HR Anew Celebrates Social Theorist and HR Industry Icon, Mary Parker Follett
March 10, 2023

Women’s History Month 2023 – “Celebrating Women Who Tell Their Stories”

We tell the story, celebrate, and recognize Mary Parker Follett, a legendary and pioneering American social theorist who contributed significantly to management theory and the human resources industry. Born in 1868 in Quincy, Massachusetts, she studied at Thayer Academy, the Society for collegiate Instruction of Women, Newnham College, and Radcliffe College. A prolific writer, Mary published several books, including “The New State” and “Creative Experience.” Her work emphasized the importance of personal interactions between management and workers, and she identified a leader as “someone who sees the whole rather than the particular.” 

Mary Parker Follett’s theory is a human relations approach to management. She believed that management should focus on understanding the individual needs and motivations of workers rather than treating them like cogs in a machine. Follett emphasized the importance of personal interactions between management and workers. She argued that conflict, rather than being something to avoid, could be an opportunity for people to develop innovative solutions. Follett also introduced the concept of “power-with” instead of “power-over.” “Power-With” emphasized participative decision-making and the importance of reciprocity within organizational structures. Her ideas were ahead of their time and profoundly influenced modern management theory.

Despite the accolades of more recent thinkers, such as Peter Drucker, Follett’s ideas were mostly forgotten in America and still need to be addressed in studies about the evolution of management theory. Nevertheless, her ideas strongly influenced psychologists such as Kurt Lewin and Abraham Maslow, who studied group dynamics and human needs and health, respectively.

Mary Parker Follett died in Boston in 1933 while visiting the city. She was widely honored for her work with the Boston School Centers, where she promoted after-hours programming for the community. Follett believed that schools should be used for more than just education and that they could serve as community centers where people could gather and participate in various activities. This idea was ahead of its time, and many communities have since embraced it as a way to promote social interaction and community building. Follett’s contributions to this field continue to be recognized and celebrated today.