“Emotions have been somewhat neglected in mainstream business research, dismissed as not very business-like. But it turns out they affect a lot of our choices and decisions, in business as much as in life.” Meet Andreea Gorbatai, who was recently appointed associate professor of Entrepreneurship. Before joining us, she was assistant professor in the Management of Organizations Group at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. 22 years ago she moved to the US, but always wanted to return to Europe. What are her areas of expertise and what attracted her to the School?
Andreea has a doctorate in Organizational Behavior from Harvard Business School, and a masters in sociology from Harvard University, having specialized in economic sociology and organisational theory. Her main research interests are threefold. The first is new forms of organisations and organising that are enabled by technology, especially digital technology, such as wiki-platforms, crowdfunding, and remote work. The second is inequality and discrimination, particularly in economic and entrepreneurial contexts. A third, and more recent one, concerns collective identity—the factors determining when people who are part of social structures such as emergent fields see each other as being part of a collective whole, i.e., as being similar rather than different.
All three themes recur in her research projects. “One question at the intersection of my interest in technology with my background in sociology is how new forms of organisation and organising reduce or exacerbate pre-existing forms of inequality and discrimination”, Andreea says. “Until a couple of years ago we were under this illusion -especially in Silicon Valley- that if only we had the right technology to connect people, all problems would be solved, everyone would be equal, successful and happy. But it’s important to acknowledge that social and psychological patterns are easily reproduced- and sometimes exacerbated- online: people still act like people, in online settings, just as in face-to-face situations. While online platforms, take crowdfunding for example, might democratise access to funding and improve market clearing, they might also amplify patterns of inequality and discrimination already present in the offline economy.”
And she adds: “Related to all this is the more general question of what changes when we move from the real word to an online setting. Many of us have been working remotely on and off over the past two years. What is being gained, what is being lost? And how can we create better workplaces, better organizations, a better society, from lessons we learnt during the pandemic? As our Dean said it in this year’s Opening Address, we are now faced with an exciting opportunity –and a formidable challenge as well- to be looking for a new paradigm together – in our workplaces, research projects, classrooms, and communities.”
In the area of entrepreneurship there are two themes that Andreea is keen to talk about. One is about the types of stories told by entrepreneurs, i.e. to attract attention and funding; another concerns stories told about entrepreneurs. “Together with my colleague Tim Weiss from Imperial College I’ve been looking at how the way in which we portray entrepreneurship in our teaching affects the likelihood of our students wanting to become entrepreneurs themselves. For example, in early findings we see a difference between telling a concrete, actionable story and providing a checklist of how to set up a business from business plan to company formation, versus a story that is inspirational but doesn’t provide a clear path forward. Presented with the latter version, students who do not identify with the portrayed entrepreneur may conclude, rightly or wrongly, that entrepreneurship is not for them. The way we talk about entrepreneurship affects the likelihood people are willing to take the leap.”
The second project investigates the extent to which biases against certain entrepreneurs are activated by the broader context serving as the backdrop for their economic activity. “In a recently published paper my co-authors and I looked at the impact of news media conversations about racial discrimination and conflict on African American entrepreneurs’ fundraising success. Sadly, and somewhat surprisingly, we found that such conversations lead to these entrepreneurs attracting less funding because the news media coverage activates in-group biases and negative emotion among potential funders.
Talking about emotions, another of Andreea’s recently published papers analyses the role of emotions in creating collective identities. Looking at Maker Faire events, Andreea found that experiencing shared positive emotions and empathy leads to an inclusive and expansive collective identity. “One of the interviewees in the study put it as follows: ‘we’re all made of glitter’, paraphrasing Carl Sagan’s famous ‘we’re all made of stardust’. This quote struck a chord with me because it basically says that we’re all the same. A lot of the conversations surrounding gender and racial inequality and discrimination problems in the US highlight how much we’re all just human, and how our structures and institutions foster a culture of conflict, discord and mistrust.” She pauses and adds pensively: “It’s something I’ve been wondering about a lot in connection with the Covid pandemic, the move to online programmes in academia, remote working and so on. I think you can relocate tasks very effectively. You can monitor people to make sure they’re online, doing their job. But a very important human and humane dimension may be lost in this transition if we are not careful.”
Her mulling over the human aspects is probably related to what makes her tick, as she explains: “My hobby is Argentine tango, which is very intimate. You hug your partner as you move to the music together in a kinetic conversation. When the pandemic hit, I thought we’d never dance again precisely because it’s such a close-up and therefore high-risk activity. Hugging is risky in more ways than one for that matter. A colleague of mine who runs teamwork workshops for executives once told me that participants will by far prefer trapeze exercises or other extreme activities rather than hugging. Connecting with others through hugging seems simple but can be so hard too, one is so much more vulnerable and exposed.”
It’s this human angle that also attracted Andreea to Vlerick. “I was impressed with the intellectual calibre of faculty and staff, but even more with how fair and transparent the interviewing process was”, she recalls. “Everyone was honest and open. Vlerick struck me as a vibrant and inclusive community where mutual respect and collaboration are the cornerstones of success. It seems to me that my colleagues care for each other and embrace helping others as an integral part of our success as a community, which is wonderful but rare in academic institutions. So, I’m excited to be part of this community.”
She looks forward to continuing her research and teaching and to developing new projects and programmes. “I’m not familiar yet with education and entrepreneurship in Belgium, so I have a lot to learn. But having spent 19 years at top academic institutions in the US, I believe I can also bring some experience to the table.” In concluding she adds: “I hope to be a bridge between the academic and entrepreneurial communities in Belgium and the US, especially California. And to bring some change through active involvement and new initiatives connecting these communities.”