Mary Parker Follett: Biography of this organizational psychologist

Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933) was a pioneering psychologist in the theories of leadership, negotiation, power, and conflict. She has also done several works on democracy and is known as the mother of “management” or modern management.

In this article we will see a brief biography of Mary Parker Follet, Life allows us to establish a double rupture: on the one hand, to break the myth according to which psychology was made without the participation of women, and on the other hand, that of industrial relations and political management made also only by men.

    Biography of Mary Parker Follet: pioneer in organizational psychology

    Mary Parquet Follet was born in 1868 to a Protestant family in Massachusetts, United States. At the age of 12, he began academic training at Thayer Academy, a space which had just opened up to women but which was built with the aim of promoting predominantly male education.

    Influenced by her teacher and friend Anna Bouton Thompson, Parker Follet developed a particular interest in the study and application of scientific methods to research. At the same time he was building a philosophy of its own on the principles that companies must follow in the current social situation.

    Through these principles, he paid particular attention to issues such as the pursuit of workers’ well-being, the valuation of individual and collective efforts and the encouragement of teamwork.

    To this day, the latter seems almost obvious, but not always taken into account. But around the rise of Taylorism (the division of tasks in the production process, which results in the isolation of workers), as well as the assemblages of Fordist chains applied to organizations (prioritizing the specialization of workers and assembly lines which would make it possible to produce more in less time), Mary Parker’s theories and her reformulation of Taylorism itself they turned out to be very innovative.

      Academic training at Radcliffe College

      Mary Parker Follet was educated at the “Annex” of Harvard University (later Radcliffe College), which was a space created by the university itself and intended for female students, to whom they were not considered capable of receiving official academic recognition. What they received, however, were lessons with the same teachers who educated the men. In this context, Mary Parker met, among other intellectuals, William James, a psychologist and philosopher of great influence for pragmatism and applied psychology.

      The latter was looking for psychology a handy app for life and for problem solvingThis has been particularly well received in business and in the management of industries, and has exerted a great influence on the theories of Mary Parker.

      Community intervention and interdisciplinarity

      Many women, although trained as researchers and scientists, have found in applied psychology better opportunities for professional development. Indeed, the spaces where experimental psychology took place were reserved for men, so they were also hostile environments for them. This process of segregation had among its consequences that of gradually associate applied psychology with feminine values, Subsequently discredited in the face of other disciplines associated with masculine values ​​and deemed “more scientific”.

      Beginning in 1900, and for 25 years, Mary Parker Follet led community service in social centers in Boston, among others, attended the Roxbury Debate Club, where political training was given to young people around a context of significant marginalization for the immigrant population.

      Mary Parker Follet’s thought had a fundamentally interdisciplinary character, through which she managed to integrate and dialogue with different currents, both in psychology and in sociology and philosophy. From there he was able to develop many innovative work not only as an organizational psychologist, but also in theories on democracy. The latter allowed her to work as an important advisor to social centers and economists, politicians and businessmen. However, and faced with the narrowness of a more positivist psychology, this interdisciplinarity also makes it difficult to be considered or recognized as a “psychologist”.

      main works

      The theories developed by Mary Parker Follet were fundamental to establishing many of the principles of modern management. Among other things, his theories distinguished between power “with” and power “over”; participation and influence in groups; and the integrative approach to negotiation, all of which have subsequently been taken up by much of organizational theory.

      In general, we will develop a small part of the works of Mary Parker Follet.

      1. Power and influence in politics

      In the same context as Radcliffe College, Mary Parker Follett trained in history and political science alongside Albert Bushnell Hart, from whom she drew great knowledge for the development of scientific research. He received the summa cum laude from Radcliffe and completed a thesis that was even praised by former United States President Theodore Roosevelt for viewing Mary Parker Foller’s analytical work as valuable. on the rhetorical strategies of the US Congress.

      In this work, he conducted a meticulous study of legislative processes and effective forms of power and influence, having reported on sessions, as well as a collection of papers and personal interviews with presidents of representatives room. States. The fruit of this work is the book entitled The Speaker of the House of Representatives (translated by The President of the Congress).

      2. The integration process

      In another of his books, The New State: Group Organization, which was the fruit of his experience and his community work, Parker Follet advocated the creation of an “integration process” that would be able to sustain a government. democratic outside the bureaucratic dynamic.

      He also argued that the separation between the individual and the society is nothing more than a fiction, therefore it is necessary to study the “groups” and not the “masses”, as well as to seek the integration of difference. He argued this way a conception of the “politician” which also implies theHe can therefore be considered as one of the precursors of more contemporary feminist political philosophies (Domínguez & García, 2005).

      3. The creative experience

      Creative Experience, from 1924, is another of his main others. In this, he understands “the creative experience” as the form of participation that puts his effort into creation, where it is also essential to meet and confront different interests. Among other things, Follett explains that behavior is not a relation of a “subject” acting on an “object” or vice versa (an idea that he actually feels needs to be abandoned), but that it is ‘is about a set of activities that meet and are interdependent.

      From there, he analyzed the processes of social influence and criticized the forced separation between “thinking” and “doing” applied to the processes of hypothesis checking. Process often omitted given the fact that the very approach of the hypothesis already generates an influence in its verification. He also questioned the linear problem solving processes proposed by the school of pragmatism.

      4. Conflict resolution

      Domínguez and García (2005) identify two key elements which articulate Follet’s discourse on conflict resolution and which represent a new model for the world of organizations: on the one hand, an interactionist concept of conflict, and on the other hand, a proposal for conflict management through integration.

      Thus, the integration processes proposed by Parker Follet, as well as the distinction he draws between “power-with” and “power-over”, are two of the most relevant antecedents in various theories applied to the organizational world. contemporary. from a “win-win” perspective of conflict resolution or the importance of recognizing and valuing diversity.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Balaguer At. (2014). History of women in psychology; Mary Parker Follet. University of the Balearic Islands. Accessed June 21, 2018.Available at
      • Dominguez, R. & García, S. (2005). Constructive conflict and integration in the work of Mary Parker Follet. Athenea Digital, 7: 1-28.
      • García Dauder, S. (2005). Psychology and feminism. History of the pioneering women of psychology. Madrid: Narcée

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