Macy Cheeks & Shavonne Holman on Blacks in I/O

What’s it like to be Black in I-O psychology? When Shavonne Holman and Macy Cheeks graduated from Howard University—the country’s most prestigious historically black university—and entered graduate programs in I-O psych, they weren’t prepared for how alone and isolated they’d feel. Over dinner and drinks, they talked about forming a LinkedIn group for Blacks in I/O…and that’s when things got really interesting.

In this episode, you’ll hear the story of how that LinkedIn group became Blacks in I/O, a professional networking & learning association for Black industrial-organizational psychologists, practitioners, students and allies. You’ll also learn how you can pitch in to help Blacks in I/O change the field.

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This is an AI-enabled transcript and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  00:02

Hello, and welcome to Department 12: An IO Psych Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Butina and I’d like to start this episode with a thought experiment. I want you to imagine that you’ve just finished your undergraduate degree and you’ve been accepted to a master’s program at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, in Mumbai, India. Now, classes are taught in English, and everyone speaks English, so that’s cool. But everyone else speaks a different kind of English from you. So you start adapting your speech to match theirs. You try to talk more like everyone else and sound more like everyone else. And man, that gets exhausting. It feels kind of weird to do it. And it’s not just about how people talk, really, your classmates share a common background experiences, even pop cultural references, all this stuff that you just don’t know about. They don’t mean to exclude you necessarily. But every time they talk about something and you don’t know what it is, it reminds you that you’re an outsider, it reminds you that you’re alone. When you look around your classroom, and you don’t see anyone else who looks like you, it’s strange.

Now, this little thought experiment is not a perfect analogy for what it’s like to be Black in IO psychology in the United States, but I don’t think it’s that far off, either. Today, you’ll hear the stories of two remarkable Black women and find out what they’re doing to provide career development opportunities and increase the presence of Blacks in our field. Let’s meet them.

Macy Cheeks  01:34

Hello, everyone. My name is Macy Cheeks and I live in Alexandria, Virginia. Currently I am a consultant for DCI Consulting Group located in Washington DC.

Shavonne Holman  01:46

Hello, I’m Shavonne Holman, and I reside in Baltimore, Maryland. Currently, I serve as the recruitment and examinations manager for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. I’m at a state agency and we’re housed in Baltimore, Maryland.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  02:03

Macy and Shavonne attended a prestigious university in the heart of Washington DC, an area that’s just crawling with IO psychologists working for the government and defense contractors. So they must have learned about IO psychology as undergrads, right? Right?

Macy Cheeks  02:18

Actually, I knew nothing of IO psychology as an undergrad. I was on a clinical track psychology. That’s what all we offered really, at Howard University was a psychology clinical track, I had a minor in human development. And I knew that I was going to be a clinical psychologist, and I, you know, all the way through graduation, that was my goal to be a clinical psychologist. It wasn’t until after graduation, well, after an internship, I should say, I was like, I cannot do this. This isn’t that for me. I am not cut out for clinical psychology. And then I struggled like what the hell am I going to do? Like, which direction Am I going to go? So after graduation, I got a job working for the Department of Labor. And I hated it. And I was like, I have to go back to school.

And so every day I work I searched the internet on how can I use my psychology degree in a corporate setting. And lo and behold, I stumbled upon IO psychology. So my story is very similar to Shivani, I thought that I was going to be a child psychologist, all the way up through graduation, I accepted a position after I graduated from Howard, as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. And I did that job, maybe four months, and immediately realized that it wasn’t for me working with children every day, was not going to be something that I could do long term. And so I googled highest paying jobs in psychology because I knew that student loans were coming back up again. And I was like, I’m gonna have to figure out how I can make good money, but also do something with my degree. And the first job that came up in psychology was neuro psych. It was like, well, not doing that. So what’s number two? And number two was IO psychology.

So I was like, Okay, sounds good. I’m sure I’ll like it. And I went applying to grad schools. And of course, found my niche years later. It was during grad school Shivani and I both attended the 2015 psyop conference. I just remember being super excited that I was going to know someone outside of my cohort who’s going to be at Sai up and Shivani and I made it a point to kind of sit down while we were at SIOP to chat and catch up.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  04:55

After connecting at the 2015 SIOP conference, Mason Travon complete did their graduate programs started their new IO site careers and ended up working in the same part of the country. We both graduated

Shavonne Holman  05:07

from our graduate programs and found ourselves residing back in the DMV area. And one evening, we just met for dinner drinks in dinner, and we got talking about our experiences about our graduate programs, the the struggles that we face, you know, kind of breaking into the industry. You know, we talked about psyop, and how, you know, we felt so underrepresented in those spaces. And just from that dialogue, in the frustration that we experienced, just in our conversation, we knew that others were having similar conversations and had similar experiences. And so over drinks is really where blaxland io was created. And it was simply just to bring a bunch of people who had similar experiences, their undergraduate, graduate, or professional careers, bring them together to kind of create a safe space for them.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  06:07

So Blacks in I/O started over drinks one night, and its goal was to bring together Black people in our field who shared similar experiences. But what kind of experiences are we talking about here? What is it like to be Black in IO psychology?

Macy Cheeks  06:23

I’m just thinking of all the different experiences, or the different times where I felt that I was alone, I guess in IO, right? So starting with my graduate program, I was the only Black person in that program. And, you know, granted, I was in the middle of Kansas, not that much diversity in the town that I was in, but I’m still just just the experience being the only is tough, right? you kind of feel like you have to act a certain way, talk a certain way, perform a certain way. So that folks, you know, treat you the same as everyone else, or make sure that you are answering questions in the right way so that people think that you’re just as smart or smarter, and just things like that.

So that’s the first time that I really felt alone in I/O, I was proposing my thesis and I had a section in my thesis on white privilege. And it just touched on, you know, the history of white privilege, what it was, um, it was kind of like in the background section, nothing too deep. I remember a committee member asking me to remove white privilege from a thesis because it was not proven, and it was not scientific. And there was just nothing to back it up that it was a true phenomenon. And I was shocked. And I think that’s why it’s important that there are Black people, right, or people who understand just the nuances of diversity to be in the spaces, what whether it’s a students or as professors, just making sure that the experiences that that Black folks, right, go through on a day to day are acknowledged in our, you know, curriculum, and in the teachings of of AI. Oh,

Shavonne Holman  08:32

I share a lot of those experiences that Macy already brought up, and then really just being in the classroom, you know, in my, my graduate classes, you know, my Caucasian counterparts, having that knowledge base from either having an intro to IO psych course, or, you know, having some other exposure, I felt like I was at a disadvantage in my graduate program. And so the frustration came about when I was like, you know, I went to Howard University, you know, a great university, a great, historically Black college. And why is it that I feel less than in my graduate program? Why is it that I don’t feel equipped and prepared in this program, as my other classmates, you know, that’s kind of how we crafted our goals for Blacks. And I Oh, because we wanted to ensure that no one there no one else ever felt the way we felt through our experiences.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  09:29

So when Shavonne and Macy talked about their idea for Blacks in I/O over drinks, what was their vision?

Macy Cheeks  09:36

You know, Shavonne and I left that dinner, we decided on a LinkedIn group, we were going to add every Black IO that we knew to this LinkedIn group, and that that was going to be it. That was the space and as the LinkedIn group grew, there was an appetite from Shivani and I and from the folks in the LinkedIn group, To have in person events where we could all get together and chat and network. And so that’s what we did. And, of course, this was before Coronavirus, we we got together, it was every other month at the beginning and all over DC we were at bars all over DC, anywhere that would take us for free. And that was great. But then we thought that the appetite was growing folks wanted more professional development style events, they wanted panel discussions. And of course, those were things that cheban and I were happy to facilitate. But it wasn’t our initial vision, you know,

Shavonne Holman  10:41

as Macy stated, COVID hit. And we really had to pivot what we were offering because now we had a growing membership. And we no longer were meeting up every other month for those networking opportunities, Macy. And I found ourselves figuring out how we can maximize the opportunity virtually. And so we came up with these community calls where we would bring our community together to address issues that were happening, current events that were going on, and still giving our membership, the opportunity to network gain insight from those who were in the field or those who were entering the field.

And so our first community call was in response to COVID and how individuals could navigate their IO careers during COVID. You know, we teamed up with different organizations, and we’re able to have a really successful event. And so that grew into call community call number two and then Black Lives Matter movement happened with the George Floyd incident. And so we pivoted there and did a community call addressing that brought in some law enforcement experts and some IO psychologists. And just from word of mouth, we were able to get about 800 plus RSVPs for that one call.

Macy Cheeks  12:02

I was so shocked. I mean shocked’s not even the word. I remember texting Shavonne and being like, we have 60 rsvps, we have 70, we have 100. And then it started getting up into the tooth. And I was like, we can’t even hold this many people on our zoom platform. I I was ecstatic. I was through the roof. Because I knew the topic was super important. I knew it was a tough time just in in our community. I knew folks wanted it to hear it. So I was just so excited because I was like all these people aren’t going to be able to listen and hear, you know, all this great content that we have to share. But I mean, I never thought never thought we would have reached nearly 800 RSVP. Funny enough during that time where we were, you know, holding these community calls and really trying to think about how we could you know, several successful group during COVID, we were also doing things like creating a website, thinking about what our mission and vision and goals were going to be right, because we started to see folks were interested. And we knew that we needed to kind of get those ducks in a row, right? So even when it comes to like starting an Instagram page, and ensuring that folks that were really championing us were well aware of all of our events that that were happening, and just putting out pertinent information. So all of this was going on concurrently.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  13:32

What started as a LinkedIn group has become a pretty big deal.

Shavonne Holman  13:37

We’re growing each and every day, we’re getting new ideas tossed at us each and every day. And it’s a matter of Macy and I really sitting down concurrently trying to structure an organization and take on all of these different ideas that are that are being thrown at us and, and figuring out how we can make it all work. So when we think about partnerships, in short, it looks different. You know, depending on who we’re dealing with, you know, we have so much that we want to do so much that we want to offer throughout like a mentorship program. And so partnering with different organizations to be a part of the mentorship program, or you know, we’re thinking about our initiative to get back into HBCUs and different institutions and build that pipeline.

Macy Cheeks  14:22

If you want to help if you want to have hands on interaction with the day to day Black nio. We are always accepting committee members. So we’d ask that you navigate to our website, you go to join our team where we have a detailed list of each of our committees and what they do. And then you can apply to help. It’s a you know, volunteer base. But these committees really help drive all of the work that you see being put out on our LinkedIn or on our newsletters or on our social media accounts on like on our Instagram. The second, um, you know, if you wanted to donate currently at this very very moment, donations to Blackfin io are not tax deductible because we’re still working on setting up our nonprofit status. But we are taking donations in a form of like crowdfunding on our website, we have a Donate button down at the bottom, and you can donate whatever amount you decide $1 $10 everything helps us in, you know, just setting up infrastructure, like our website, email accounts for our committee members, um, you know, maintaining zoom accounts and different things like that.

Shavonne Holman  15:45

Blacks in I/O Psychology is an organization really committed to changing what the IO industry looks like, how we how we currently see it, you know, this organization is open to anyone who’s interested in making that impact. And so if you share that vision, you know, we would really appreciate your support, and making a difference in, you know, building this pipeline and having these opportunities for, you know, our Black and African American professionals to kind of, you know, break into the industry. And so, you know, we thank everyone for their support, we think we just reached 1000 plus followers on our Instagram page. So we’re, we’re doing a giveaway for that, because we’re just so honored and so appreciative of all the love and support that we’ve gotten over the past year. Yeah, we’re just really grateful. And we’re open and welcoming to anyone who wants to be a part of our goals.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.  16:43

In case you can’t tell Shivani and Macy were a lot of fun to interview because you could just feel the energy pouring out of them. It’s remarkable how quickly they’ve grown this from a LinkedIn group, to something that really has the potential to change IO for the better. If you want to support Blacks in I/O, if you share this vision, visit their website at Blacksiniopsych.com. I’ll include that link in the show notes, along with links to the organization’s social media accounts. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.