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We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants: Some of the Most Influential Women in OD

The field of OD wouldn’t be what it is today without the many women who make up the discipline. Over the decades, the field has evolved, breaking out of the discriminatory gender dynamics that defined many of the industries at that time and becoming a field that adamantly advocates for diversity and inclusion.

Women have undoubtedly shaped our industry in innumerable positive ways. When you line up the accomplishments of women scholars and practitioners in OD, it’s clear women in the field today stand on the shoulders of giants.

Here is a brief and not at all exhaustive list of just some of the women who have had an incredible impact on OD and beyond.

Dr. Frances Baldwin

Frances has been an educator and OD consultant for over 40 years. After working internally in myriad complex systems, she started her own consulting firm, Designed Wisdom. In her consulting work which also includes international companies, she fosters democratic environments that promote learning. As an educator and consultant, Frances has been a key figure for the NTL Institute and the Gestalt Institute of Organization and Systems Development. Frances is a lifelong learner and sees herself as a coach who helps “others discover, access and transcend the wholeness that is already inside each of us.”

One of Frances’s case studies is part of our Immersive Learning Circle sessions. Sign up for the next available session here.

Dr. Darya Funches

Darya earned her Doctorate in Education from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Organization Development and Change. As a scholar she is a faculty member at American University as an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer for the Department of Public Administration and Policy. She has worked as an OD practitioner for over 40 years. As the founder and principal of REAP Unlimited and the developer of The REAP Unlimited System for Transformation™, her work consists of methods that enhance change and transformation approaches to achieve business results, develop visionary leaders, and apply indigenous wisdom for sustainability and growth of organizations and communities.

Sandra Janoff, Ph.D

Sandra is the co-creator of the Future Search process, which has revolutionized how we understand the relationship between organization and social systems. Her work has been used in solving complex challenges, such as environmental sustainability, community development and healthcare reform. The emphasis on whole-system thinking in Future Search cracked open the door to understanding that large-scale, complex issues cannot be solved in silos, but require a systemic approach that involves all stakeholders. This work in part has created the opportunity for greater connection between OD, organizational effectiveness and social impact.

Judith Katz, Ed.D.

Judith has led important work in the areas of diversity and inclusion. As a leader in supporting the creation of inclusive workplaces, Judith has developed numerous and innovative frameworks for inclusion that have had a tremendous impact on creating space for systemic change. As DEI becomes a growing part of the challenges and remits of OD scholars and consultants, Judith’s work will continue to deeply inform how these fields come together and how to drive impactful change in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

Judith and Fred Miller did a webinar with Quality & Equality, which is a great look into how she works and provides useful tools for practitioners addressing issues related to DEI. Check it out here.

Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge

Mee-Yan was a “scholar-educator-practitioner” in the field of OD and one of her focuses was to work globally with organizations and help deliver transformational change. Her most recent accomplishment includes the OD Competence App that encourages and supports OD practitioners to conduct a self inquiry around their practices, consider the motivations behind the work, and their vision for the future. Her legacy is no short list:

  • Founder of Quality and Equality

  • Richard Beckhard Award by IODA in 2016 for the recognition of her outstanding contribution to the field of OD globally

  • In July 2018, NTL (the international OD institute) named Mee Yan an Emeritus Member

  • She started the National Training Lab’s OD Certification program for Europe

  • Voted one of the 25 most influential thinkers in HR by HR Magazine in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019

Mee-Yan sadly passed away last year, but her ideas and impact will certainly live on for many years to come.

Hear Mee-Yan talk about what makes an effective OD practitioner here.

Brenda B Jones

As former President of the OD Network, Brenda has a rich legacy in our field. Her work as a practitioner has been focused on developing leaders and teams, building collaborative cultures, and facilitating change. She developed the Five Conversations Framework, which helps leaders and teams have more effective conversations, and the Leadership Acceleration Program, which helps high-potential leaders develop essential skills for success. A hallmark of Brenda’s work is that her models are more collaborative and participatory than past methodologies, opening up new opportunities in the field for more effective approaches to change and team development.

Dr. Barbara Benedict Bunker

Barbara is an organizational social psychologist and professor of psychology emeritus at the University at Buffalo (SUNY) and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by ODN in 2005. She is an early pioneer of OD, obtaining her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1970, during a time when many opportunities were not available to women. Her work consists of organizational change and organizational effectiveness. She is known for her work in large group interventions that bring together stakeholders to solve problems, make decisions and move forward. Her latest book is Handbook of Large Group Methods: Creating Systemic Change in Organizations and Communities. She has impacted a multitude of people, and women across the field of OD.

Here, Barbara talks with Dr. Anne Litwin about their experiences with gender discrimination in OD and being a woman in the workplace today.

Kathleen Dannemiller

Kathie was a teacher, mentor and one of the most respected consultants. Kathie contributed to the theory and practice of OD by co-inventing an approach to working with large, complex issues, now known as Whole-Scale Change. Kathie is also known for the DTA Formula for Change (D x V x F >R) that indicates there are 3 conditions that need to be present in order to overcome the natural resistance to change in every organization: dissatisfaction with current state, compelling vision of the future, and first steps in the direction of the change. Her legacy is marked by the ODN award for “Sharing the Wealth,” which was established in her honor in 2005.

Edith Seashore

As a pioneering figure in OD, Edie is known for her groundbreaking work in team development and the study of group dynamics. As a psychologist, Edie was one of the first to recognize that a team is more than just a group of individuals working together, but a system that can be impacted by the dynamics of that team. Her work has established group dynamics as a key area of study in both psychology and OD. She also broke through barriers, becoming the first woman President of NTL and founding the American University master’s degree program in OD. She often talked about the challenges of discrimination and virtues of inclusion, unabashedly calling out that diversity and inclusion are core values to OD. She had a profound influence on the hundreds of students she taught and thousands to follow in her footsteps.

Billie T. Alban

Billie is best known for her work in large-scale change, influencing many of the models that are cornerstones to OD work today, including the Action Research Model and Future Search processes. As a pioneer in our field, Billie was often the only woman in the room as she worked across large, complex organizations. She occasionally talked about the challenges she faced as a woman and how she overcame them — building relationships with her clients based on trust and mutual respect. She also spoke of the importance of finding and networking with other women in the field. Billie’s impact on the field of OD is immeasurable and her advocacy for inclusion created space for the incredible women practitioners we have today.

Hear more from Billie on The Power of OD website.

While this is an incredible list of women, we know it's not comprehensive. Who are some women OD practitioners and scholars who have influenced you?

715 views1 comment


I rather miss Dr. Cheung-Judge very much.

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