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  • Writer's pictureNeža Krek

TRANSCRIPTION: HOW ENTREPRENEURSHIP CAN HELP US BECOME BETTER EDUCATORS WITH MAURA MCADAM.



Neža Krek: The way I met my guest from this episode was rather unusual. She posted on LinkedIn that she was looking for female entrepreneurs who used online technology to pivot their businesses during the pandemic. She was interested in the resilience and obstacles of women in business. I sent her a message that I could fit her description. After she interviewed me for her research we started a lively conversation about education and the importance of empowering women to develop their own entrepreneurial paths. Of course, I immediately asked if she wanted to turn the roles around and be my interviewee for my podcast.

Professor Maura McAdam is internationally renowned for her pioneering work in gender equality and women's entrepreneurship. As a result of her exploration of the influence of gender, and diversity upon entrepreneurial behavior, spanning more than 20 years, she has been ranked amongst the top 2% of scientists in the world for research impact of her research on entrepreneurship.

For now, let's listen to the conversation about education, entrepreneurship, equality, and diversity. I really was inspired by a detail you sent me in our conversation. You said that it was not very obvious but that you started in industry and that had this urge to lecture. And that's why you chose to go into education.

CAN YOU TELL A BIT ABOUT THAT URGE TO LECTURE AND WHY YOU BECAME AN EDUCATOR?

Maura McAdam: I suppose it was a calling. Although it's possible I didn't realize it at that time. I always say that I am a lecturer and an educator. I don't see myself as a teacher. When you go to teaching college you either start teaching high school or primary school. I don't see myself that way. I never had that calling. After my first degree, I went into industry. In the last year of my first degree, we had operations management. It was taught by someone who was in the industry. This person talked all about how it was in the factory and brought the theory to life.

Something clicked within me during that module. It made me want to pursue that type of career. It was also my favorite module because it was brought to life. When I was working I did a part-time master's and was approached for doing a Ph.D. I honestly didn't even know what a Ph.D. was and didn't know anyone who had done one. The professor said that they would help me get the funding if I would leave my full-time employment.

I have difficulty deciding what I want to wear in the morning. But I said yes immediately. I had done a little bit of research and had this niggling part that wanted to maybe start lecturing. In order to do so at the university, you need a Ph.D. This was around the year 2000. When I was leaving work someone asked me: “what are you going to do?” and I answered: “I am going to do a Ph.D. because Im going to be a lecturer.” I started part-time teaching quite early on. I lectured a tutorial about my work in operations management. After that first tutorial, I called my mom just to tell her that I absolutely loved it. That's when I knew this was my calling. I love undergrad masters, young adults all the way up, bringing theory to life, and having discussions.

Neža Krek: That's 20 years of a very happy career. I would love to dig deeper into that first time when you called your mom and said that it was awesome.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU SO MUCH? WHAT WAS SO SATISFYING TO YOU AT THAT MOMENT? WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT BEING AN EDUCATOR?

Maura McAdam: For sure bringing theory to life. Not just telling what the textbook is saying, but what is it like in practice, what are the challenges you have? Bringing theory and textbooks to life. At the MBA level people are part-time working, and we talk about what it's like in their organization. It's real-applied research and real-world discussions with relevance.

NEŽA KREK: HOW DO YOU BRING THEORY TO LIFE IN YOUR OWN CLASSROOMS? I HEAR CONVERSATIONS, BUT GIVE US THE JUICY DETAILS OF HOW YOU DO IT.

Maura McAdam: When I first started teaching I taught operations management and management degrees. My expertise area is entrepreneurship, that's also the area of my research.

For me, it's about taking some of the research findings that I've got and bringing them into the classroom. Getting the students to discuss. Entrepreneurship is about experiential learning.

I never taught business studies students. Always nurses, pharmacists, chemists, engineers, and so on.

Some said. “But I want to be a physicist, what do I want to know about entrepreneurship?” It's an academic topic, which we can learn and research with strong theoretical constructs. But it's also a mindset and there are steps to follow if you want to set up a business. There are lots of elements to it. I am a firm believer that these skills are for life and are important for everyone. Regardless of the career. It's creativity, personal branding, networking, and all these things. It doesn't matter if you're a nurse or an engineer. All of these skills are incredibly important.

Within an entrepreneurship module, I have knowledge, research, and theory. But I give the students space to be able to try things out and acquire skills. This can be role-playing, case studies, observation walks, and activities.

It's about designing your lecture and designing activities.

There's a skill element. There's even a mindset element. And it's nicely aligned with theory.

Neža Krek: It's beautiful that you're talking about these elements because I'm also a teacher by profession who moved into entrepreneurship to work with educators again. It's almost like a full circle. Whenever I teach educators who want to break the mold of how they were taught, they should teach, it's so much content that I'm teaching. But at the end of the day, the most work I do is about mindset and giving permission to do things differently.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT ONE? BECAUSE I KNOW, YOU'VE ALSO BEEN TALKING ABOUT GIVING PERMISSION TO PEOPLE TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY AND OWNING THEIR OWN SKILLS, PASSIONS, AND DREAMS.

Maura McAdam: That's one of my biggest mantras. You have permission. Full stop. I use that a lot. Not necessarily with students. Mostly when I do keynotes and inspirational talks with women entrepreneurs and with women. We, humans, have a tendency to think that we need a degree or that we have to have achieved certain milestones before we can actually do certain things.

So I always say: you have permission. Full stop. When we relate that to the classroom environment, what is really important for entrepreneurship is self-efficacy. Entrepreneurship is the idea that you got what it takes. There is a gender difference with that among students which is supported by research. As an entrepreneurship educator, I think we need to focus on how to build self-efficacy within our students.

For me, the classroom is not just a physical space. It's a safe space where students can try out these types of skills. For example in networking. If you are an introvert, what's your networking style? Or what's it like when you are an extrovert? It's trying to build that self-efficacy, giving them permission.

Neža Krek: Sometimes I just need to say it as well: yes, you have permission to do it. And there is this relief, even though I might be facilitating something online. There is still a sense of relief. Sometimes I just need the reminder. Another thing that is super important when it comes to entrepreneurship or taking leadership in education, is that there will be failure and that it is okay to fail.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR TAKE ON FAILING?

Maura McAdam: We have to be comfortable with experimenting. If we go into that sphere of experimenting, we have to accept that failure comes with that. That hurts. You don't just take it on board and move on. I find it really difficult. That's also where I have to work on myself and my own mindset. That's where I give myself the pep talk I give everyone else. There is a quote that says: failure is the first attempt and learning.

If we're going to put our foot outside our comfort zone, there is a risk involved. The results might be incredible but might also be less optimal. It's part of the process. We won't get the highs if we don't accept some of the lows. I always have to lick my own wounds, but then I think: what can we learn from this? How can I do it differently?

Neža Krek: For me as an entrepreneur, I know that failure. There are so many moments where I am on a high followed by a freakout moment where I need to go into my own cave to remind myself that it's okay and that I can do this. Being ok with failure is a part of leadership. Also doing things differently, to dare what you think you want to do or your dream is. For the longest time, I was telling myself: who am I to be here and talking about facilitation and education? Every time I do a podcast episode I need to pep talk myself.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CHALLENGES, AS SOMEONE WHO IS TEACHING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURSHIP? WHICH I ASSUME IS NOT A POPULAR TOPIC AMONG RESEARCHERS?

Maura McAdam: The first article to include women entrepreneurs was in 1976. This did not even focus on women, it just included them. That's still not so long ago. I am very curiosity-driven, anything that's new keeps me excited. For me, women's entrepreneurship keeps me excited and passionate. I'm constantly learning about the area. The opportunity to interview and speak to other women entrepreneurs is one of the best parts of my job.

Women's entrepreneurship is growing. In June, I hosted the Women's Entrepreneurship international conference in Dublin, with nearly 100 delegates, academics, and Global Scholars, all researching women's entrepreneurship, mostly men or women, researching women. Out of those 100 delegates, over 90% were international. The range of women entrepreneurs is really expanding. Some academics still say that women don't merit special attention. Most women have different experiences than their male counterparts. Which is why it's so important for me to focus on women entrepreneurs. They do merit special attention.

Neža Krek: It's interesting that you're talking about male and female counterparts. There are differences in how we perceive certain things in education. I am a big fan of invitations instead of rules. There's a slight nuance. Whenever I'm facilitating, I extend invitations and don't impose rules. I had a conversation with women about that concept which resonated a lot. When I spoke about it with male educators, they said:

“why would you invite?”

It's interesting to see these nuances. There are differences in how we perceive what is important.

MY NEXT QUESTION WOULD BE WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION? IN YOUR OPINION?

Maura McAdam: You've touched on it in terms of spectrum. There is a tendency and this idea that gender sticks to women. When we say gender, we automatically think of women. But there are so many genders out there and still expanding. One of our challenges, which is also exciting, is the identities of our students. It's more complex and diverse.

It's exciting but we also have to make sure that our teaching styles and techniques take on board the different learning styles, generations, identities, and what they want to do.

We have to think about the way that we teach and how we teach, and how is our message being communicated? And also hopefully received as well?

NEŽA KREK: WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU'RE ALREADY ADJUSTING IN ACCORDANCE TO DIFFERENT COHORTS AND DIFFERENT PEOPLE YOU'RE ENCOUNTERING IN YOUR CLASSROOMS?

Maura McAdam: Since 2016 I have done most of my teaching in Saudi Arabia at Princess Nora University. This is the largest all-female university in the world. I teach entrepreneurship there and one of the things I love is developing cultural sensitivity. I wasn't just going to take slides or modular content that I've had from over a 20-year career and just replicate it.

I was very determined to understand as much as I could in terms of context, use even simple things like use their role models, use their practical examples, and get to understand entrepreneurship from their perspective. I really wanted to prioritize and develop their cultural sensitivity.

NEŽA KREK: IT'S THE FIRST TIME THAT I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE WHO IS TEACHING IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD. SO IF WE GO BACK TO THE QUESTION OF WHAT IS LEARNING FOR YOU, HOW DO YOU SEE IT? AND HOW DO YOU SEE, IF YOU SEE, ANY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SPACES THAT YOU TEACH IN?

Maura McAdam: Learning in one word for me is expansion. Whether our knowledge, skills, or what we are currently doing. An educator is someone who facilitates that expansion. Whether it's pushing the expansion, stimulating, creating a catalyst, or a safe space for that expansion to take place. But you are broadening the students' current scope.

NEŽA KREK: I REALLY LOVE YOUR TITLE, PEOPLE SAY THAT YOU ARE THE CURIOSITY PROFESSOR. YOU WERE BASICALLY ASKING AWKWARD QUESTIONS. WHAT TYPE OF AWKWARD QUESTIONS DO YOU ASK PEOPLE?

Maura McAdam: An ex-boyfriend said to me years ago that I always asked the most awkward questions. In a nice phrase, it's curiosity. Some people may call it nosiness. But I suppose it's beneficial for me as a researcher. We have a responsibility to focus on what research questions we ask and don't ask. What groups do we focus on and don't focus on? We have a responsibility in terms of curiosity.

Within my university, we have our DCU national center for family business and we engage a lot with Irish family businesses. There is still a tradition that the business will go to the eldest son. There are examples where the daughter is now running the business, So I had to start researching that. There was no stopping me. I had to go and research that. I thought that's something we need to know, that's something in terms of disruption. For me, entrepreneurship is disruption. Disrupting gender norms and traditions. Then it's so important that other women notice, and can see that there's a path there that they can follow.

Neža Krek: I remember watching a video of you talking about this. There was a gentleman that came to you after a talk. You asked him who was going to take over the company. And he said: “I always thought it would be my son. But now I actually think my younger daughter is the entrepreneur of the family. She should do it.” And it was this expansion that you were talking about. That was a beautiful example.

Maura McAdam: Whenever I did interviews, I interviewed the fathers. I wanted to understand the disruption of this tradition. That's why I wanted to interview the fathers and the daughters.

Neža Krek: I can totally sign up for that type of curiosity. For me, it was always group dynamics. How can the groups get alive? There was no stopping me. I moved countries for that, literally. Going back to the Word disruption in combination with leadership. Recently I had a lovely conversation with a group of educators where we were talking about disruptive pedagogies. The question from the workshop giver was: “what are we disrupting?”

Basically, everything that was named to be disruptive in the previous times like television, video, audio, and podcasts. That's a tool. But what are we really disrupting? Or what is it that we want to disrupt in the way education is done?

I AM CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT YOU THINK NEEDS DISRUPTING THE WAY WE DO EDUCATION?

Maura McAdam: Educators need to adapt reflective practice. It's very easy to get into a routine and into the way we teach. This is the way we do it. We should reflect regularly if something is still appropriate for this cohort and if the information is still relevant. Also thinking of COVDI and lockdowns. We should have been using online education and technologies a lot sooner and more advanced than we were. A lot of us had to adapt very quickly, but it worked. In a lot of ways, it worked incredibly well. It really shocked me that it worked incredibly well with certain cohorts. That's been one of the advantages of COVID. It pushed us to use digital technologies.

I think it's more about the reflective practice of ourselves, trying to have that nuanced understanding of the diversity of our cohorts, and not just their identities but also their Learning styles. Particularly if we have a very diverse tech-advanced cohort that we have to move with the times as well.

Neža Krek: I still remember studying at my university. It was during my lectures on didactics and the gentleman who was giving the didactics course was reading off of the projector. I still cannot get over the irony of the situation.

Maura McAdam: I think we have to move and a way that uses technology to help us to communicate with our different cohorts. It's about alignment and communication. So that we can facilitate the expansion that we're trying to teach.

Neža Krek: I think psychology is an important part of the experience, but not limited to.

COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU ENABLE LEARNING ABOUT GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWERING WOMEN AND GIRLS IN YOUR OWN TEACHING? IS THERE A SPECIAL TOPIC THAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT AT A SPECIAL MOMENT? HOW DO YOU TRANSLATE THAT THEORY INTO PRACTICE IN YOUR OWN EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE?

Maura McAdam: There's all the theory, with the PowerPoint slides. But discussions and facilitating discussions with different cohorts. I teach predominantly an all-female cohort. Again, it goes back to this idea that gender sticks to women. When we say gender it must be about women. When we say gender equality, it's the women's problem. For me, it's about diversity and inclusion. I teach management degrees. So it's about showing the benefits. Challenges and everything that is related to having a diverse and inclusive workforce.

There's so much evidence that shows that, regardless of your industry, you need a workforce that reflects your clientele. It's about bringing that to life and having those conversations. It's about a safe space so that students can have these conversations. But you facilitate those conversations through role models. Bring in a lot of role models to speak to students and talk about their challenges, journey, and realities. Maybe even some gender-specific challenges they had along their journey. TED talks are brilliant.

They are really just a tool to ignite that sort of conversation, to allow the students to explore peer-to-peer learning as well. Within the family business center, we've used improv actors to help. A family business would talk about rather sensitive issues, the actors would act certain parts, pause and the audience could give recommendations. Which got them to talk about those tricky things in an abstract manner. That would be a tool used in the future in order to talk about some of the more challenging aspects of gender diversity and inclusion.

Neža Krek: I would like to conclude our conversation with a last question going in parallel.

WHAT SHOULD EDUCATORS WHO ARE LISTENING TO THIS PODCAST TAKE FOR THEMSELVES AS GENTLE REMINDERS THAT YOU ARE LEARNING THROUGH YOUR RESEARCH AND THROUGH YOUR WORK WITH STUDENTS ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

Maura McAdam: Entrepreneurship always has the element of mindset. We all can benefit from this entrepreneurial mindset. And everyone can benefit from creativity in different exercises and techniques that we can use. I remember years ago I was studying creativity and we talked about your morning routine. I'm very religious about my morning routine. Meditation, no TV, no news. I do that every day to help my own creativity to write and design modules.

An entrepreneurial mindset is important if you're teaching entrepreneurship. You need to think about the theory, creativity, skills, failure, and also practical aspects. I've seen modules where they just focus on one, and then you're missing all of the others. It is a challenge to be able to incorporate all the different layers of entrepreneurship. But it's interesting for the students if you can bring some of the different elements in. All of that is beneficial to bring in, regardless of whether we set up a business or become entrepreneurs, it's a really good life lesson.

Neža Krek: I love that parallel because I'm already thinking about the people that I work with. Last year, I was facilitating a group process with two professors of chemistry. They asked:

“how can we put these things into life?”

And there also needs to be a mindset change, there also is creativity involved in teaching and how you facilitate that knowledge. There needs to be a connection to real life, as much as it's sciences or arts or philosophy, sociology, you name it. There are always a lot of these pillars. Theory, mindset, and then bringing it to reality.

Maura McAdam: You mentioned something there about feeling that if we are going to be creative if we are going to be trying different things in the classroom, we are taking the risk. There's been a few times that I've tried things and thought:

“what? Why are they just standing there with my PowerPoint slides, instead of role-playing and trying things that I've never tried?”

Some of them have worked out brilliantly, and I'm so glad that I took a risk. But being a creative educator, there is a risk involved. PowerPoint slides are straightforward, that's our comfort zone. But if we are going to create a really worthwhile learning experience, we have to be creative. We have to take a risk and try things. And sometimes they don't work. And I'll try something different. I've said to my students before: “Well, I've never tried this before, but we're gonna see how it goes.” It's not a one-way street. It's reverse educating. I learned so much from my students, keeping young, and keeping up to date. They give back in so many different ways

Neža Krek: What a beautiful moment to end this conversation because it is about this reciprocity in energy, curiosity, discovery, and expansion. Thank you so much for that one and for this conversation. I hope our listeners will get some nuggets of inspiration out of it. I hope you feel inspired to experiment and inject more of yourself into your classroom. One thing is certain you can do whatever you set your mind to.

If you long for more inspiration and practical tips, sign up for the newsletter where I share exclusive content related to the podcast episodes. Jump to www.nezakrek.com/newsletter and join a community of fun ambitious educators like yourself.

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