Society of Industrial and Occupational Psychologists Conference SIOP2019

Uncategorized Apr 28, 2019

I was on a panel discussion titled "Autism & Work, Creating a Neurodiverse Workplace" with 4 of the leading academic scholars from the USA and the heads of SAP's and JPMorgan Chase's Autism at Work programs. This made  a unique panel as it offered academic understanding, corporate experience and the rarely heard perspective of an autistic adult. The video is my opening presentation for the panel discussion.

In this post I talk about my thoughts, impressions, and research from the perspective of a first time conference attendee, not as a speaker. For more details about the panel and our presentation please see my SIOP2019 entry in my Appearances & Media section of the site.

Before I was invited to participate on a panel I wasn't even aware of psychologists specialized in the dynamics and measurements of workers and jobs in the workplace. The conference is quite large with near 5000 attendees and 1000 presentations squeezed into 3 days. I spoke with different attendees and learned about half are academic researchers and educators and the other half are field psychologists working directly with companies. This creates a very fertile environment of concepts and study combined with extensive field knowledge. The organizer has an ambassador program to help first timers get the most from attending. My ambassador Alex was very helpful prior to the event and even more when we met in person.

Having no idea what an IO psychologist does it was interesting to learn assessments are a major tool they use and depend on. The assessment theme is so big of roughly 80 vendors showing their wares, about 90% were involved in assessments. Being autistic and a Neurodiverse Communication Specialist I thought it would be educational and fun to find out how aware the commercial assessment providers are of neurodiversity and if their product evaluated my clan accurately. As pointed out in Rachel Loftin's article about standardized tests and students with ASD, "In addition to language skill deficits, a student with ASD may lack other skills required in the testing situation. Students with ASD, regardless of level of functioning, possess deficits in social skills. Standardized tests require some level of social interaction.", standardized test are not valid in this population.

With the large number of assessment vendors I only talk to 40% or so. As in many fields the big buzz is artificial intelligence and machine learning. These particularly interested me in the makeup and labeling of their training data as many types of AI & ML systems are being shown to be biased by this. Plus I am a geek and into techie stuff like this.

When I questioned their survey methods and results when applied to neurodiverse workers the overall answer was some form of we don't know and often we aren't aware of a different population. I should not be surprised, the results were discouraging and revealed the implicit bias against neurodiverse individuals in their surveys. Worse, it showed there is virtually zero awareness of neurodiversity or that many standard assessments are essentially useless and negatively biased when applied to this population.

I did see signs of change with both the SIOP organization and individual members I spoke with. I was told this was the first year they included any presentations on neurodiversity and offered 3 or 4. Talking to both academic and practitioner members there is growing awareness and with it growing interest in understanding the neurodiverse as the distinct culture they are. I connected with a few members as they were interested in learning more and helping increase the awareness. This has lead to some great discussion and interesting potential collaborations.

If you are not familiar with a Poster Presentation than you haven't been going to academic/scientific conferences. I was baffled the first time I heard of them and had to ask what they were. The way it works is you put all you can about your research or project on as big a poster as you can. The organizers give you a location and time to pin up your poster. The presenter then just stands there and answers questions or if really good engages people in conversation. I spoke to a couple different researchers working on items that intersected Neurodiversity. Unlike the commercial vendors who just wanted to claim their assessments were perfect, the researches were very open to a different perspective and one even mentioned they need to look into how the neurodiverse trended in their research assessments.

 I believe SIOP is well positioned to be an agent of change in changing the current concept of EQ is everything to a discussion of individual human traits each with its own low to high expression scale. Hopefully this will eventually change the "your not like us" bias into a "you think differently, we need you" along with the willingness to adjust job duties to allow more people to be successful, neurodiverse or not.


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