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Giving the Mic to Women: The Journey of 3 Bocconi Professors

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Women in Business Bocconi recently organised an event called “Giving the Mic to Women: The Journey of 3 Bocconi Professors”. In this online meeting moderated by Prof. De Vries, three female professors shared their stories about working in the academic world. Not only did they discuss their life stories, but also the obstacles they had to overcome along with tips that helped them.

Last week, on February 12th, our university’s organisation – Women in Business Bocconi – organised an event in which well known female professors shared their experiences in the world of academia. In the discussion moderated by Prof. Catherine E. De Vries, three outstanding women shared their stories: Paola Dubini, Cassandra Rae Chambers and Tatiana Balushkina.

To kick off the event, each of the speakers briefly presented themselves and their journey leading to Bocconi.

Prof. Tatiana Balushkina who recently completed her PhD explained that the academic world never seemed to be on the cards for her while growing up. Coming from a family in which both of her parents were professors, she was able to observe the pros and cons of such a career from a very early age. Having finished her undergraduate studies, Prof. Balushkina decided to work in one company as a financial reporting specialist. Yet while she enjoyed the challenging tasks brought by this job, she wanted more flexibility and to reach the highest possible level of expertise in the field. A few years later, Prof. Balushkina now teaches behavioural skills for those in management and social sciences, fundamentals of organisations as well as leadership and managerial skills in our university.

However, it turns out that she was not the only one who never considered academia as a potential career path.

Prof. Cassandra Rae Chambers who attended UCLA and studied political science and Russian studies did not dream about becoming a professor either. Instead, she wished to become a policy analyst and even went to tryout for CIA recruiters! Yet when this plan did not work out, Prof. Chambers started working in a male-dominated company Ferrellgas. Three years later she followed her husband to Florida and worked in a company named Dentsply which at the time seeked to promote women to senior positions. This led Prof. Chambers to realise that she enjoyed studying way more than working in the business world and hence getting her MBA degree in the University of Florida. With this level of expertise already under her belt, she attended the Hough Graduate School of Business and eventually left for Bocconi, where she now teaches a strategic HR course.

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Contrary to others, Prof. Paola Dubini seems to be the only one who always had an academic career in mind as a young girl. Having grown up in Milan, she attended Bocconi University and eventually left for an exchange program at NYU. Out there she took several courses and got in touch with a professor teaching entrepreneurship which caught her interest in the latter. Hence, after finishing her studies in Bocconi she left to continue her academic path in the USA.

Prof. Dubini explains how at the time in order to become a management professor it was obligatory to write a book about accounting – a topic she completely disliked. With that in mind, she took on a riskier option by choosing to write a book about the economics of the book publishing industry. No one had researched this field before with a managerial perspective, hence, she became a planetarian expert of the book publishing industry.

Prof. Dubini now jokingly calls herself the “CLEACC and ACME mom”. Throughout her academic career she focused her activities on everything that was associated with the term “culture” – from theaters and cinemas to video games. While the majority of her teaching is focused on the courses of CLEACC and ACME, as a side activity Prof. Dubini has also become the first person to start an equal opportunity team in Bocconi just a few years ago.

With all this in mind, everyone attending the event got to familiarise themselves with the background of this incredible professor trio. It turns out that behind the academic aspect, there’s so much more laying in the path that leads to a professor’s career.

When asked what were the main obstacles they faced throughout the careers, all professors provided different answers, yet they were based on the same idea – it is hard to juggle social  life together with a career, especially when you are a woman. Prof. Balushkina explained, that for her it meant trying to balance between students, research and work colleagues. As all of them had different interests, she would find it hard to stay calm and satisfy everyone.

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Prof. De Vries also noted that “no one asked asked her husband doing the same job how he’ll juggle a career and the raising of children, while she was always asked about that”. And it turns out that fellow professors went through the same hurdles. Prof. Chambers said, that it is hard to be fully involved in academia and manage to take care of the family at the same time, and Prof. Dubini agreed. While going to study in the USA, she had to keep up with her studies at Wharton and the raising of two children all at once.

In the same discussion Prof. Chambers explained that there were times where she thought she’d quit her PhD studies, yet after some time she adopted a new mentality. In her own words, she thought to herself “move over world, you’ll make space for me”. Prof. Chambers advised to slowly start adopting the “not caring” mentality which can help one calm down and excel at one’s goals.

At the end of the meeting it was clear – with all the obstacles in front of them, these amazing women managed to find ways in which to overcome all hurdles caused by sexist double standards in the workplace environment. Take it from someone who was there, these professors are women to look up to.

Finally, professors were asked why out of all the incredible opportunities in front of them they chose to come to Bocconi University specifically. In the eyes of Prof. De Vries, Bocconi is a place with a great environment that can provide one with great opportunities. In fact, Prof. Chambers agreed by saying that her own department specifically had a fun atmosphere and was inclusive, allowing her to feel welcome. She also mentioned that falling in love with the Milanese lifestyle was not too hard either which eventually became a pro of working at Bocconi.

During the discussion, Prof. Dubini also reflected on the progressiveness of the university throughout the years. Compared to how she was often seen as a “secretary” and “assistant” while doing the same job as fellow male professors, she explained that this mentality has clearly changed. Dubini explained that this was a systematic problem endured by the majority of female instructors at the time, yet now it seems to be different. According to her, women in the academic world are finally treated with respect and are more often seen as equals, which is especially visible at Bocconi.

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The speakers then proceeded to discuss their overall work experiences. Prof. De Vries and Balushkina both agreed that this job provides people with a flexible schedule that becomes handy in a busy life. With all this in mind, although the majority of the speakers did not see academia as their career path, it now seems that all of them enjoy the opportunities brought by it.

For all those attending the event, this discussion was an opportunity to view Bocconi life from a completely different perspective. Not only did the participants get a chance to familiarise with professors’ background stories,  but they gained unique insight helping to overcome issues caused by sexism and misogyny. Here’s something to keep in mind in the words of Catherine De Vries: “You can’t carve out the opportunities in life, but you can be ready for them.” So regardless of what career you’ll choose (be it the academia or no) don’t forget to take the advantage even of the hurdles brought by it!

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Student of International Politics and Government. Key interest areas: politics, international relations, history, and social movements. Incredibly passionate about debating tournaments, analysing global developments, and investigating a variety of topics through writing.

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