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Susan Corby is professor of employment relations at the University of Greenwich Business School in the UK, which she joined in 1998. Prior to this, she worked as an employment relations researcher and as a senior union official for two unions: a union for senior civil servants and a union for midwives.
Professor Corby has written widely on employment relations, focusing on the public services, discrimination, pay and grading and dispute resolution. She has been a member of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Central Arbitration Committee and is an Acas arbitrator and mediator.
In her spare time, Prof Corby enjoys walking, going to the theatre and reading novels.
1. When did you know you wanted to teach?
Not until the middle of my working life. Like many a woman in the 1960s and 70s, I did not have a career plan when I left university and I had various jobs, including teaching history to 11-18 year olds both in London and New York. I approached a career consultant and he suggested academia - it was a light bulb moment.
2. Who are your business heroes?
One of my heroes is Beatrice Webb, who laid the foundations of employment relations as a field of study at the end of the 19th century. She was also an early proponent of women’s rights and of a welfare state. My other hero is Jenifer Hart. She was my tutor at Oxford where I was an undergraduate. She served as a role model as she had a high-level career and four children.
3. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy teaching mature students who have a wealth of experience, but little or no recent academic background. I also enjoy research. It feeds into my natural inquisitiveness. I am currently carrying out research on British employment tribunals, quasi-courts which hear claims about matters to do with employment, such as unfair dismissal and discrimination.
4. What is an average day at work like?
I don’t have an average day. One day I could be having a supervision meeting with a PhD student. Another day I could be writing a paper at home or interviewing in an interviewee’s place of work for a research project. I could also be attending a conference either as a delegate or a speaker. I have to keep looking at my diary to make sure that I am in the right place, at the right time, dressed appropriately.
5. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
All organisations can profit from a reappraisal from time to time and then, perhaps, plans for reform, but business schools are like oil tankers, they are slow to turn. Also many of their voyages on the high seas are set by others. Accordingly, if I were to be dean just for a day, I doubt if I could accomplish anything as it takes a long time to change course.
6. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
Successfully completing a post-graduate course in what was then called ‘personnel management’ while I had very young children.
7. How do you deal with male dominated environments?
Get on with my job as efficiently and effectively as I can while seeking to persuade influential people to give a higher priority to women’s rights. For example, I carried out research on women in the labour market in south east England funded by the European Social Fund and the South East England Regional Development Agency, a UK government agency. I then drew up a three-year action plan in 2006 entitled Unlocking the Potential for Women. This included recommendations for the provision of work experience in non-traditional areas, the provision of career advice which avoids gender stereotyping and an equality e-forum to disseminate good practice. Unfortunately there was much foot dragging and the Regional Development Agency was abolished in 2010, but one has to keep trying.
8. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
When I was in my 20s I was primarily concerned with being a good wife and mother. If I could rewind the clock I would focus on my career at a much earlier stage in my life.
9. What is the last book you read?
A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. This short novel is both a page turner with many twists as well as being critically acclaimed - it won the Man Booker prize in 2011. Its main theme is the imperfection of memory; what one remembers, what one edits and what one erases.
10. What are your future plans?
As I grow older, I try to grasp opportunities when they arise. Over the next year, a colleague and I are researching and writing a book on adjudicating employment rights cross-nationally. We aim to interview practitioners in 10 countries including the USA, UK, South Africa, France, Germany and Sweden.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke
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