Jennifer Feitosa: Improving team dynamics through diversity and inclusion

In June, CMC announced its Presidential Initiative on Anti-Racism and the Black Experience in America. As part of this ongoing effort, individual CMC faculty, departments, and institutes are addressing race and racism through various curricular and co-curricular actions. We asked faculty members to share their work in these areas, and what they will continue to do to promote sustained and substantive engagement with issues of racial inequality.

Jennifer Feitosa is an assistant professor of psychological sciences and director of METRICS Lab. Some of the work she did this summer—Design and (Virtual) Implementation of an Integrative Team Belonging Training with M. Gloria Gonzalez-Morales—led to a two-year funded award (BLAIS Challenge Award, Claremont Graduate University).

Your research from this summer focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. How did it come together, and why was your student team drawn to the topic?

We kicked off with the Summer Research Program, where I was supervising six CMC students with the help of my METRICS Lab manager, Ally Davis. The team was brought together through different efforts: Amanda Avery ’22 and Teslin Ishee ’22 were in my Statistics course in Fall 2019, then followed by my Seminar on Diverse Teams at Work in Spring 2020. They had a sincere passion and interest for the diverse team topics as it applied to organizations. Adrienne Kafka ’21 and Katherine Almendarez ’22 were in my Organizational Psychology class in Spring 2020, and both wanted to learn more about diversity in organizations. Lilian Rangel ’21 was in my Statistics course and had joined the lab in the Spring of 2020. Finally, I met Leyna Hong ’23 after giving a talk at the Kravis Leadership Institute and she wanted to know how to get involved with the lab.

As for the plan, we had two major summer projects: one to develop a framework for an integrative team training, and another one for the coding of team processes with behaviorally anchored rating scales. Although we had a range of tasks, the lab was drawn together by one purpose: to maximize the benefits of diversity in organizational team settings. Our lab mission is “to understand and improve team dynamics at work, especially those characterized by diversity.” In practicing what we preach, we applied a number of strategies to continue to foster team trust in this now virtual platform, share parts of our identities with each other, and make connections between our passions and the workplace literature.

What personal experiences did your team bring to the research? Did that lead to stronger engagement with both the topic and the larger scope of racial inequality?

Absolutely! My team brought in wonderful and unique perspectives. We are all from different countries, races, and majors (psychology, public policy, economics, and dance). When the students first applied for the Summer Research Program, we envisioned being in the lab and focusing heavily on reviewing, extracting themes, and writing scientific articles about diverse teams at work. Instead, we were faced with very relevant challenges that made us question and adapt quickly to a new context. The current context highlighted systemic racism, disproportional exposure to COVID-19, and very polarized opinions around all of us—these could not go unnoticed or without heavily tailoring our work.

We spent time reflecting what this meant for us, but also sharing news articles, movies, books, and other reflections as we evolved in our anti-racism journey. It made what we do even more meaningful, as we seek to help people to work more collaboratively, understand different perspectives, and actually leverage diversity to achieve positive outcomes. We also saw a shift from having to convince people about the necessity for diversity, inclusion, and teamwork in the workplace to applying an overwhelming amount of knowledge seekers (CEOs, celebrities, company statements) on the matter.

Why are more diverse approaches to teaching important to you?

I know what it feels like to be part of different worlds, navigating unknown terrains, and finding a way to belong. I like to foster that to students by providing them with an outlet to allow them to make mistakes, learn about each other, and develop skills while in a psychologically safe environment. It’s such a privilege to be able to witness people’s growth happening right in front of our eyes, and recognizing what each person needs—including how to better support them—takes time.

Diversity and inclusion are at the core of all facets of my work. As an example, for teaching, we are drawing from real data to illustrate some of the statistical tests that are used in psychology. Students will be able to come up with their own questions and analysis related to diversity while they apply their statistical knowledge. One of the teaching assistants—Shania Sharma ’22—is very helpful in brainstorming ways we can apply statistical knowledge while presenting topics related to diversity. Furthermore, I am extending my diverse teams seminar to include a deeper conversation about anti-racism in the workplace. This class will be offered in the Spring 2021 semester, where I am planning to connect students with real world teams to apply their knowledge.

How do you think your research, and just teaching these topics in general, can have a broader impact on CMC and society? Has it deepened your work? 

My overarching research interests focus on understanding how diversity influences team processes and outcomes, and on improving such processes and states through the use of training interventions. Additionally, because the modern workplace is becoming increasingly diverse, I am interested in expanding research to explore how to identify ways to maximize its benefits with the use of rigorous methods. Thus far, I have explored several variables within these domains, such as team trust, social identity, cross-cultural adjustment, conflict, and other team-related constructs in diverse settings (military, long duration spaceflight, hospitals, education).

Industrial-organizational psychology is grounded in the scientific-practitioner model, which is very relevant to address racism and remove barriers in a rigorous way. But it requires specific tools and training for faculty to address these topics in classes and in our daily activities (how to address microaggressions, be an ally, understanding power dynamics, etc.). In my own research, I also focus on maintaining a diverse group of co-authors to collaborate with, utilizing diverse methodologies in my papers and drawing from a multitude of samples from crowdsourcing to real workers. Qualitative work allows for a richer understanding of voices that often gets dismissed by quantitative methods.

What are the biggest takeaways from your most recent research?

Although overt workplace racism did not begin with COVID-19, the pandemic has catalyzed and exacerbated its effects1. If we really want to see a change, this will be an ongoing effort.

Because creating a virtual environment of inclusiveness and involvement through occasional face-to-face interactions is not currently an option, we suggest to maximize the benefits of virtual teams by learning more about each other at a deeper level in the current platform2. We cannot assume everyone’s needs are the same. Any student who has a marginalized identity should be carefully supported, celebrated, understood, and respected.

Structure programs and outlets so people know where and when to chime in. Revisit these practices often, as their effectiveness is likely going to change. Keep an open dialogue. Recognize it will be uncomfortable at times, but well worth it. Enjoy the journey!

—Thomas Rozwadowski

*Kafka, A. M., *Avery, A. Y., *Almendarez, K. E., *Ishee, T. Z., *Hong, L., *Rangel, L. J., *Davis, A. S., & Feitosa, J. (under review). Pandemic meets race: An added layer of complexity. Industrial Organizational Psychology.

Feitosa, J., & Salas, E. (2020). Today’s virtual teams: Adapting lessons learned to the pandemic context. Organizational Dynamics. doi: 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2020.100777