Marianna Fotaki is a professor of business ethics at Warwick Business School in the UK, where her research interests include the gender gap and feminism in business. Her most recent book, written in collaboration with professor Nancy Harding, is titled Gender and the Organization: Women at Work in the 21st century.
Prof Fotaki grew up in Poland in the 1970s, where her parents were Greek political exiles. After studying medicine, she worked as a doctor in Greece, China and the UK and volunteered for humanitarian organisations in Iraq, Turkey and Albania. During this time, she was recruited as a consultant for the European Union, for economies in transition. This involved addressing the social impact of privatisation and economic restructuring in Russia, the governance of social insurance in Armenia and the investment in primary care development in Georgia.
In addition to her degree in medicine, Prof Fotaki has a PhD in public policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has also studied the Chinese language and traditional Chinese medicine in Beijing. Before joining Warwick, she worked at Manchester Business School for 10 years.
1. Which three main points would you highlight from your new book?
(1) Women are here to stay in business, it is time for us to take charge of things we don’t like and redefine them in our own terms. (2) This can only be achieved by thinking differently about ourselves and by assuming our power to think, speak and relate differently to each other. (3) In doing so we may not only change the workplace but also initiate a shift towards a fairer and more inclusive society.
2. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
The same thing I did when I was a head girl in my secondary school (all those years ago): put up big blank sheets of paper that invite students and staff to write down what change they would like to see. In my experience, allowing and enabling people to speak freely is bound to have a transformative effect on both the writers and readers of the messages.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
Stop trying to prove that I am good at everything I do and instead focus on what is most important for me. In other words, being able to do many things doesn’t mean one has to do them all.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
My greatest lesson learnt has come from the first-year students – my greatest challenge – who require me to question and analyse what I know so that I can effectively pass that knowledge on to them. This process is repeated year after year and teaches me that the best way to engage them with issues I care about, such as ethics, business in society or responsible governance, is to make it relevant to their lives and concerns.
5. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
Be yourself in whatever you do, do not compromise on things that are important to you or try to fit into the mould that others have set out for you – it is both difficult and not very rewarding to try to emulate men. Don’t be afraid of failure – there is no better way to learn about your blind spots. Try to cultivate support networks both in work and outside it for they will provide more joy when you succeed and less pain when you do not.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
Most of the environments I have worked in were male dominated, from being a trainee in obstetrics in my 20s, working as an international consultant in my 30s, to being a professor in a business school later on. Being good at what you do certainly gains you the respect of your male colleagues but it may not always bring the desired recognition when you most need it. One has to be relaxed about this and work up a longer term strategy – there is much more to gain from the business world and many forms of worthy recognition. But I was also greatly helped by senior male colleagues who believed in me and mentored me.
7. What is your favourite business book?
Most recently, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It uses the language of numbers to prove what sociologists, psychologists and public health scientists knew for some time now – why inequality is bad for societies and for economic development. However, my all-time favourite is the collection of Sigmund Freud’s works as I don’t think we can understand business or other social activities without understanding our fears and desires.
8. What are your top tips for networking?
Be authentic and try to listen and identify what you could uniquely offer. Make clear to yourself what you want to get out of being a member of a particular network. It also helps if you like communicating with people and if people interest you more generally. Formal and informal networks I am member of (established through my work, studies and social activities) have provided me with vital information and support when I was changing jobs or moving countries.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
Sometimes I have a fantasy that being an artist might lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. Being a musician tops my list.
10. What are your future plans?
In addition to my academic contributions, I would like to write popular and accessible books about issues I research, such as: how to counteract institutional corruption, how to maintain high-quality public health services or how to address inequalities in organisations and society. This will keep me busy for years to come.
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