Dr. Patricia Hewlin studies organisational diversity and the organisational participation and treatment of minorities. As with so many How I Work subjects, her work has a personal resonance. Dr. Hewlin pursued her PhD in organisational behaviour after encouragement from the PhD project, which aims to increase workplace diversity by increasing the diversity of business school faculty. We talked to her about her career path and the problems she’s trying to solve.
Location: Canada: Montreal, Quebec
Current gig: Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Associate Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University
Current computer: Surface Pro Tablet with keyboard
Current mobile device: iPhone XR
One word that best describes how you work: Eclectic
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in a home where there were always books around. My parents bought those large, heavy sets of Encyclopaedia Britannica — which of course are now online, but there was something about seeing those books every day that began to shape my interest in research. I was drawn to learning about random topics ranging from biology to the populations of cities. My inclination toward “finding out” stayed with me, but it wasn’t until the end of my twenties that I discovered the career for me.
After majoring in English rhetoric and literature and Spanish, I couldn’t find a job so I signed up for a temporary agency that found administrative jobs for me, and I finally landed a job at a boutique private bank. Still in search for a job that matched my passion, I stayed with banking, got an MBA in finance and eventually became a vice president and branch manager at Citibank in New York City.
It was in that role that I discovered another passion, which was employee development along with an interest in how can leaders be more effective. Although I enjoyed my time at the bank, something was still missing, and I knew that I needed change.
During that time, the PhD Project sent me postcards, encouraging me to consider pursuing a PhD in business. The PhD Project is an organisation whose mission is to attract minorities to earn their PhD’s and become professors in business schools.
Not sure that a PhD was the best option for me, I reached out to my former organisational behaviour professor at the Stern Business School at New York University. She shared with me her perspectives regarding life as an academic, and she connected me to one of the doctoral students to learn more about the program.
I also attended a conference sponsored by the PhD Project, which is where I was fully convinced that pursuing the PhD would place me on what I call my “path of purpose.” I immediately began applying to schools, got accepted again at Stern, and competed my PhD in organisational behaviour.
I am doing what I love as a scholar, administrator and instructor. My primary area of research is on factors that get in the way of one’s ability to be authentic or being true to one’s values (e.g., cultural, religion, etc.), personal perspectives and ideas at work.
Creating “facades of conformity” is a concept I developed to describe the degree to which members suppress personal values and pretend to embrace organisational values. I use my research to help students and people integrate more of themselves in the workplace. My research has found that when people create facades, they experience emotional exhaustion and low work engagement. Authenticity is therefore critical to enhancing personal well-being in the workplace.
Take us through a recent workday.
My day always starts with family time, where my husband, daughter and I are preparing and discussing our whereabouts for the day. It is pretty fast moving, but I am thankful for that morning connection. It is my foundation and reminder of what is most important.
A recent work day began with shepherding current research projects through email exchanges with collaborators, and editing research manuscripts in process. By mid-morning, my work day was filled with meetings connected to my Associate Dean role. These meetings centred on identifying ways to improve policies and the overall delivery of curriculum, as well as the enhancement of student well-being.
I shared a work day in a semester when I don’t have teaching responsibilities, but I teach two courses during one semester a year. So depending upon the time of year, teaching organisational behaviour courses will take up a large amount of time. During the summers and a few times during the academic year, I travel overseas for conferences and research.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I often travel to China for research and teaching, and I can’t live without the Google Translation app. The voice and word scanning features are indispensable.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I love voice recording for writing and taking notes. When I am on the go or even resting at night, it is perfect because what I say translates into text that I can paste into my manuscripts.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I develop to-do lists regularly with paper and pen. I like placing a line through each item I complete — the visual is motivating!
My to-do lists are very long so I add a date to each item. Keeping in mind that unexpected deliverables will come up, I sometimes add a few days on top of when I anticipate getting each item done. I manage my calendar with Microsoft Outlook.
How do you recharge or take a break?
The Caribbean never fails for recharge, even when I bring my work, which I usually do. To be clear, when I recharge with work, I choose to work on things that I enjoy, such as writing about a topic that I am passionate about. Writing what I want to write about under the sun is a joy. Some of my favourite venues are Turks and Caicos, Aruba, Antigua, St. Lucia, and the Cayman Islands.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I highly recommend The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh. Her encouraging message about how we can overcome bias is what society needs today.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Trust in God, and live each day as if it were your last.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I am interested in [encouraging] authentic self-expression. A core problem is that some people feel that authenticity is about saying anything that is on their minds, even if it is offensive. I want to help leaders develop rules of engagement that foster mutual respect and professionalism.
At the same time it is important for leaders to understand that authenticity may be easier said than done for individuals who hold personal characteristics and perspectives that are not readily valued in their work environments.
In other words, authenticity may be a non-issue for some but a risky endeavour for others, especially for those who hold a minority status at work.
This interview has been lightly edited with links added.