What is a Master’s Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology? The Career, Leadership, and My Journey

By Caroline Griffith, Candidate, MA in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Golden Gate University

When people find out I am going to a business school, they assume I am pursuing the MBA rather than the master’s degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. And as I talk to people in different industries from Law to Medicine, people love to hear that I study psychology and they say, “I wish I understood the psychology of the people I work with.” The MBA is a common approach to studying business, however; I know that I am in the right program. I am learning about human behavior at work, which dovetails with my undergrad degree in psychology and fits my career journey as a professional in which I feel drawn to becoming a manager or leader. I like leading, and I am also concerned with employee engagement and making decisions based on empirical evidence. So I am getting the best of both worlds at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

I think pure psychological knowledge and corporate knowledge can complement each other. People are doing the work!

How is a Human Resources degree different than an “I-O” degree? It’s closer to an MBA, but as a job, it can happen inside or outside an HR unit — the latter of which requires a skill set that has become more specialized and extensive (data, law, employee development, and so on). Counseling Psychology is different from I-O of course, but, as I learned in my undergrad studies, great listening skills are invaluable. At work, listening and communicating help when dealing with sensitive topics such as today’s issues of diversity and sexual harassment. If someone feels alienated or mistreated, there’s a human and business cost. As a leader, it is very important to use the right words when communicating. I think pure psychological knowledge and corporate knowledge can complement each other. Although Artificial Intelligence is in the workplace, people always matter. People are doing the work! When I discovered the Master of Arts in I-O Psychology at GGU, I thought it was practical and would continue what I started as a psychology undergrad.

Careers in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

According to government statistics, the top industries for I-O Psychology are Scientific Research and Development Services; Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services; Government; and Higher Education. I-O psychologist salaries can approach $110,000 a year depending on where one lands. With a career counselor’s help, I have researched job descriptions and requirements so I can know what to expect in the marketplace. Many jobs in I-O psychology want people with a few years of relevant experience and this can range from organizational development to consulting. Roles like leadership and HR – and the emerging field of Diversity Management – are all possible paths. I look forward to gaining more work experience through the I-O program’s internship opportunity.

Learning Leadership

My leadership class is taught by Dr. Jeffrey Yergler, who has over 20 years of experience in senior leadership positions at large organizations. We have weekly forums and learn about a different leadership approach. Each week we answer a questionnaire to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are for each style, which is a chance to do a lot of self-reflection. The Situational Leadership Approach by Hersey and Blanchard resonates with me because it suggests that effective leaders adapt their style depending on the situation. This approach also guides leaders to which actions best match their follower’s behaviors. For example, if a follower is highly competent and highly committed to the job, then the leader should delegate work and offer less social support to the follower. This style of leadership is frequently used to train leaders inside organizations and it has been taught at many Fortune 500 companies.

Jeffrey D. Yergler
Dr. Jeffrey Yergler

Dr. Yergler makes the point that you want Engaged rather than just employed people at a company because productivity comes with it. I think that when you see creative people that contribute a lot to the workplace you want to keep them! From professional experience as a CEO, he teaches us about what has and hasn’t worked between leaders and followers. He is an ethical leader, and I get a sense that he assists leaders in creating workplaces where followers feel empowered to be authentic and use their talents at work.

My purpose in this program is to make organizations more inclusive and productive workplaces.

Ethics & Diversity

This summer, I took the course Diversity in Organizations with Pamela Hopkins, which explored topics such as inclusion inside of organizations and implicit bias. The topics were highly relevant to issues in the news today about diversity and sexism. We hear about women and minorities being mistreated in various forms with the gender-pay gap and how they are overlooked for promotions and professional development opportunities. Although women and minorities are working at increasing rates, they remain underrepresented in leadership and executive positions.

In the course, we discussed who the dominant and non-dominant groups are in society — and our country’s legislation that is intended to protect non-dominant groups (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Civil Rights Act of 1964). Employers want a productive and innovative staff; diversity can actually bring those benefits. For instance, when there is lack of diversity at all levels of the organization then people are more likely to participate in groupthink, which is when people refrain from expressing dissenting perspectives for fear of disrupting group harmony. Alternatively, diverse people bring fresh ideas and spark creativity in organizations.


From the leadership perspective, how would I do things? It’s hard to please everybody but I will do my best to make sure people are being treated fairly and with respect. If something goes wrong, I do not want them to be silent because then things can blow out of proportion and even end up in the media. It is a good idea to handle issues internally. So we need to think about CEOs and how they can balance diversity, transparency, and productivity while implementing systems to address potential employee issues. Employees can be reminded that although problems are not solved overnight, the company cares for their well-being and will do what it can to solve problems.

My purpose in this program is to make organizations more inclusive and productive workplaces. Because people spend a large part of their lives working, they should feel engaged and be rewarded for their dedication and hard work. I believe many factors can create productive and desirable workplaces such as providing challenging and meaningful work as well as providing competitive compensation and supporting high-performers.

Why did Caroline choose Golden Gate University?

“I chose GGU because of its proximity to booming technology firms and because I received positive reviews about their law and business programs from people I knew most of my life. Not only does GGU have great professors but it is also a supportive community that wants its graduates to succeed in the business world. Some of the departments that have been particularly supportive of my success are Career Services and Development and Alumni Relations where I currently work.”

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