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Barbara Allan is dean of Westminster Business School in the UK, a role she was appointed to last month after moving from Hull University Business School, where she was both deputy dean and acting dean. She has also worked at Birmingham University and the Open University.
Prof Allan has a doctorate and masters degree in education from the University of Sheffield, a masters in adult and continuing education from the University of Hull and a masters in information science from City University. Her interests focus on three main themes: e-mentoring and virtual learning communities, women and leadership, and research skills training.
1. Who are your business influences?
I have been very influenced by Prof Mike Jackson, who writes extensively about systems thinking. I worked with Mike for 10 years and was able to observe strategic leadership and systems thinking in action. He helped me to understand how organisations are complex systems and that you need to think through the intended and unintended consequences of change. In addition, he demonstrated the importance of knowing your staff and the need to care for them.
2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Listening to current students talking about their international field trips to Russia, India or China and all that they have learnt from these trips makes me remember what business schools are all about – providing individuals with transformational experiences that help them move on in their chosen careers and to take their place in the global arena.
3. Do you have a teaching routine?
My main routine is to be prepared and to be early. This gives me time to centre myself and completely focus on the forthcoming session and the students. I like well-structured and clearly guided sessions. Social media offer great opportunities for keeping in touch with different groups of students.
4. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?
I can remember one management development programme that I ran at a seaside hotel where we ended up spending a lot of time on the beach learning through different games and activities which involved sand, pebbles and seaweed. Feedback from the managers was great and I remember meeting one of them a year later – he proudly showed me that he had kept a stone from the beach, which helped him remember the experience.
5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
My doctorate. I was a part-time student and had a demanding full-time role in a business school. I loved the subject area (time and e-mentoring) but it was a real challenge to keep on track and produce the final thesis. The last three months of writing it up was a struggle and I was incredibly proud and relieved when I actually completed the doctorate.
6. What is the worst job you have ever had?
I worked as an editor on a computerised periodicals catalogue (this was before the days of the internet). I had to check over 10,000 entries to make sure they were correct and accurate. It was a lonely job, just me and the computer and after eight months I moved on. I did learn a lot about myself and my need to work in a team.
7. What advice would you give to women in business?
I think it is vital to have one or more mentors and to take time out to reflect on your career – where you are and where you want to move to. A good mentor will help you to reflect and challenge you.
At the same time, obtain the highest level educational qualifications possible – these will provide gateways to new opportunities.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
It would depend on the environment. I have worked in some male-dominated organisations which have been very open and willing to change and move forward. In this type of situation I have addressed gender issues using logic, evidence and a light touch. I can think of one male-dominated institution where women were invisible, ignored and lacked promotion prospects. I left as soon as possible.
9. What is your favourite business book?
I have really enjoyed Wenger’s books on different aspects of communities of practice as these have helped me to conceptualise and understand the different communities and social aspects of learning. I am also often inspired by fiction including children’s fiction and poetry. Winnie-the-Pooh is a favourite and so are the zany poems of Spike Milligan.
10. What is your life philosophy?
Make the most of it. Treat others with fairness and respect. Be positive.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke
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