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SIOP Members Urged to Become Bridge Builders for I-O Psychology


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

In her remarks during the opening plenary of the 29th Annual SIOP Conference in Honolulu, SIOP Past President Tammy Allen focused on the theme of connecting with outside entities to increase I-O’s visibility and influence.

“It is through the process of initiating, building, strengthening, and maintaining connections with others that we increase our influence and can better advocate for our science,” she said.

With that goal in mind, she challenged all SIOP members to participate in Building Bridges, an initiative to promote greater awareness of I-O psychology.

“The idea is for each SIOP member to engage in at least one activity in the coming year that involves sharing information about I-O psychology by connecting with your local high school, university, or community,” Allen added.

The Building Bridges effort is being chaired by Joseph Allen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“This is a grassroots campaign in which every single SIOP member can play a part,” he said. "This can be done by promoting I-O in our own departments, universities, companies, and organizations, as well as local schools and service clubs.”

He is being assisted by Tara Behrend of George Washington University, Suzanne Bell of DePaul University, and Victoria Smoak of Pepisco.

“We are seeking volunteers who will reach out to these groups and introduce them to I-O and its impact upon organizations,” he explained. “In essence, we want our members to become Bridge Builders and connect I-O with people who otherwise would not know about the field.”

One example, Allen said, is Dan Putka, a SIOP Fellow and principal staff scientist at HumRRO in Alexandria, VA, who was asked to speak to his son’s fourth grade class as part of a career day program. Faced with the need to make a presentation on I-O that youngsters could grasp and understand, Putka wondered if SIOP had some resources he could use.

“I thought surely other SIOP members had been asked to make similar presentations but found there was nothing available, so I had to come up with an idea that would keep the kids interested,” he said.

Because most children are familiar with superheroes, he used them as an analogy to shed some light on what I-Os do and how they do it. Just as superheroes use their skills to help people in need, I-Os use their skills to help companies and organizations hire good employees by analyzing jobs and assessing candidates, Putka explained.

“By using this analogy, I was able make a presentation that impressed the kids and helped them gain some knowledge about the field of I-O. It turned into lively discussion and was quite successful,” he said.

Lauren McEntire, senior manager of organization and management development for the Frito-Lay Division of Pepsico, has interacted with several outside organizations and weaves her own personal I-O story into her presentations. “When I explain what I do, people become so interested with our field and tell me they had no idea about I-O psychology. We (I-Os) all have a story to share with others that we should be sharing more often,” she said.
She has spoken to college psychology classes, including the University of Oklahoma, her alma mater, as well as middle school and elementary students through a Junior Achievement program in which her company participates.
Another involvement for McEntire is a Dallas-based program called Attitudes and Attire, which promotes personal growth for women that raises self esteem, builds confidence, and helps them overcome obstacles and get a fresh outlook in their lives.
“These are women who come from tough situations such as abuse or incarceration, and this program teaches them business-related skills to prepare them to enter the workforce, including interviewing. When I talk to these women, I always try to make a connection to my field. An I-O psychologist might have designed the job they are applying for, the selection and assessment process they go through to apply, and likely the interview,” she said. 

Joe Allen said the Building Bridges initiative was born out of the limited knowledge people have of I-O psychology and what I-O psychologists do.

“That’s not a real surprise to those of us in I-O,” he said. “It’s something we deal with every day, and SIOP has worked hard to increase our visibility, but we need to keep at it.”

That impression was reinforced by a recent Visibility Metrics Subcommittee collection of data regarding the familiarity key stakeholders have with I-O, particularly the lack of knowledge about I-O among faculty and students.

Joe Allen said there are a considerable number of university students who are not introduced to I-O, even if they are psychology majors.

“We are struck by the number of prospective graduate students who tell us they would not know about I-O had it not been for a chance encounter with an I-O psychologist,” he said. “For every one of these talented young people who become I-Os, there are 10 more who don’t have that chance encounter and end up in a different field.”

Although the Building Bridges initiative was launched at the SIOP Conference in Honolulu, Joe Allen said they had been working on the idea during the previous year. There was a Bridge Builders booth at the conference, and 230 people signed a pledge to spread the word about I-O in some manner.

SIOP members interested in being Bridge Builders can find some resources here.

Joe Allen said as SIOP members reach out to various publics their experiences will be posted on the website, and “we expect that will encourage and assist others as they reach out and be ambassadors for I-O.”

There is a clear need for I-O psychologists to make connections, build bridges of knowledge, and grow I-O from the bottom up. It is the intent of the Building Bridges initiative to introduce more people to the value of I-O psychology and the impact it can have on organizations.