Organizational Behavior Management has the potential to help organizations drive racial equity and inclusion

Reviewed by Oscar Mairena

In order for the field of Organizational Behavior Management to help lead on racial equity change, it must first prioritize becoming more racially inclusive and equitable itself.


With the growing prominence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, many organizations, no matter the type, have increased their commitments to racial equity in the last several years. As a result, racial equity efforts have proliferated across all sectoral institutions in the US—ranging from public to private, corporate to governmental, and policy to grassroots. While these efforts have developed more extensively, the field of organizational behavior management (OBM) is positioned to be a prime actor in understanding their impact to promote racial equity. However, OBM, as a field, has not historically focused on racial equity nor held a significant lens of systemic oppression. Akpapuna et al. argue that OBM has and continues to be a white-dominated field with a critical need to respond to the discipline’s intersections with racism, and growing calls for addressing systemic racism in the US.

They report that across literature in OBM over 43 years on racial equity, multiculturalism, and diversity there is consensus on what needs to be achieved, yet ambiguity on strategies for how to achieve it. As a result of their review, the authors maintain that the field of OBM must become more racially inclusive and equitable before it can provide technical assistance and learning for US actors seeking to undertake  racial equity institutional change. Ultimately, the authors provide recommendations for ways in which the OBM field can become more racially inclusive, equitable and just internally, as well as its outward facing scholarship for the field

Merrilyn Akpapuna, Eunju Choi, PhD, Douglas A. Johnson, PhD and Juan A. Lopez were with the Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University at the time of publication. Akpapuna and Choi are part of the Instructional Design and Management Lab, headed by Dr. Johnson, who is also a Learning Leader for Eastman Chemical Company. Dr. Choi is also an Assistant Professor at St. Cloud University. Lopez is a Behavioral Sciences and Software Development Consultant and Instructor of Western Michigan University’s undergraduate Organizational Psychology course.

Methods and Findings

Utilizing a racial equity lens, the authors explore issues related to training, financial support, recruitment, retention, measurement of progress, support of emerging diverse voices, and self-reflection in the field of OBM. Akpapuna et al. reviewed 40 volumes of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management throughout 43 years of literature to identify the number of articles in which the words multiculturalism, diversity, racism, or prejudice appeared in the title. The authors found only one. Additionally, to illustrate the urgency for a racial equity focus, and provide more personal background for their findings, the authors shared both personal and peer stories in the article. In sharing these intimate anecdotes they sought to elucidate the needs of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) professionals in the OBM field. 

The authors identified the following findings, which also consistently matched theirs or their colleagues’ experiences:

  • White colleagues dictate the rules (written and unwritten) of the field, 
  • BIPOC professionals’ failure to comply with these rules leads to disciplinary action, which can result in job loss,  
  • White colleagues receive preferential treatment within organizations while BIPOC colleagues are scrutinized more than their white counterparts  for the same behavior,
  • BIPOC professionals witness or bear racially insensitive jokes by colleagues and are often told they are overreacting when concerns are expressed; 
  • BIPOC professionals are tokenized; and 
  • There is a clear need for student recruitment efforts aimed at BIPOC individuals at higher education institutions, especially in OBM programs, and there is a major lack of funding to make OBM education accessible.

Conclusively, the authors argue that the OBM field does not tackle social injustice in an effective manner.  Based on their personal accounts and a review of the literature, the authors offer several recommendations for the field of OBM:

  • OBM professionals should actively participate in cultural-competency training as part of broader change initiatives
  • Ensure that voices of underrepresented groups are included and elevated in OBM training by investing in mentorship, recruitment, promotion, and/or patronage. 
  • Organizations should provide financial assistance for participation in OBM training, particularly for BIPOC and international students, and focus on intentional recruitment and retention of BIPOC individuals.
  • Partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) for recruitment and retention efforts.
  • Engage appropriate stakeholders to identify equitable outcomes, processes, and performance measures.
  • Establish performance standards that are well-defined and measurable. 
  • Develop and measure  outcome metrics that have an equity focus; revisit those outcome results on an ongoing basis.
  • OBM professionals must regularly reflect personally and professionally about their own prejudices, privileges, biases, and blind spots and acknowledge how the status quo fails to support marginalized communities, and instead often creates harm. 
  • The OBM field should interrogate the patterns, outcomes, systems, policies, and procedures that have led it to a state where racial equity is not a focus of the field.


The authors argue, “deciding to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in an organization is not the end; it is the beginning.” While the framework and recommendations they offer are not meant to be a comprehensive solution, they hope they will galvanize the field of OBM to be more racially representative and inclusive. 

Yet, there remains a lack of research at the intersection of racial equity and organizational behavioral change, and the authors encourage continued scholarship in this nascent field. They call on the field of OBM to dedicate all of its tools toward dismantling racist systems and repairing scholarly work  within their own field and practices within the organizations they study and work with.


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