Ten Questions

May 20, 2013 12:44 am

Margarita Mayo

Margarita Mayo: "It is true that women face more difficulties to get to the top"

Margarita Mayo is a professor of organisational behaviour at IE Business School in Spain. Before joining IE, Prof May taught at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She has also consulted for several companies and is currently running for president of the European Academy of Management.

After studying psychology at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Prof Mayo was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and studied at Clark University, Harvard University and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In her spare time, Prof Mayo enjoys long-distance running, cycling, cooking and dancing Argentine tango.

1. What is an average day at work like?

It varies a lot. One day I can be working on a research project in my office, teaching an MBA class or meeting PhD students, another day I will be giving a talk at a university or working with a co-author in a coffee shop. I have just come back from a research visit to Bar-Ian University in Israel to work with a co-author. We spent an intense week travelling from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv to Caesarea, writing and exploring research collaborations. Just before that, I visited a co-author in Cambridge and taught a leadership programme for women executives at ArcelorMittal in Luxembourg.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the luxury of having the freedom to do what I find interesting. For example, when I was living in the US during the 90s, I was intrigued by the diversity of the workforce in terms of ethnicity and gender and I studied how leaders can best maximise the benefits of diversity while minimising its liabilities. I found that charismatic leaders can make people colour-blind but gender-mindful. Then, when I came back to Spain I found that employees struggled to balance their work and private life and only a few companies were offering family-friendly policies such as flexible schedule or telecommuting.

3. What would you do if you were dean for the day?

I would create a think-tank and listen to what professors have to say about the current economic and social situation in Europe. I would try to make them feel responsible for improving Europe and encourage them to do research that could contribute to its enrichment.

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

“If something is important to you, do it yourself.” When I was applying for PhD programmes in the US, I had to meet strict deadlines. The department assistant did not know the urgency and importance of the materials and sent my application by standard post rather than by air. When I found out I had to send everything again. Now, I still delegate but I remember my teacher’s advice and I am personally involved in what is really important.

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I was proud when my last article was published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education, showing that women are more sensitive than men to peer feedback.

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

It is true that women face more difficulties to get to the top and when they get there they are more likely to encounter the glass ceiling and the glass cliff. Women in top business positions have the potential to be change agents and to transform this situation, but this does not always happen. For example, having more women at the top does not always lead to more family-friendly organisations. I would encourage women to think strategically and search for opportunities to help others.

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

It is hard to tell because my department, being organisational behaviour and human resources, is a female-dominated environment, which is interesting. But when I deal with a male-dominated context, I do not think I change my behaviour much. I am very task-oriented and I usually like to take the leading role in the project but at the same time, I get excited about what we are doing and try to have fun.

8. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?

Students find it interesting and unusual to analyse their life story. I ask students to write their life story in chapters, to connect the dots and envision their future. Then, we analyse the emotional tone of their story, the different themes and their basic motivation in order to uncover how they claim and grant leadership and followership roles. I want business students and leaders to discover their leadership narrative and identity and help them to develop their true leadership potential.

9. Where would be your favourite place to teach?

The theatre. I would love to teach a class on a dance floor in the theatre to use tango as a metaphor to teach leadership and followership. Tango embodies key processes, such as improvisation and innovation, necessary to successfully lead people in a business world that has become very fast-paced. To achieve that, the dialogue between leaders and followers is crucial. On the dance floor, students can experience what it is like to be a leader providing friendly direction and to be a follower responding to the leader’s proposal.

10. What is the last book you read?

Nice Girls Don´t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois Frankel. It was fun to read because last year we moved to a new building and I got the corner office . . .

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

SHARE THIS QUOTE