The MIT Sloan School of Management is the business school of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT Sloan offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree programs, along with executive education.
In an interview with The Knowledge Review, Deborah Ancona, Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, and Founder of the MIT Leadership Center,
MIT Sloan School of Management has given some insightful answers on Women Empowerment.
How do you define the word “Empowerment”? And, to you, what does “Women Empowerment” stand for? Please tell us how you are contributing to that.
To me, there are two levels of empowerment. One is simply granting power so people can represent their own interests, particularly those who have been unfairly treated or have not been given equal rights. The second part is the process of self-empowerment, where people take it upon themselves to overcome their powerlessness.
Empowerment is about those two things in the context of women. The playing ground has not been completely fair. How can we open up structures and processes to make them fairer, to give women an equal voice and equal rights, and the skills they need to stand up for themselves?
I teach classes and run seminars that help women gain a better sense of who they are and what they want to achieve along with helping them plan the actions necessary to make progress in that direction.
Kindly brief us about you and your journey since the beginning of your career.
Throughout my early childhood, I was an activist — working to make organizations better, fairer places. For example, in junior high I helped campaign to get a national service organization to admit girls. We won, and then I was the only female to attend the national officers’ meeting. After high school, I actually planned to become a doctor, but really did not like all of the science classes. So I dropped pre-med and worked in psychology instead. I then earned a PhD in Organizational Behavior. An academic path followed; I studied team processes and leadership capabilities for innovation at the Tuck School of Business and at MIT Sloan. In 2005, I founded the MIT Leadership Center, which brought the leadership theory into practice. Along the way, I had four children, my own special team.
How do you describe yourself in one word?
Curious. I always want to learn new things and understand new trends and people. I want to dig deeper and understand what motivates people, and the dynamics of teams and organizations.
What acts as your motivational tool? Or, who is your role model, who inspires and motivates you?
I have had several role models throughout my life. One has been an academic all of his life and the other went out and started his own consulting firm. Working moms are also my role models. They balance it all and somehow find a way to build both families and organizations.
Share with us one of the most memorable moments of your life.
One of my biggest highs was preparing a conference at MIT on the impact of global warming featuring the Dalai Lama. We highlighted issues and involved a number of MIT faculty who spoke about the research they were doing including issues around water, food production and ocean chemistry. That was a real high — bringing those experts together and having them talk in great detail about what we can do to address climate change.
Brief us about the industry scenario from your perspective and women’s participation and involvement in a growing business sector.
The bigger trend is not industry specific; it’s about women in general stepping up. As with the #MeToo movement, women are increasingly saying that things are not as they should be, and we are going to do something about it. It’s important, too, to make sure people are able to earn a living wage, and that there is pay parity.
Share any major achievements and/or your institution’s achievements under your leadership.
At the MIT Leadership Center, we help students and executives develop as leaders and build collaborative organizations. To do so, we’ve created 15 leadership electives based on research models. We’ve worked with MIT Executive Education to help firms’ change efforts. And we have brought in many guest speakers who are leadership role models.
Tell us about your passions, aims and goals.
I’m passionate about the work that I do, and I hope to continue it. I like working with people. And I’m excited about engaging in non-profit work with Mothers Out Front, a grassroots movement on environmentalism and countering global warming. They are organizing themselves to go to governors’ offices, to march against gas leaks, to push against the lessening of carbon emissions controls. I’ve also just started a small company with two colleagues that produces tools to help organizations develop leadership capacity.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout and would like to share?
Figure out what’s important to you, and spend less time trying to please others. We get too caught up in other’s expectations sometimes. I’ve learned to listen more and talk less; you learn a lot more that way. A learning mind-set is not just about what you achieve but also turning what you’re doing into a learning opportunity. And I’ve learned to identify a problem or challenge that’s important to me and then work on it — ultimately, the MIT way is not about your ego, it’s about the problems and challenges you want to solve.
What would you advise to aspiring woman leaders?
Don’t let others define who you are and what you can do because this will limit you. I tell people, “Craft a life”; it means you have some agency in defining the life you want to lead, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. So make it what you want it to be.