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Jenny Baker
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The What, Why, How, Who, and Where of Inclusion: Highlights and the Way Forward From the SIOP 2020 Theme Track

2020 Theme Track Committee: Aarti Shyamsunder, Bernardo M. Ferdman, Emily Solberg, Katina Sawyer, Stu Carr, and Veronica Gilrane


SIOP 2020 was a pioneering year for SIOP in many ways, not the least of which was the way the conference quickly pivoted to a virtual format in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Theme Track Committee had worked on the theme of inclusion, chosen by SIOP President Eden King (Rice University), and planned a day-long program of sessions structured around key questions of What, Why, How, Who, and Where with respect to inclusion at work. We converted the sessions to the virtual format and accompanied them with live virtual discussions to extend and enhance the learning on this important theme. We also interspersed clips throughout many of the sessions from interviews we conducted with internal and external DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) practitioners and organization executives.


In this article, we share some key insights on inclusion from the Theme Track, organized around the same topics as the sessions. We first describe highlights from the sessions and then share key insights from the live discussions held during the SIOP Virtual Conference. The discussion during the forum held at the end of the conference was especially rich and brought up important insights, especially regarding the role of SIOP in promoting inclusion (particularly racial equity) in the community of work and I-O psychologists, as well as our responsibility to apply an inclusive lens in our own work—whether research, practice, speaking, consulting, or a mix.

WHAT (Inclusion’s Past, Present, and Future)

In this session, chaired by Katina Sawyer (The George Washington University), four experts in the topic of inclusion discussed the past, present, and future of its definition and how our definitions shape our understanding of how to drive inclusion at work. Bernardo Ferdman (Ferdman Consulting), Veronica Gilrane (Google, Inc.), Thomas Sasso (University of Guelph), and Lynn Shore (Colorado State University) discussed how inclusion has been conceptualized in the past, how we define and apply this concept at work in the present, and where definitions of inclusion in research and practice might go from here. This session was a great primer for inclusion but also provided thought-provoking insights for those who are already familiar with the concept. The session also included perspectives on inclusion from Arthur Evans (CEO, American Psychological Association), Steven Reinemund (Retired Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, & former Dean, Wake Forest University School of Business), Effenus Henderson (Institute for Sustainable Diversity & Inclusion and former CDO, Weyerhaeuser Corp.), Élida Margarita Bautista (Director of Inclusion & Diversity, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley), Lexi Hernandez (Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Raytheon Missile Systems), Mary-Frances Winters (President & CEO, The Winters Group), Nadia Younes (Global Head of Employee Experience, Diversity, and Wellbeing, Zürich Insurance), and Nene Molefi (CEO, Mandate Molefi Human Resources Consultancy, South Africa). Interested in viewing this session? The link to watch the session is here: https://vimeo.com/428472699/53a3b9bf01


Key Insights for Us at SIOP:

  • To challenge institutional-level discrimination, we need to focus on definitions that push scholars and practitioners to address structural and systemic issues. For too long, SIOP and work/I-O psychology have been focused on enhancing compliance to the system—but it is time to check our own blind spots and shift our focus to bring about sustained change. There is a growing desire (indeed, a need!) for work and I-O psychology to be more vocal and to contribute to societal issues as a discipline and profession. A definition that encompasses the systems that promote inclusion in organizations is needed.
  • As we consider structural and systemic issues, we need to consider how broad or focused our approach to inclusion is and how this relates to the changes we are trying to make. In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and broader attention to systemic racism, it has become clearer that a focus on inclusion can be used to promote racial justice and equity along with inclusion of other dimensions of diversity, but it can also be used to avoid difficult discussions about racial dynamics in organizations. This can be seen, for example, in organizations that focus on increasing “diversity of thought” and yet simultaneously ignore entrenched processes that disadvantage and hold back Black people and other people of color. Or they may focus on addressing gender inclusion without paying attention to intersections with race and other dimensions of diversity, thus, in effect, advancing White cisgender women to the exclusion of women from other groups.
  • Simultaneously, along with this macro-level approach, it was emphasized that inclusion may mean different things for different people and groups, particularly at the individual or micro level. Thus, expanding our definitions of inclusion itself, to go beyond “not discriminating” and “counting diversity ratios,” is a good first step. Inclusion work needs to be customized to context and person.
  • Intersectionality (i.e., intersections of multiple identities, such as race and gender) is another theme on which more research and evidence-based practical recommendations are needed. While some work and I-O psychologists may already incorporate some of those ideas in our work (e.g., through a focus on trust, psychological safety, expanding how we measure and define demographic categories), we need to be more intentional about adopting an intersectional lens in our research and practice on inclusion.

WHY (Does SIOP Need to Change and Embrace Inclusion in a Bigger Way?)

The session, chaired by Veronica Gilrane (Google Inc., People Analytics Manager) and Aarti Shyamsunder (Psymantics Consulting, Proprietor/Independent Consultant), included perspectives from academia (Sabrina Volpone, University of Colorado Boulder, Leeds School of Business, Director, Diversity and Identity Management Lab) and industry (Aarti Shyamsunder, Veronica Gilrane, and Brian Welle, Google, Inc., Director of People Analytics) to discuss different cases for inclusion. Volpone presented the legal perspective, discussing the history of inclusion in organizations beginning with the 1950s and 1960s with legislation sparked by systemic exclusion; then affirmative actions in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s; then the recognition that diversity without inclusion is inefficient today and in the legal landscape of today. Gilrane discussed the ethical perspective on inclusion. The argument focuses on growing social justice norms and values among employees in the organization and the relationship between the ethicality of the organization and its perceived authenticity. Welle discussed views on inclusion in the practice, and then Shyamsunder discussed and critiqued the business case for inclusion, which has been a traditional argument for inclusion but also has its limitations. The goal of the session was for participants to come away with the understanding that there are multiple ways to make the case for inclusion at work. Interested in viewing this session? The link to watch the session is here: https://vimeo.com/428478553/0cd10d39c5


Key Insights for Us at SIOP:

  • Looking inward, it is clear that we need a greater focus on inclusion because SIOP itself is far from being sufficiently diverse or representative of the population at large. If SIOP truly seeks to be a global organization, we need to make more efforts to reflect the global face of work and organizational psychology. Even within North America (currently the majority of SIOP members are from the U.S.), SIOP membership shows the classic pyramid distribution when it comes to racial diversity—people of color are more highly represented among student members, but the ratios start to skew as we start to look at higher membership levels. For example, SIOP Fellows are mostly men, mostly from academia, and mostly White.
  • It is also high time that we look critically at theory and accepted practices based on scholarly research that itself is centered on majority groups—making it potentially biased, sexist, racist, and colonial.
  • Research on and practice of diversity, equity, and inclusion are themselves not diverse—an unfair burden of this work falls on the shoulders of members of the very groups that are fighting for more inclusion, and this needs to change. Work on DEI should be imperative across SIOP and a fundamental competency in the discipline and its practice.

HOW (Can SIOP Enhance Inclusion for Its Members and for the Recipients of Its Services?)

This session, chaired by Bernardo Ferdman and Stu Carr, focused on how organizations and their leaders can foster inclusion in groups and organizations. After an introduction by Ferdman framing the concept and inviting the audience to reflect on their own experiences of inclusion and the conditions that helped to bring those about, Katina Sawyer spoke about the interpersonal behaviors that promote inclusion, as well as the need for courage to disrupt behaviors that work against inclusion. Dnika Travis (Vice President of research at Catalyst, Inc.) focused on the inclusive leadership behaviors that serve to foster cultures of inclusion, and Binna Kandola (PearnKandola) held the mirror up to our own discipline, challenging us to look at psychology and ourselves, to see our complicity in perpetuating systemic racism, and to consider what we need to do to truly create inclusion and equity at the organizational and systems levels. The session also included powerful perspectives and insights from various executives and D&I practitioners on how best to foster inclusion; in addition to all those included in the “What” session, this one also included insights from Daisy Auger-Dominguez (Chief People Officer, VICE Media). Interested in viewing this session? The link to watch the session is here: https://vimeo.com/428477936/3530d02470


Key Insights for Us at SIOP:

  • Work and I-O psychologists must help organizations and their leaders who are looking for quick fixes to realize that inclusion requires intentional and sustained effort. This sometimes involves uncomfortable conversations, difficult decisions, and critically questioning one’s own privilege and position in social hierarchies. For example, if organizations continue to hire, develop, and promote employees in the ways they have become used to, while making public statements about their commitment to diversity, it is unlikely that they will see actual change in their workforces or in fostering truly inclusive cultures. Even in academia, faculty and researchers must raise and address uncomfortable issues, intentionally take on diverse perspectives, have courageous conversations, call out inequities, and be prepared to listen and be held accountable for results.
  • The long-standing aspiration for the field of work and I-O psychology to follow a scientistpractitioner model requires more intentional focus—especially for work on inclusion. Research on DEI needs to center on the lived experiences of those who have been marginalized for too long and take into account the insights and perspectives of DEI practitioners.
  • SIOP needs to make our science and practice accessible and applicable to everyone—especially from a cultural and socioeconomic perspective. To that end, the pandemic has actually brought new possibilities (such as the virtual or hybrid model for future conferences) that could simultaneously achieve many ends: accessibility and inclusion for those who would not otherwise have attended the conference, reduced carbon footprint and financial burden, and enhanced access for groups that would have been sidelined or hesitated to participate fully (e.g., people from different countries, students on a budget, people with disabilities, introverts, or those who prefer virtual/tech-enabled interactions).

WHOSE (Diversity Are We Overlooking?)

Four leading practitioners, advocates, and thinkers made three dynamic presentations on this topic. The first, by Walter Reichman (OrgVitality), painted a global tapestry of diversities that have been systemically excluded, but also shared stories of inclusion that many of us will not have known and will find inspiring. The second, by Mahima Saxena (Illinois Institute of Technology), took a global supply chain perspective on including the 2/3 majority of the world’s workforce, who just happen to work in the informal sector. Making that sector and its talents more visible - in this case by showing us some of the actual products that skilled artisans make - palpably connects our lives and livelihoods and supports sustainability for all. Our third and final presentation, by John Scott and Keith Caver (APTMetrics, CT) applied a fresh D&I lens to future leader(ship). Through that lens, timeworn adages like "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior" overlook swaths of future talent and leadership potential. Interested in viewing this session? The link to watch the session is here: https://vimeo.com/428477426/b2db4df5d5


Key Insights for Us at SIOP:

  • There has been a resounding realization that I-O psychology has historically focused on white-collar workers in the corporate world—but the majority of the world’s work is done by others (i.e., those outside the organized corporate world of work). Shifting focus to the unorganized workforce, blue-collar or gray-collar workers, forced labor, the incarcerated population, migrant workers, and the so-called "low-skilled" work sector (which often ironically calls for very specialized sets of skills that are in danger of being erased by technology and exploitative labor economics) must be a priority for work and I-O psychologists as we expand our notions of inclusion and, indeed, of work itself.
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has found echoes around the world and brought issues of institutional discrimination to the forefront. As Eden King mentioned during the online discussion held during the SIOP Virtual Conference, it is time to end the “400-year pandemic of racism in our country.” This could include I-O and work psychologists partnering with different disciplines. (The SIOP session organized by the Blacks in I-O group about police relations is a great example of this.) Our research on DEI, conflict resolution, culture change, and even core I-O topics such as selection and training can be brought to bear on these issues by reaching beyond the I-O world to the spheres of influence that matter.
  • As the world seeks to recover from the pandemic, our notions about work are changing in permanent ways. Our field has an opportunity and a responsibility to inform these pandemic-induced changes—from how layoffs and hiring freezes are handled, to virtual work and its impact on those who don’t have equal access to the required infrastructure, to how we treat essential workers, to leading a vulnerable and insecure workforce inclusively. This is especially important for those on the margins, for whom the impact of the pandemic has been disproportionately and unfairly high. The approach to this healing requires uncomfortable conversations through an intersectional lens, leading with human rights values—in which inclusion is key.

WHERE (Can We Go From Here?)

This session focused on creating a future vision of inclusion using a format in which our presenters used visuals and images alone to inspire the audience with their 3- to 5-minute vision of the future for inclusion. The session started out with a short message from SIOP President Eden King—who described why she chose inclusion for this year’s theme and why it is becoming increasingly important in our work within SIOP as well as outside. Then, a highly creative animated presentation by Mike Morrison (graduate student at Michigan State University) focused on citizen science—and how our field and our scholarship itself can be more inclusive. Janice Gassam (BWG Business Solutions, LLC) then shared the urgent need to look beyond shortsighted solutions such as unconscious bias training, into more systemic solutions. Lisa Kepinski and Tinna Nielsen (Inclusion Nudges) shared one such systemic solution—embedding inclusion by design into our work, through what they call inclusion nudges. Lily Zheng, an independent DEI consultant, then presented her very topical and relevant idea of corporate social justice—the responsibility that organizations have to look beyond the profit motive and even CSR toward the community and society as a whole. Lauren Daly from Catalyst closed the session with her vision of how the future of work is about inclusion. Interested in viewing this session? The link to watch the session is here: https://vimeo.com/428481701/4604282637


Key Insights for Us at SIOP:

  • As must be obvious by now, an emerging theme from the Theme Track sessions is that SIOP and the field of work and I-O psychology in general need to adopt more of a systems and social justice perspective to truly address inequities at work. This requires a shift in what organizational leaders are doing as well as in what we are investigating and how we present our results. Specifically, it can no longer be the sole responsibility of members of marginalized or excluded groups to fix the systems; leaders, especially those from dominant groups (e.g., White cisgender men), must make active changes from the inside out and exercise their influence in new ways.
  • A new emphasis on studying, understanding, and eventually influencing the lived experience of employees at work is important. DEI efforts must therefore move beyond the current emphasis of the business case and financial bottom-line impact of diversity and inclusion to the experience of psychological safety and belonging and to the implications of cultures of respect and authenticity, with a heightened focus on inclusion in the experience of work.
  • Finally, we must recognize and accelerate the efforts SIOP has already initiated—from the newly announced Anti-Racism Grant to announcing Derek Avery (Rice University) as SIOP’s first Diversity and Inclusion Officer. From getting work and I-O psychology into more introductory psychology textbooks, to finding new ways to partner with organizations and those from other disciplines and to translating our research in inclusive and accessible ways, we must leverage the great resources SIOP already has to ensure that a focus on inclusion becomes integral to the world of work for all of us moving forward.


Overall, the Theme Track sessions provoked rich dialogue and garnered new insights regarding what SIOP and our field as a whole must do to enhance inclusion in organizations. Although this is no easy task, we are encouraged by the conversations that took place during our sessions, and we hope that the SIOP members continue these discussions with their research collaborators, colleagues, and clients. When it comes to inclusion, the time for silence is over. We hope that our Theme Track sparked new ideas and solutions for addressing inclusion in our lives, at work, and in society at large.

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