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Mikki Hebl receives Women in Leadership award


Courtesy Mikki Hebl

By Maria Morkas     9/5/23 11:22pm

Michelle “Mikki” Hebl was awarded the Advancing Women in Leadership award by the diversity, equity and inclusion division of the Academy of Management, acknowledging her contributions to education to help the development of women in leadership. Hebl is the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology and a professor of management at the Jones Graduate School of Business.

Eden King runs a psychology research lab at Rice with Hebl. In her nomination letter for the award, King wrote that Hebl’s greatest impact is on the students she mentors — graduate and undergraduates alike — who she has inspired to attend graduate school and study diversity and inclusion. 

“Mikki’s prior students, whom she refers to as her ‘academic children,’ include people from a variety of backgrounds,” King wrote. “By my count over 70 diverse undergraduate research assistants in Mikki’s lab have gone on to graduate school. Mikki actively recruits, promotes and inspires underrepresented and marginalized students.”

Hebl said she environment of her lab is very ‘pro-person’ in that she stresses the importance of students’ lives beyond the work they produce. 

“I had an experience in graduate school where I worked with a woman who was really tough and who didn’t make me feel psychologically safe. I felt like I was a cog in the wheel and didn’t matter that much,” Hebl said. “I always remember thinking that when I become a faculty member, I am going to care so deeply about my students … When I look at my students, it’s really like, ‘How do you define success? Where do you want to ultimately go? [How do we] make that happen?’”

King said Hebl has been an influential mentor to her since meeting Hebl in a Spanish class during her undergraduate studies at Rice in 1988. King went on to join her research lab a few months later. 

“She helped me fall in love with research and was the first person to encourage me to get a Ph.D. No surprise, I wanted to work with her,” King wrote in an email to the Thresher. “So I was thrilled she wanted to be my Ph.D. advisor, and that, more than a decade after I earned my doctorate, she convinced the department to bring me back as faculty. I’ve known her for going on 25 years, and I always leave our conversations feeling inspired, energized and grateful.”

Imaan Patel has been studying compensation and pay transparency in the Hebl/King lab as a research assistant since her sophomore year. 

“After I started doing this lab, I [realized] I actually really like research, which I didn’t think I would,” Patel, a Brown College junior, said. “I was able to talk to Mikki about it and get guidance, and I’ll be doing an honors thesis next year.” 

Hebl grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and attended a private boarding school on a scholarship during her last two years of high school. She met students from diverse countries there and went on to attend Smith College, an all-women’s college.

“I wouldn’t say I entered Smith as a feminist, but I certainly left it as a feminist,” Hebl said. “It was four years of learning about the plight of women, how women have worked so hard to try to gain equal rights and how that is a continuous pendulum swing of them trying to make progress and having it taken away … That really made me want to study gender issues in graduate school.”

Hebl said her studies of gender led her to realize the importance of intersectionality in the workplace.

“You don’t have to be a feminist long to realize that it’s not just women who are minoritized in workplace settings,” Hebl said. “It’s also [underrepresented minorities], people who have disabilities, people who have religious affiliations that are minority affiliations, people who are not heterosexual — all sorts of things.”

King said Hebl was invited to contribute to a paper about the racial activism of 2020. Hebl reached out to 12 current and former Black, gender diverse Rice graduate and undergraduate students.

“Together, they published their collective perspectives, ‘Anti-racist actions and accountability: Not more empty promises,’” King wrote. “She used her privilege to amplify the voices of junior scholars, who gained a platform for expression and publication at the same time.”

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