Mary Parker Follett: Biography Of This Organizational Psychologist

This researcher was a pioneer in conflict management and resolution.

Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933) was a pioneering psychologist in the theories of leadership, negotiation, power, and conflict. She also did 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, whose life allows us to establish a double break: on the one hand, breaking the myth that psychology has been done without the participation of women, and on the other, that of industrial relations and a political management made also only by men.

Biography of Mary Parker Follet: pioneer in organizational psychology

Mary Parket Follet was born in 1868 into a Protestant family in Massachusetts, United States. At the age of 12, she began an academic training at the Thayer Academy, a space that had just opened up to women but which had been built with the aim of promoting education mainly for the male sex.

Influenced by her teacher and friend Anna Bouton Thompson, Parker Follet developed a special interest in the study and application of scientific methods in research. At the same time, it built its own philosophy on the principles that companies should follow in the social situation of the moment.

Through these principles, he paid special attention to issues such as ensuring the well-being of workers, valuing both individual and collective efforts, and promoting teamwork.

Today the latter seems almost obvious, although not always taken into consideration. But, around the rise of Taylorism (the division of tasks in the production process, which results in the isolation of workers), along with Fordist chain assemblies applied in organizations (prioritizing the specialization of workers and chains of assembly that allowed to produce more in less time), the theories of Mary Parker and the reformulation that she made of Taylorism itself were very innovative.

Academic training at Radcliffe College

Mary Parker Follet was formed in the “Annex” of Harvard University (later Radcliffe College), which was a space created by the same university and intended for female students, who were not seen as capable of receiving recognition official academic. What they did receive, however, was classes with the same teachers who educated the boys. In this context, Mary Parker met, among other intellectuals, William James, a psychologist and philosopher of great influence on pragmatism and applied psychology.

The latter wanted psychology to have a practical application for life and for problem solving, which was especially well received in the business area and in the management of industries, and served as a great influence on the theories of Mary Parker.

Community intervention and interdisciplinarity

Many women, despite having trained as researchers and scientists, found more and better opportunities for professional development in applied psychology. It was so because the spaces where experimental psychology was carried out were reserved for men, with which they were also hostile environments for them. Said process of segregation had among its consequences that of gradually associating applied psychology to feminine values, later discredited before other disciplines associated with masculine values ​​and considered “more scientific”.

From 1900, and for 25 years, Mary Parker Follet did community work in social centers in Boston, among other places participated in the Roxbury Debate Club, a place 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 from psychology and from sociology and philosophy. From this she was able to develop many innovative works not only as an organizational psychologist, but also in theories about democracy. The latter allowed her to work as an important advisor to both social centers and economists, politicians and businessmen. However, and given the narrowness of the more positivist psychology, this interdisciplinarity also caused different difficulties to be considered or recognized as a “psychologist”.

Main works

The theories developed by Mary Parker Follet have been instrumental in establishing several of the principles of modern management. Among other things, her theories differentiated between power “with” and power “over”; participation and influence in groups; and the integrative approach to negotiation, all of them taken up later by a good part of organizational theory.

In very broad strokes we will develop a small part of the works of Mary Parker Follet.

1. Power and influence in politics

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

In these works he carried out a meticulous study of the legislative processes and the effective forms of power and influence, through having made records of the sessions, as well as a compilation of documents and personal interviews with the presidents of the United States House of Representatives. . The fruit of this work is the book entitled The Speaker of the House of Representatives (translated as The Congress Speaker).

2. The integrating process

In another of his books, The New State: Group Organization, which was the fruit of his experience and community work, Parker Follet defended the creation of an “integrating process” that was capable of sustaining democratic government outside of bureaucratic dynamics.

He also defended that the separation between the individual and society is nothing more than a fiction, with which it is necessary to study the “groups” and not the “masses”, as well as seek the integration of the difference. In this way, she supported a conception of “the political” that also involves the personal, which is why it can be considered one of the forerunners of the most 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 the meeting and confrontation of different interests is also fundamental. Among other things, Follett explains that behavior is not a relationship of a “subject” acting on an “object” or vice versa (an idea that he actually considers necessary to abandon), but rather a set of activities that are found and interrelate.

From there, he analyzed the processes of social influence, and criticized the sharp separation between “thinking” and “doing” applied to hypothesis verification processes. Process that is frequently ignored when considering that the hypothesis itself already generates an influence on 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 that articulate Follet’s discourse on conflict resolution and that represented a new guideline for the world of organizations: on the one hand, an interactionist concept of conflict, and on the other, a proposal conflict management through integration.

This is how the integration processes proposed by Parker Follet, together with the distinction that he establishes between “power-with” and “power-over”, are two of the most relevant antecedents in different theories applied to the contemporary organizational world, for For example, the “win-win” perspective of conflict resolution or the importance of recognition and appreciation of diversity.

Bibliographic references:

  • Balaguer, À. (2014). History of Women in Psychology; Mary Parker Follet. University of the Balearic Islands. Retrieved 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: Narcea

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