The essay will start off with a brief biography of Lillian Gilbreth before discussing how social, economic, political and intellectual factors prevailing during her life influenced her and the development of her theories. However, her achievements would not have been possible without the help and support from her husband, Frank Gilbreth – the founder of motion study. Therefore, as we discuss about Lillian Gilbreth’s contribution to the field of management, we will also include brief discussions about Frank Gilbreth, as he played a fundamental role in Lillian’s life. We will then elaborate how relevant the theories are to managers today.
Lillian Gilbreth was a remarkable woman pioneer in modern industrial management (Proffitt 1999). She was the one of the first theorist in the early twentieth century to emphasize the importance of psychology into scientific management (Kelly & Kelly 1990). Lillian Gilbreth was born Lillian Evelyn Moller on 24th May, 1878 in Oakland, California, the oldest of nine children of William and Annie Delger Moller (Proffitt 1999). In 1904, Lillian married Frank Gilbreth and produced twelve children (one which died of diphtheria at the age of six) (Burns 1978; Wren & Bedeian 2009). With the support of Frank, Lillian successfully published The Psychology of Management in 1914, which is one of the earliest thesis that contributed to the understanding of the human factor in the industry (Wren & Bedeian 2009). In 1915, she earned a PhD from Brown University, becoming the first woman to receive a doctorate in psychology. (Yost, cited in Miller & Lemons 1998). The Gilbreths were commonly known for their partnership in the scientific management (Wren & Bedeian 2009). It was not until Frank's death in 1924 that Lillian Gilbreth shouldered on the responsibility for providing for her children, thus beginning her independence as a working mother, carving a name for herself (Browne 2000). In 1926, she became the first woman member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (Browne 2000). She went to Purdue in 1935 as Professor of Management, becoming the first female professor in the engineering school (Wren & Bedeian 2009). Lillian Gilbreth died in 1972 at the age of 92, leaving a legacy of productivity improvements and a richly deserved reputation as a key contributor to workplace psychology (Kelly & Kelly 1990). She received twenty-two doctorates, more than a dozen Honorary Memberships in professional societies and many medals and awards for her pioneering work (Burns 1978, Browne 2000).
The marriage of Lillian and Frank marked the beginning of a synergistic partnership that produced new concepts related to worker efficiency and productivity (Browne 2000). Frank was already a well-established pioneer in the new field of scientific management then, famous for his work on motion studies, which Lillian later helped to develop with her flair for workplace psychology (Miller & Lemons 1998; Wren & Bedeian 2009). Brought up in a traditional family, where there was a strong social belief that a woman’s place is in the household and not a lover of the limelight, Lillian felt that assisting the work of her husband was the right and proper thing to do (Burns 1978; Miller & Lemons 1998).
Thus, collaborating together, the Gilbreths extended motion studies to fatigue studies and the development of vocational rehabilitation (Wren & Bedeian 2009). They also co-authored many articles and books, even teaching Scientific Management in their Summer Schools of Scientific Management, bridging the gap between academic theories and applications to industrial problems (Schroyer 1975; Kelly & Kelly 1990). In addition, they also worked as consultants, travelling to advocated the use of psychological principles and human factors in scientific management (Kelly & Kelly 1990).
Frederick Taylor was one of the intellectual factors that influenced the Gilbreths. Working independently,...
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