Petronela Pell: How a Woman Fights Gender Bias While Juggling Home, Work, and an MBA

When Petronela Pell heard that PWN Global offered an academic-merit-based scholarship to INSEAD's modular Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program, she knew she had to seize this golden opportunity.

Petronella Pell, INSEAD GEMBA AlumniShe was born in Romania and grew up in London. Her family taught her the determination to pursue one’s goal when they boldly left their country to give themselves a better chance. 

After working for about 11 years in an investment management company in the city, she started feeling too comfortable with the job. The worry of being stuck on the career ladder, with little to no chance to grow, created the spark that reignited her courage and passion for aiming high.

Pursuing the GEMBA at INSEAD felt like the quintessence of her fulfillment. It was a gateway that provided a connection between the desire to advance her career while also nurturing her values.

A bumpy start

The enthusiasm and pride for being accepted into one of the best business schools in the world were, soon enough, replaced by confusion and uncertainty when COVID-19 hit.

Spring 2020 was particularly hard for Petronela: she felt the ground was missing under her feet when all her plans started crumbling down.

“Having lived through Communism as a child, I had experienced living with food quotas, shopping queues, and limited traveling.”

Tasting the bitterness of a confined daily life, now as a mother having to homeschool her 4-year-old daughter, took her on an internal struggle, wondering if she should have pushed through with the GEMBA at the cost of extra sacrifices to her and her loved ones.

“I would lie if I said I enjoyed the lack of sleep during those months!” She laughs. “But I was ready to shoulder the burden, and I savored every second of those crazy times!”

The secret, she says, lies in a very structured approach; learning how to prioritize between work and family tasks. The concrete milestones of her assignments in INSEAD helped her focus. Coordination with her family was vital due to the variety of extra chores, from arranging food supplies to homeschooling. It was honest and open communication with the closest persons in her life that kept her motivation strong.

Transforming chaos into success

While she was establishing her career in London, her natural inclination to balance work-life time had given her hope that she could deal with new responsibilities at work even when nature took its course and she became pregnant.

“In today’s society, in which dual-career couples strive to have purposeful careers, starting a family can become an issue pretty quickly.”

During her time at INSEAD, that hope turned into turmoil when she had to become a teacher and a playdate, in addition to being a wife, a mother, and a professional.

She then came up with the idea of tackling this challenge by turning it into a fun experiment featuring her own family.

Blending her business world and the playful, imaginative universe of her daughter was a bold, and creative, move.

They started toying with different professions: every day, her daughter would come up with a job, describe it, and explain what she liked about it. Seeing her mother surrounded by books and documents was like a new adventure. This pushed her inner curiosity to discover all the daily working activities that were keeping her mum busy.

Imagination and creativity took care of the rest, helping both to pass their time when going outdoors was not allowed. 

Eventually, Petronela had to admit that the experiment went beyond her expectations. It not only helped her to juggle between her studies and her family; by introducing a different perspective, she gave her daughter new, unconventional access to her business persona.

“Seeing me on calls with clients has helped her develop a sense of what having a job is like and that working is something that provides purpose and enjoyment.”

Making a breakthrough towards gender-balanced societies 

Considering new angles when experimenting with forced indoor playdates is a typical example of when traditional thinking is challenged. Yet, it all comes from an act of inner courage and a strong belief in a more equal society.

Petronella Peel at Home with her familyPetronela values intergender socialisation, and she is a firm believer that this should start occurring from a young age. 

“Until I became a mother, I did not realize that playdates are typically gender-driven!” She tells me in dismay. Her deep determination to fight against adults’ gender stereotypes is striking. And she feels grateful she can count on her husband, too. “We make a concerted effort not to adopt a gender-sided approach to learning and playing, and we try not to inadvertently build in bias.”

But this should not be stopped after the early stages of childhood. It should continue throughout the educational ecosystem, because the consequences can be extraordinary. Petronela brought this topic up with several professors at INSEAD in terms of gender representation in academia. The presence of female leaders and professors can undoubtedly influence the shape of business education for executives and the future of leadership.

“We need to shine a light on role models of all genders. They exist, but often stay in the dark. We must celebrate them more often.”

Keep looking ahead

The GEMBA studies may be over for Petronela, but not her learning experience. Being part of the INSEAD and PWN families has provided her with a myriad of opportunities to develop personally and professionally. The knowledge, network, and gravitas acquired during these two years have reinvigorated her spirit and broadened her ambitions.

As a result, she became more aware of which areas she needed to improve in; she also discovered her strengths. 

“I have a latent entrepreneurial desire.” She confides. “I have always dreamt of starting my own business in software technologies, and now, with this MBA, I feel much more confident.” 

Seeing one of our own members landing this incredible opportunity and blooming as a result brings us great joy and pride. PWN Global has been partnering with INSEAD for several years to offer the INSEAD GEMBA PWN Global Scholarship, which is open to all of our PWN members. PWN also hosts several events throughout the year that provide the chance to meet other Alumni and discover how to take full advantage of our fellowship.

Connect with  Petronela Pell on LinkedIn.


June 2021
Author: Valentina Buratti
Editor: Kathryn Nenning
Global Marketing Lead: Gergana Hemminga

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