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June 14, 2011 4:36 pm

Ten Questions - Elisabeth Kelan

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Elisabeth Kelan: “Teaching is very similar to acting on stage”

Elisabeth Kelan is a lecturer in work and organisation at King’s College London. Prior to this, she worked at the University of Zurich and London Business School, where she helped to establish the Centre for Women in Business.

Ms Kelan has a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is a leading scholar on gender relations. She specialises in the use of qualitative and ethnographic methods.

In her spare time, she enjoys yoga and completed her yoga teaching training in 2006.

1. What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are two parts that I enjoy. First, I find it amazing to teach young people about the subjects I am passionate about: corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and leadership and innovation.

Second, I also enjoy sharing my research with organisations. It is such a fruitful experience to see the impact some of our academic ideas have on organisational practice. In turn practice inspires me to conduct new research.

2. What is the best advice ever given to you by a teacher?

The best piece of advice I was given comes from one of my mentors. I was getting very involved in office politics and found that a bit frustrating. My mentor told me that I should pick the fights that are really important to me and leave the others aside. I took this advice to heart and it helps me to focus my energy on things that really matter.

3. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Not to take it personally. Early on in my career, I had a tendency to see problems and failures as personal. However, I discovered that many of those things have little to do with the individual and are more systemic. It is always helpful to explore failures and problems and to work on strategies to avoid them in the future, but for me an impartial and detached way is much more fruitful than taking it personally.

4. What is the worst job you have ever had?

One of the jobs I had as a student was working in a small brasserie with around 35 tables. I was usually the only waitress there. I had to take orders, prepare the drinks myself and serve the food prepared by a chef. On some days, it was very quiet and I was literally washing up most of the time. However on other days, it was really busy and people had to wait a long time. I particularly hated preparing fresh hot chocolate over the hob which took ages, but I could not leave it unattended because it would boil over.

5. What advice would you give to women in business?

There is either too much gender or too little gender in business. Some women seem to ignore being a woman completely. Other women attribute their entire experience to gender. Both approaches need a similar strategy: women need to evaluate where gender matters and where it does not matter. Most importantly, women need to develop ways to recognise and counteract the ways in which gender issues are made to matter. We know from research that making stereotypes visible, will stimulate individuals to counteract the stereotypes, rather than adhere to them.

6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

One of the strategies I developed is to recognise that gender might play a role here and to think about how I can deal with it. If gender is subtle, than it is best to meet it with subtle strategies, too. I also remember that it is not personal but rather a systemic issue.

7. Do you have a teaching routine?

I have a routine before I teach. I always do some voice exercises that I learned from my great voice coach and I also do some stretches. For me, teaching is very similar to acting on stage. Bringing the body into the classroom is important because it engages students more.

8. Where would be your favourite place to teach?

My favourite place to teach would definitely be in a nice and airy room close to the sea. The best location I ever taught was in a wonderful classroom in Switzerland with views of the mountains.

9. What is the last book you read?

I have just finished the book The Soul of Leadership by Deepak Chopra. It really engages with the more spiritual and embodied elements that are normally not considered in leadership but that are crucially important.

10. What are your future plans?

I am currently working on my second book on developing junior women as leaders of tomorrow. There is a lot of debate about women on boards and quotas at the moment. My argument in the book is that this might only tackle a symptom and not the root cause of the scarcity of women in leadership positions. In this book, I explore the aspirations and experiences of junior women and what organisations can do to ensure that those younger women remain engaged in their careers.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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