The 30th Annual Conference for the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) was held April 22-25, 2015 in Philadelphia, PA. This conference brings together members of the I/O community, both practitioners and academics, to discuss areas of research and practice and share information. Many sessions cover topics of interest to the federal contractor community, including employment law, testing, diversity and inclusion, big data, and regulations for individuals with a disability. DCI Consulting Group staff members were well represented in a number of high profile SIOP presentations and also attended a variety of other sessions worth sharing.
DCI highlights included, but were not limited to, President Dave Cohen presenting a pre-conference workshop with EEOC Chief Psychologist Dr. Rich Tonowski, Dr. Mike Aamodt presenting a master tutorial on background checks with Dr. Rich Tonowski, and Dr. Eric Dunleavy being awarded SIOP fellow status at the plenary session. Additionally, DCI staff members Dr. Art Gutman, Dr. Kayo Sady, Joanna Colosimo, Keli Wilson, and Vinaya Sakpal all presented at the conference. Session summaries and highlights can be found within six major themes as listed below.
OFCCP and EEOC Enforcement Trends: Practical Tips for Mitigating Risk
DCI’s David Cohen and Dr. Richard Tonowski, Chief Psychologist at EEOC, presented a workshop that reviewed aspects of both the OFCCP and EEOC’s regulatory and enforcement agenda. Several of the highlights are summarized below.
OFCCP Regulatory and Enforcement Agenda
- Equal Pay Report – current proposal that will require the collection of contractor compensation data (status – NPRM).
- Pay Transparency – EO 13665 prohibits retaliation against employees and applicants for disclosing, discussing, or asking about compensation information (status – NPRM).
- LGBT Protections – EO 13672 prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant because of sexual orientation or gender identity and requires contractors to take affirmative action to ensure applicants and employees are treated without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity (status – Final).
- When analyzing the last ten years of data, the majority of OFCCP findings of discrimination have been related to a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination, hiring, and placement (approximately 74%) and compensation issues (approximately 17%).
- OFCCP’s focus on large analytical units (or aggregation of data) will almost always yield statistically significant differences between groups of interest. In some cases, data aggregation may be improper.
- Disparity analyses should compare subgroups of interest to the highest selected group. OFCCP has endorsed this approach and recent settlements are reflective of this.
Current EEO Litigation Trends
- Private-sector charges to EEOC are down.
- EEOC-initiated litigation is down.
- Few EEOC cases involve complex psychometric or statistical issues.
- The current EEOC emphasis is on systemic cases, though most activity still involves single-claimant, disparate treatment issues.
- The hottest EEOC litigation is over procedural matters (such as the adequacy of complaint, conciliation).
EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan (2013-2016)
- Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, including those involving religious discrimination, credit and criminal history, and social media.
- Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers. The take-away message was employers should be proactive when there is a ‘vulnerable workforce.’
- Addressing emerging and developing issues, such as pregnancy accommodation, ADAAA, big data, and LGBT issues.
- Enforcing equal pay laws, with an emphasis on sex discrimination.
- Preserving access to the legal system by targeting policies and practices which discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights or impede EEOC’s enforcement efforts.
Preventing harassment via systemic enforcement and targeted outreach. Note that there has been a high volume of recent harassment cases.
Alliance Special Session: Working with Mental Health Issues
In light of new data collection requirements now in effect under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, the self-identification process for individuals with disabilities (IWD) is a hot discussion topic. Many are particularly curious about the decision to disclose from the perspective of applicants and employees with disabilities. During a panel discussion on mental health issues in the workplace, counseling psychologist Susanne Bruyère, Ph.D., shared her research on the factors influencing the decision to disclose or not disclose disability status in an employment setting. Listed below are several highlights from Bruyère’s discussion of her research:
- Factors identified as most influential in the decision to not disclose a disability (barriers to disclosure)
- Fear of unfavorable employment outcomes (e.g., not being hired, being terminated)
- Concern of shifting employer’s focus from employee performance to the disability
- Factors identified as most influential in the decision to disclose a disability (facilitators to disclosure)
- Need for a workplace accommodation
- Positive employee-supervisor relationship
- Perception of employer’s commitment to disability inclusion
- Factors identified as significantly less important in the decision process by IWD who ultimately decided against disclosure (in comparison to those who decided to disclose)
- Including statements in employer recruitment material
- Having an employee with a disability at a job fair
Implementing Diversity and Inclusion Practice
Panelists discussed a current shift in the way organizations are, and should be, approaching diversity and inclusion. Companies are moving away from just training women, for example, and moving toward training the managers who have the power to promote those women. One challenge that still remains is identifying any biases or stereotypes that may be present and learning how to overcome them.
Furthermore, it was emphasized that diversity is more than you can see. It is not about “how do I manage or teach minorities?” but rather, “how do I tailor my teaching style to each individual, no matter their background?” With a decrease in external pressures on employers, motivation to improve diversity and inclusion programs must ultimately come from within the organization.
Attracting and Retaining Qualified Individuals with Disabilities: A Contemporary Update
DCI’s Joanna Colosimo moderated this session which focused on a variety of issues regarding the recruitment, selection, and retention of individuals with disabilities in the context of the new reporting requirements that went into effect March 24, 2014. Employer, researcher, and practitioner panelists including Keli Wilson and Arthur Gutman of DCI covered a range of topics including the voluntary self-identification requirements pre- and post-offer, workforce metrics and the 7% utilization goal for individuals with disabilities, and potential legal considerations. Additionally, panelists addressed the challenges that employers continue to face in attempting to foster inclusive environments in which employees feel comfortable disclosing their disability status and shared best practices on outreach and selection.
In one example, Eyal Grauer, the Manager of Equal Opportunity Initiatives at Starbucks Coffee Company, shared that his employer has long been committed to recruiting, hiring and retaining people with disabilities and supporting inclusion and accessibility in the workplace. Although disabilities are often framed in a negative light, Starbucks has found just the opposite. Partners with a range of disabilities serve to enhance the company through their innovation, creativity and unique skillset and this philosophy should be at the forefront of all disability-inclusive programs and initiatives moving forward.
Mending the Leaky Pipeline: Retention Interventions for Women in STEM
Presenters discussed the tendency for women to self-remove from STEM fields. For example, in several fields, women declare and begin studies in almost equivalent numbers. However, women are more likely to either not complete the program or to remove themselves from the field. Some methods discussed to reduce the number of women who fall out of traditionally male dominated professions included: working to minimize alienating language and imagery (i.e., posting pictures of women draped over a NASCAR vehicle in the break room can send the wrong message), downplaying the stereotype in task performance, creating peer groups, encouraging self-affirmation, and identifying mentors. Finally, it’s important to retain women in STEM fields so there are future role models for women thinking about or entering STEM fields.
Uncharted Waters: Employees with Disabilities
Per Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal contractors are required to establish a utilization goal of 7% employment for qualified individuals with disabilities. However, recent findings among contractors and non-contractors show that only an average of 3% of employees have identified as having a disability, highlighting the challenge employers continue to face with employee self-disclosure. The panel discussed potential reasons for low disclosure rates:
- It may not always be clear to people whether or not they have a disability.
- Language in the self-identification form is framed negatively instead of positively.
Asking someone whether they have an apparent or non-apparent disability may change how they respond. Likewise, when requesting participation, continually using language such as “this will not hurt your chances” instead of “this could help your chances” could deter employees from disclosing their disability. It is more than checking a box – employees have to understand and accept their disability, and then make the choice to disclose.
AttenTION: Integrating Military Veterans in to the Workforce
Several presentations focused on veterans in the civilian workforce; most addressing problems and solutions in three main areas: recruiting veterans into the workforce, getting them through the hiring process and retaining them in the workforce.
There are a variety of both national and local level outreach resources available. Some best practices in this area involved emphasizing local level resources and involving veteran employees in the outreach effort. Some organizations with locations close to military installations initiated efforts to recruit transitioning military members before discharge is complete.
It is often difficult for veterans and civilian recruiters and hiring managers to identify how military training and skills translate to company positions. Spending the time up front to define the knowledge, skills and abilities needed and the military skills and training that align will allow for more effective targeting efforts, resulting in a better job fit. Some areas where this has been successful included translating military leadership and supervisory skills, CDL transfer programs for drivers, and identifying that military skills translated well to competencies required for a sales position.
Veteran retention is receiving a lot of focus, as the turnover rate for 21-29 year old veterans is much higher than non-veterans, specifically during the first few years of employment. Female veterans leave at a higher rate than male veterans. Communication efforts can help with retention. Specifically, ensuring that top leadership is vocal about supporting veterans, communicating the value of the veteran’s position to achieving the organization’s mission, repeatedly providing information about resources available, and communicating to non-veteran employees to dispel “preference” myths have helped in some companies. Resources that can help reduce turnover include employee resource groups, mentoring, defining clear career paths, and offering a variety of resources to meet the diverse needs of veterans.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) committee (ad hoc)
DCI staff attended the LGBT committee (ad hoc) meeting. A mission of this committee is to encourage research on LGBT issues. DCI will continue to share information that comes from continued involvement with this committee.
Current Issues in EEO Law
In this roundtable discussion, experts focused on four current issues in EEO law: recruitment, adverse impact, sexual harassment, and retaliation. After each topic was briefly introduced, the floor was opened up for an audience led discussion and question session. High-level discussion points included:
- Although the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) do not indicate recruitment as a selection procedure, mishandling of recruitment can lead to selection violations such as adverse impact and the pattern or practice of discrimination.
- As an example, an attempt to recruit a skilled laborer may lead you to recruit from local training schools. However, if those training schools do not have a diverse population of students, this pipeline of applicants may reduce diversity.
- Background checks were discussed in light of legal considerations, including adverse impact and potential employer liability. It was stressed in this discussion the importance of considering the specific requirements of the job and also the nature of the business when assessing risk.
- Employers are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment, including establishing a complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training, and taking immediate action when complaints are reported.
- Anti-discrimination laws prohibit harassment against individuals as retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any investigation.
- Harassment that is not severe or pervasive enough to interfere with terms and conditions of employment can lead to retaliation violations because criteria for retaliation claims are less than criteria for harassment claims.
Data Aggregation and EEO Analytics
This symposium provided an analysis of problems with data aggregation in three EEO scenarios: Adverse impact analysis, criterion-related validation analysis, and compensation analysis. In all three presentations, presenters demonstrated problems that aggregating unlike data can introduce in terms of arriving at correct conclusions in legal scenarios.
- Using data from the Lopez v. City of Lawrence ruling, presenters demonstrated how conclusions regarding hiring/promotion discrimination can differ depending on whether hiring events are analyzed separately, analyzed in the aggregate without appropriate tests accounting for the multiple events combined, and analyzed in the aggregated contingent on Breslow-Day statistical results and using a Mantel Haenszel estimator. A take home conclusion from the presentation is that data should never be aggregated if there are conceptual reasons to keep the data separate (i.e., data from multiple locations representing distinct phenomena), but if there are no serious obstacles to aggregating, appropriate multi-event tests (such as the Mantel Haenszel) should be used.
- Criterion-related validation research involves collecting selection assessment scores (e.g., written test scores, simulation scores, interview scores, some combination of different scores) from a group of individuals applying for or performing a job and establishing the degree to which those scores correlate, at a statistically significant level, with job performance ratings for the individuals. A statistically and practically significant correlation coefficient demonstrates that those who perform better on the assessment also tend to perform the job better. However, to the extent that different supervisors have particular rating tendencies (e.g., some tend to be lenient while others tend to be strict), the observed correlation coefficient between assessment scores and performance ratings will artificially decreased. The presenters offered an application of cluster-centered regression in such scenarios to demonstrate that such a technique is superior to ordinary least squares regression in criterion-related validation studies that involve supervisor ratings of performance.
Finally, presenters offered a clear demonstration of how the application of aggregation strategies offered in OFCCP’s Directive 307 are problematic in EEO pay analyses when they extend beyond the level of similarly situated data. Using simulated data from six known populations of similarly situated individuals (population parameters were established by the presenters as part of the simulation), the presenters shared results that demonstrate, definitely, false positive indicators of discrimination increase dramatically when similarly situated groups are aggregated in an EEO pay analysis.
Does Your Performance Appraisal System “Meet Expectations”?
There were several sessions discussing whether formal performance appraisal (PA) systems should be abandoned. Those in favor of jettisoning formal PA systems argued that such systems involve a lot of time and money but there is no evidence that they actually result in financial benefits to the organization. Those in favor of keeping formal PA systems argued that, although most PA systems need improvement, they are important to motivating and developing employees.
Several of the organizations that no longer use performance ratings, concentrate on goal accomplishment instead. One panelist pointed out that effective goals are related to improving the organization rather than being related to day-to-day routine work activities. Another panel member commented that any effective PA system should be about helping the employee get better.
It was interesting that several organizations said that they no longer use performance ratings but in the descriptions of their new systems, it seems as if they still do. For example, one organization said that it no longer uses performance ratings but instead, places employees into one of three categories: Driving the business, performing, and not performing. Isn’t this a rating scale?
Regardless of the panelists’ view of performance ratings themselves, one point on which everyone agreed was that feedback should not be an annual event. Instead, an ongoing cycle of feedback is critical to making any impact on employee performance.
Based on the number of sessions and the big turnout for each of these sessions, this promises to be a hot topic in the coming years.
Mobile Assessment: The Horses Have Left the Barn…Now What?
Many organizations are moving away from traditional paper pencil assessments to high tech software programs to test applicants. Key differences in technology platforms (e.g. tablets, laptops and mobile phones) shared in a pre-conference workshop are listed below:
- Small screen sizes may result in lower scores, primarily because of increased cognitive demands (e.g. smaller fonts and page manipulations required to read sentences).
- Younger applicants prefer taking tests on a mobile device where older applicants typically prefer laptops or desktops.
- Personality tests are easier to complete on a mobile phone than cognitive ability tests, which often contain diagrams.
- Although a general reduction in scores is seen using smaller devices, subgroup differences stay the same across different device platforms.
20 Years of Changes in Pre-Employment Testing: Experiences and Challenges
Additional information on the changes in pre-employment testing due to technological advances was shared in this session. Key points from this session to consider when assessing applicants or integrating assessments in the applicant tracking system (ATS) are listed below.
- Determine whether assessments are or should be mobile-friendly (i.e. consider the applicant experience).
- Face validity is important in the context of technologically driven applicant processes (i.e. ask at the end whether the applicant was able to share their skills).
- Involve relevant parties in integrating assessments in an ATS (e.g., Industrial-Organizational psychologists, compliance, legal, HR, recruiters, programmers, assessment developer, ATS vender).
Advancing Test Development Practices: Modern Issues and Technological Advancements
Part of the session explored adding game-like aspects to traditional cognitive assessments. Introducing game aspects to computer-based cognitive ability tests did not significantly impact testing times, which is good. However, the study also found that providing game-like feedback could impact applicant reactions to and performance on the assessment.
Although more research is needed, it’s important to be aware of different technology platforms for assessments and inform applicants of potential drawbacks associated with mobile device testing.
Using Background Checks in the Employee Selection Process
Although prevalent in the employee selection process, the use of background checks as a tool for applicant screening continues to draw heavy scrutiny from both the EEOC and plaintiffs attorneys. In spite of legal risk, approximately 86% of employers consider criminal history for at least some applicants (SHRM, 2012). During a SIOP tutorial session, Mike Aamodt of DCI Consulting and Richard Tonowski of the EEOC discussed legal implications and best practices for employers using background checks in employee selection.
Background checks, including credit and criminal history, have shown evidence of adverse impact against racial minorities when used to screen out candidates for employment. For this reason, employers should consider several factors when determining whether and how to use background checks. See the list below for several best practice recommendations for minimizing risk in the use of employee background checks:
- Avoid blanket policies (e.g., policy that company will not hire applicants with past convictions without exception).
- Demonstrate clear link between the purpose of conducting the check and specific requirements of the job.
- Consider both the length of time since the conviction and the nature of the crime.
- Notify any applicants who were rejected based on the background check and offer the opportunity to provide an explanation.