Jenny Baker
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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Make an Appearance at SIOP’s Annual Conference

Lauren Moran, Jenna McChesney, Irina Kuzmich, & Gonzalo Munoz

In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which outlined the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for developing and developed countries to work toward together. These goals include ending poverty, achieving gender equality, ensuring the availability and sustainability of clean water and sanitation systems, and more. By working to address multiple global issues at once, the SDGs acknowledge how they are often interconnected and that the achievement of one can mean the alleviation of another. To date, the UN recognizes 5,503 actions that have been taken toward the fulfillment of the SDGs. However, with a deadline of 2030, there is much work that still needs to be done.

Though some I-O psychologists may not have considered the connections between their work and the SDGs, there is great potential for I-O to influence the UN’s SDG efforts. In fact, as an NGO with special consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), SIOP has already been doing its part to contribute toward the achievement of these goals. According to Julie Olson-Buchanan, chair and main representative of the SIOP UN Committee, “The SDGs are a compelling way to frame or structure our discipline’s prosocial work. I-O psychology has a great deal to contribute to advancing the UN’s mandate, and by focusing on meeting these ambitious goals our field can make a difference for the greater good.” Although the field of I-O psychology does not traditionally categorize its research and practice in terms of the areas identified in the SDGs, much of the work done by I-O psychologists relate to the SDGs in some way.

I-O psychology has a great deal to contribute to advancing the UN’s mandate, and by focusing on meeting these ambitious goals our field can make a difference for the greater good.

In fact, last year, we (a team of interns serving on the SIOP UN Committee) compiled a list of 2021 SIOP Annual Conference sessions relating to the SDGs. The goal of this project was twofold: (a) to see how many sessions could be linked to one or more SDGs and (b) to create a conference guide for conference attendees with specific interests in one or more of the SDGs. If a conference goer was most interested in learning more about research and practice related to Gender Equality (SDG #5), the committee wanted to be able to recommend a list of related conference sessions for them to attend.

To do this, our team scoured SIOP’s conference website and read each session’s abstract to determine whether it related to an SDG, and if so which one. In the end, SIOP distributed an interactive flier with lists of sessions related to one or more SDGs online for conference goers to explore prior to the conference. The number of sessions related to the SDGs was also recorded. Out of the 750 sessions at last year’s conference, more than 250 related to one or more SDGs! That’s over a third of all the sessions!

Although our team anticipated that several sessions would be related in some way, we did not expect to be able to identify so many. But perhaps the number of sessions the team found shouldn’t come as a surprise. Caring about human welfare is central to I-O psychology and its mission. If you read SIOP’s mission statement, you’ll notice “enhancing human well-being” is listed first and foremost.

Out of the 750 sessions at last year’s conference, more than 250 related to one or more SDGs!

Some sessions were easily categorized under one SDG. For example, Jo Alanis, a graduate student from Michigan State University, presented a research poster at the 2021 annual conference titled, “Intersectionality of Immigrant Status and National Origin in Hiring Outcomes.” Through this research, Alanis explored whether job applicants’ immigrant status influences hiring outcomes and found that immigrant candidates were rated lower on job suitability ratings than nonimmigrant candidates. Her research was categorized as furthering SDG #10 (Reduced Inequalities). Our team of interns agreed that better understanding how those with immigrant status are included or excluded from the workforce directly relates to Target 10.2, which is to “empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status” by 2030.

Other sessions were a bit trickier to categorize under just one SDG. Oftentimes, we found ourselves spending more time discussing which SDG a particular session related to the most rather than if a session related to the SDGs at all. For example, in her 2021 poster session titled “Is This Training for Her? Effects of Gendered Language on Entrepreneurial Training,” Liz Tracy, a doctoral candidate from North Carolina State University, tested whether people perceive agentic qualities as more important than communal qualities for success in an entrepreneurial training program and whether that perception can be altered by advertising the program in more communal terms. Although this session also arguably relates to SDG target 10.2, our team felt it most aligned with SDG #5 (Gender Equality) due to the emphasis placed on gender in the abstract and title. However, arguments could also be made for it being categorized under SDG #8 (Access to Decent Work) and Target 8.6, which is to “substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training” by 2030.

The difficulty in choosing one single SDG for each session illustrates something important about the SDGs: These goals are highly interconnected. As stated on the UN SDG website, “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth—all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” Similarly, when we, as I-O psychologists, work toward improving worker well-being and performance, our work often goes hand in hand with strategies that improve health, reduce inequality, and increase access to quality education and decent work for all.

Based on the categorization of last year’s conference sessions, our team identified nine SDGs that appear to be most relevant to the SIOP community. They are SDGs 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 17.

   

Of the SDGs pictured above, the ones that were particularly well represented at last year’s conference include (in order) Reduced Inequalities (SDG #10), Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG #3), and Access to Decent Work (SDG #8). You can click here to see which sessions were categorized under each. The number of sessions related to these SDGs not only illustrates how I-O psychology can be leveraged to help further the goals of the UN but how I-O psychology is being leveraged to do this already.

We interns are eager to repeat this categorization project for the 2022 SIOP Conference. In January of 2022, we reached out to the 2022 Annual Conference Chair and asked for this year’s program in advance. Though the full program was not yet available, our team was able to secure a list of titles for most accepted submissions, including panel discussions, symposia, alternative presentations, master tutorials, community of interest sessions, IGNITE! sessions, and Friday seminars.

Although descriptions for the sessions were not included, our team conducted a preliminary review of the titles to broadly identify which SDGs are represented this coming year. We found that many of the same SDGs identified last year were applicable to this year’s sessions. SDG #10 (Reducing Inequality) was again by far the most represented, and SDG #5 (Gender Equality) appears to have significant representation as well. Additionally, a large number of sessions mapped onto SDG #3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and SDG #4 (Quality Education). Finally, as would be expected, many sessions were related to SDG #8 (Decent Work for All). Many of the sessions relate to more than just one of these SDGs. For example, it is expected that the 2022 session titled “Bringing Together Maternity Experiences in the Workplace From Pre- to Postnatal” will be related to both Good Health and Well-Being (SDG #3) and Gender Equality (SDG #5). A preview of a couple of 2022 sessions related to each of these five SDGs are listed below.

Preview of 2022 Annual Conference Sessions That Relate to the SDGs

  • Bringing Together Maternity Experiences in the Workplace From Pre- to Postnatal
  • Damaging Downtime: Attitudes and Behaviors That Affect Recovery, Sleep, and Health

  • Experiential Learning in Graduate Programs: A 360-Degree SME Perspectives
  • Virtual Leadership Development Done Right: Best Practices and Lessons Learned

 

  • Bringing Together Maternity Experiences in the Workplace from Pre- to Postnatal
  • The Current State of Women in Leadership: A Story of Barriers and Bias

  • Transforming the Workplace: The Future of Flexible Work
  • Working on Purpose: Discussing Meaning and Purpose in the Workplace

  • Beyond SCOTUS’ Bostock Decision: What’s Next for LGBTQ+ Protections in the Workplace?
  • Facilitators of Positive Work Experience for Employees With Disabilities


The sessions listed above are meant to serve as only a preview to some of the 2022 sessions related to the SDGs. A complete matrix will be created and shared after the full program is published online. The committee plans to share the completed matrix by mid-April, prior to the beginning of the conference. Keep an eye out for it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and through I-O discussion lists. If you believe that your session aligns with one of the SDG Goals, please reach out to one of us to ensure it is featured in this year’s matrix.

If you’re interested in learning more about how I-O psychologists’ work and research can be used to further the United Nations SDGs, consider checking out the committee’s website. This is not the first time the SIOP UN Committee’s work shows how SIOP members’ work relates to the SDGs. For example, the committee has worked with other SIOP members to create annotated bibliographies to organize and disseminate I-O expertise on each SDG.

Julie Olson-Buchanan also shared that the most influential work she has witnessed has been the connections created between those interested in the UN’s efforts. “I think SIOP has made the biggest impact on SDG #17 [Partnerships for the Goals] by focusing on partnerships and building bridges with other societies and related fields to collectively make a difference.” In addition to connecting individual I-O psychologists with prosocial work, the SIOP UN Committee partners with organizations across the UN system, such as UNESCO, the Psychology Coalition of NGOs Accredited at the United Nations, and UNICEF. To learn more about the committee, the work they do, and ways you can get involved, check out the SIOP UN website and past TIP articles.

 

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