees conferred by program). The average number of master’s-level graduates per program was 17 for both clinical and I-O psychology, but it was 97 for business administration. For doctoral-level graduates, clinical programs had the highest average of 17 graduates, followed by business administration programs with an average of 11 graduates, and I-O psychology programs the lowest at an average of 6 graduates. Given these inconsistencies, it is reasonable to assume that fewer graduates are indicative of smaller graduate student cohorts, which would then indicate fewer faculty. To account for this variance in program faculty size, the percentage of DEI researchers was leveraged in analysis, versus sheer counts.

Research Question 5: Which field has the greatest percentage of DEI researchers?

Research Question 6a: Across fields, what is the racial/ethnic makeup of the DEI researchers?

Research Question 6b: Across fields what is the gender makeup of the DEI researchers?

Method

Sample

Data were collected from a sample of MA and PhD programs, which included all top 10 PhD and master’s programs in I-O psychology, clinical psychology, and business administration from U.S. News and World Report 2020 rankings. An additional 20 programs were randomly selected per field from the following sources: SIOP for I-O psychology, the American Psychological Association (APA) for clinical psychology, and MBA.com for business administration, resulting in 30 programs total per field. Each sample was fairly evenly split between MA and PhD. Table 1 contains a breakdown of programs by field and degree.

 

Table 1

Frequencies of Graduate Programs by Field and Degree Level

Field

Degree level

Total

 

MA

PhD

 

Business Administration

16

14

30

Clinical Psychology

15

15

30

I-O Psychology

15

15

30

 

Programs were categorized by field and degree-type by a graduate student coder. The coder also collected data on DEI course(s) in the program curricula, the instructors for these courses, and DEI researchers in program faculty. DEI researchers were identified using faculty pages, CVs, and posted research topics of interest. Instructors and DEI researchers were coded for perceived gender (male or female) and perceived race (White or PoC).

Results

Research Question 1 explored the prevalence of DEI in graduate programs. Among the three fields, clinical psychology had the most programs with a dedicated DEI course (n = 18). Business administration had fewest programs (n = 2), and I-O psychology fell in the middle, with nine programs offering a DEI course (Table 2).

Table 2

Frequencies of DEI Courses by Field

Field

N

Business Administration

2

Clinical Psychology

18

I-O Psychology

9

 

We investigated whether these DEI courses were requirements for the graduate program as posed by Research Question 2. Only two business administration programs required a DEI course, whereas there were six I-O programs with required coursework and 12 clinical psychology programs (Table 3).

 

Table 3

Frequencies for Required DEI Courses by Field

Field

Is the DEI course required?

Total

 

Yes

No

Unknown

 

Business Administration

2

0

0

2

Clinical Psychology

12

4

2

18

I-O Psychology

6

0

3

9

 

 

We also examined the demographics of the faculty members who taught the DEI course to answer Research Questions 3a and 3b. Unfortunately, we were unable to explore demographic makeup, because most graduate program websites did not provide the names of the instructors. For the few instructors we could identify, some interesting patterns emerged.

 

Clinical psychology tended to have more PoC and female instructors, whereas I-O psychology had more White and female instructors. No inferences could be made regarding business administration programs because it was difficult to determine who taught these courses.

Because original research, in the form of a dissertation, is an essential part of PhD graduate work, whereas theses tend to be optional in MA programs, we chose to explore Research Question 4 solely among the PhD graduate programs. As a result, the influence of faculty research interests is most applicable to PhD graduate students. I-O psychology had the greatest number of programs with full-time faculty members conducting research into DEI—19 programs. This was followed by clinical with 10 programs, and nine business administration programs (Table 4).

 

Table 4

Frequencies of Program Faculty Members Conducting DEI Research by Field, Race, and Gender

Field

DEI researcher demographics

Total

 

Race

 

Gender

 

 

PoC

White

 

Female

Male

 

Business Administration

0

2

 

1

1

2

Clinical Psychology

6

11

 

13

4

17

I-O Psychology

7

7

 

11

3

14

 

To examine Research Question 5, we began by identifying the number of researchers among all programs within a field. Clinical psychology had the most DEI researchers (n = 17), whereas I-O psychology had 14 DEI researchers. Business administration only had two identifiable DEI researchers. Despite the apparent differences in counts, a fairer comparison would require controlling for the size of the faculty, so percentages were calculated of DEI researchers to total faculty. A one-way ANOVA was then conducted to explore differences by field, F(2,40) = 3.57, p < .05, η2 = .151. Post hoc comparisons with Tukey HSD indicated that I-O psychology programs (M = 0.13, SD = 0.16) were significantly different from business administration (M = 0.01, SD = 0.04). Clinical psychology (M = 0.10, SD = 0.11) did not significantly differ from the other fields. Although there is no difference between the two psychology fields, I-O psychology programs do have a greater percentage of DEI researchers among its faculty compared to business administration.

Table 5

One-Way ANOVA of Percentage DEI Researchers by Field

Predictor

Sum of squares

df

Mean square

F

p

Partial η2

Field

0.138

2

0.069

3.732

.033

.151

Error

0.742

40

0.019

 

 

 

 

Research Questions 6a and 6b investigated the racial and gender makeup (Table 4) of the DEI researchers. Of the 33 DEI researchers we identified, the majority were White (61%) and female (76%). Delving deeper into the differences by field, we focused first on race. Business administration (100%) and clinical psychology (65%) had more DEI researchers who were White than PoC. However, I-O psychology had an even split in representation. In terms of gender, both clinical psychology (76%) and I-O psychology (79%) had majority female instructors, whereas gender was balanced for business administration. Given that there were only two DEI researchers identified in business administration programs, these findings may be skewed by such a small sample size.

Discussion

The results of this exploratory study present an interesting conundrum about the messaging from I-O graduate programs about the importance of DEI to the field. By comparing I-O to other fields, it provided additional context as to how well we are preparing students for applied and scholarly work. Although clinical psychology programs had more courses dedicated to DEI, I-O psychology programs had more faculty, on average, conducting DEI research. This sends a conflicting message that furthers the misconception that DEI is “nice to have” and reveals an unfortunate truth: It is uncommon for I-O graduate students to learn about DEI through their coursework. This places the burden of exposure to DEI topics upon faculty who do DEI research. Anecdotally, we saw that more adjunct faculty conducted DEI research than core faculty—this widens the distance between students and their potential introduction to DEI. If one of the goals of the SIOP’s (2016) competencies is “appreciation of diversity and well-being can be applied to each area” (science and practice), then the lack of full-time faculty studying DEI in programs can make this more difficult. In examining these DEI researchers, more troubling issues arose beyond their faculty status. The demographics of I-O DEI researchers are overwhelmingly female (79%), though there was even split by race, indicating that DEI research is still being conducted by those with at least one or more identity tied to a marginalized group. This is another expression of the minority tax, which is defined as the uncompensated duty to address diversity and inclusion on marginalized groups (Trejo, 2020).

 

This approach to DEI in graduate school is problematic in that it perpetuates the idea that DEI is not a foundational concept in I-O psychology that needs to be taught to burgeoning I-O psychologists. How does DEI establish itself in I-O psychology curricula if there is no consistent pedagogy related to it? Based on the present findings there were very few I-O MA programs that offered a DEI course, and given the ratio of MA- to PhD-level I-O psychologists, it creates far too many new practitioners who have a limited understanding of DEI. That would mean it is left to exposure and interest (usually based on a marginalized identity) of the individual to pursue DEI knowledge. This situation does not address the issues at the heart of DEI: Everyone needs to be involved to make the world of work a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place.

 

In the gathering of data for this study, we observed that many of the graduate program websites had content devoted specifically to diversity (e.g., goals, competencies, committees, mission statements). Although the institutions and programs themselves espoused a purported dedication to DEI, this focus was not necessarily reflected in the program curricula nor faculty research. The difficulty in finding DEI information specific to graduate programs highlights a dissonance in academia when it comes to DEI: that the faculty who are educating future generations of I-O psychologists just aren’t buying into DEI, leading to a lack of transparency about their actual dedication to it. This presents a potential origin of the DEI problem within I-O psychology: a situation of espoused values differing from enacted values. Research indicates that companies often espouse different values from those they enact (Sobande, 2019), but for a field like I-O psychology to be effective in the DEI space, espoused values must be acted upon.

 

Taken together, it is clear the path of DEI faces significant challenges within I-O psychology. To lead organizations effectively through their own DEI journeys, we need to reexamine how our field integrates DEI into our formal education. Students with a strong foundation in DEI become scientists and practitioners who integrate DEI into their work, resulting in I-O psychologists who are leading efforts toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces for everyone.

References

Campbell, K. M., & Rodríguez, J. E. (2019). Addressing the minority tax: Perspectives from two diversity leaders on building minority faculty success in academic medicine. Academic Medicine, 94(12), 1854–1857. https://doi.org/10.1097/acm.0000000000002839

O’Donovan, D. (2018). Diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In C. Machado & J. Davim (Eds.), Organizational behaviour and human resource management. Management and Industrial Engineering. 2723–2745.

Sobande, F. (2019). Woke-washing: “Intersectional” femvertising and branding “woke” bravery. European Journal of Marketing, 54(11), 2723–2745. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-02-2019-0134

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. (2016). Guidelines for education and training in industrial-organizational psychology. https://www.siop.org/Events-Education/Graduate-Training-Program/Guidelines-for-Education-and-Training

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. (2021). SIOP top 10 work trends 2021. https://www.siop.org/Business-Resources/Top-10-Work-Trends

Trejo, J. (2020). The burden of service for faculty of color to achieve diversity and inclusion: The minority tax. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 31(25), 2752–2754. https://doi.org/10.1091/mbc.E20-08-0567

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