Women in Business — Wendy Chapple

The associate professor believes there has never been a better time to be a woman in business

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Wendy Chapple is deputy director of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School. She is also an associate professor of industrial economics having joined the UK school’s teaching faculty in 2000.

In her spare time, Ms Chapple teaches salsa dancing and organises national salsa nights.

1. Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by people who do things their way. People like Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, the founders of Innocent Drinks, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, all of whom challenged the status quo by refusing to follow the pack. They didn’t just accept things as they were, they believed they could change the system and ultimately were proved right.

2. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I have always been interested in environmental issues and social sustainability. This led to my asking lots of questions in my student days: why was business all about short-term profit maximisation? Where was the accountability for the actions and influence of business? Why was none of this being acknowledged or discussed?

I felt it was important for aspiring managers to be aware of these things. As a result, I suggested Nottingham University Business School introduce CSR on to the MBA curriculum, which it did in 2002. It makes me proud to see the impact this has had. Over the years, students from more than 66 countries have passed through the centre and we have alumni working across the globe in jobs where they can make a difference. There are few things more rewarding than watching a student go through a learning journey which results in a shift of perspective.

3. What is an average day at work like?

My time tends to be divided between meetings, seeing students and doing research. However, my role does include extensive international travel. This year I have been to Singapore twice to teach CSR on Nottingham’s Singapore MBA programme. I have also been to Berlin and Vienna twice for meetings about the EU FP7 Project: Global Value, a €2.5m project to assess the contribution of multinational corporations towards the UN Millennium Development Goals. In August, I spent time in the US and then there were field trips to Bangladesh and Tanzania.

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

I would introduce a mass job-swap so that people could broaden their horizons and gain an insight into different roles. In academia, people often become isolated and insular. If we are not aware of what our peers are doing around us, we can’t begin to understand or value it. That can make us myopic and undermine our relationships with others.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

You need to know how to listen. If you don’t listen properly you miss so much. Many people don’t realise what real listening means. It is about not having any preconceptions of what other people are saying or what you are trying to get out of the conversation. It is all about shifting your perspective and allowing another person to have their voice.

6. What advice would you give women graduating this year from business school?

You don’t need status, money or prestige to make a difference in the world of business these days and for the Y generation, these sorts of things are just not as important as in the past. Women can act as catalysts simply by being their true selves, promoting collegiate working, creating support networks, sharing best practice and challenging old thinking. So my advice to women graduating this year would be — go for it! There has probably never been a better time to be a woman in business.

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

One of the reasons I enjoy being in academia is that there is such cognitive diversity together with the opportunity to engage with other academics and share insight and different perspectives. Tolerance and respect for the diversity of each individual, whether male or female, is key to breaking down the duality and limitations of any male-dominated environment.

8. What is your favourite business book?

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he explains and analyses the moment when ideas, trends and social behaviour cross a threshold and create rapid change. It is thought-provoking and I love the way in which he weaves lots of disparate threads together to form a bigger and more complex picture.

9. What are your top tips for networking?

In a business school environment, curiosity will get you a long way. Be curious about your colleagues and their work. Try to have proper conversations about their research rather than a series of one-way transmissions about what you are working on. This goes back to listening. If you don’t listen, dialogue is impossible. Also, get involved in creating conferences. This will open up access to other academics both in the UK and internationally.

10. What are your future plans?

To continue to expand the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility so that we can attract more funding, grants and endowments. This will enable us to develop the scope of our international research and disseminate it more widely so that we can make more of an impact.

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