Learn More About Debora Spar
Today’s business leaders are trying to adapt to rapid changes in technology, society and the workplace, particularly since the pandemic took hold. Harvard Business School professor and New York Times bestselling author Debora Spar is helping them navigate successfully and prepare for what’s coming – both domestically and abroad.
With research at the intersection of business, technology and social structures, Spar advises leaders on what to expect from the human + technology equation going forward so they can better compete in a world increasingly governed by artificial intelligence.
“Robots will continue to profoundly transform not just entire economies, but our sense of human purpose at work and outside of work,” says Spar, whose new book “Work Mate Marry Love: How Machines Shape Our Human Destiny” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2020) focuses on issues related to gender, technology and social structures. “We are approaching a period where the role of humans as producers is really going to be up for grabs. We now have machines doing most of the things that have characterized our identity.”
More recently, Spar has been highlighting how COVID-19 is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of the workplace. As the pandemic accelerates various trends that have been under the radar until now, she says we are returning to a pre-Industrial Revolution landscape. Work and home life are merging, new technologies are changing how we live, dress codes are waning in importance, and parents are becoming equally involved with domestic activities.
“The boundaries between our lives at work and our lives at home are gone,” says Spar. “And even when we go back to the old world, we’re going to keep large parts of this one.”
A dynamic and engaging storyteller, Spar draws on her deep knowledge of history when examining parallels between society’s past and where it’s going. Having written and spoken on everything from the pernicious effects of market monopolies to infertility as big business, Spar has been making accurate predictions about our technological future for more than three decades. Her bold views on women’s issues, female power and why women can’t have it all serve to further expand her role.
Possessing an unmatched ability to see what’s ahead through a rearview mirror, Debora Spar is a unique kind of futurist and an invaluable advisor to business leaders across the world.
Debora Spar is the author of seven books, including “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection“ (2014) and “The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception” (2006). She is the former President of Barnard College, where she led initiatives to highlight women’s leadership and advancement, including the creation of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and the development of Barnard’s Global Symposium series. Before joining Barnard, she spent 17 years on the Harvard Business School faculty primarily researching how political forces and regulations shape and constrain market behavior.
Spar currently serves as director of Thermo Fisher Scientific and Value Retail LLC, and as a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is a former director at Goldman Sachs, and the former President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She earned her Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and her B.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Debora Spar is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.
Nurturing Growth Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
According to Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar, COVID-19 is altering our world in more ways than we could have expected. Most obviously, it has dissolved communication barriers of time and space while laying bare inequities in health care, education, finance and access to technology. To secure a better future, Spar demonstrates how we can foster open dialogues about change and proactively engineer a brighter tomorrow. With consideration for AI job displacement, social media’s effect on society’s cultural fabric, parental burnout, social justice movements and more, Spar shows us how we can steer our collective trajectory toward positive outcomes.
How to Mitigate the Negative Effects of Social Media through Regulation
New technologies always show up without rules around them. But in the United States, private social media companies have been creating their own rules – something that is ultimately not in their best interests. In this presentation, Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar spotlights the need to elevate smart and caring people into positions of power to regulate social platforms away from their darker tendencies and aid innovation through moderation instead of destroying it. Through an examination of case studies including Western Union, Ford, AT&T, RCA and Microsoft, Spar shows how we can fix the chaos in our current system by creating rules for giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google that will allow all interests to thrive.
Modernizing and Monetizing Higher Education
Higher education is in crisis, says Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar. The outdated university model, based on medieval traditions, perpetuates a concentrated, elitist system that must grapple with longstanding issues of access, diversity, delivery and practicality. As alternative education systems spring up, requiring less money and time, universities no longer have a monopoly on knowledge; instead, they have a growing mandate to drive socio-economic mobility and move away from the overloaded, youth-centric four-year template. To understand the coming reckoning, Spar explains how higher education can pivot toward more robust financial strategies, monetize online education and seek funding that isn’t entirely dependent on wealthy donors. Universities are still the leading forum for developing citizens, bestowing a sense of community and creating knowledge—oases amidst chaos where generations of individuals can begin to determine their identities and aspirations. But while American higher education remains the envy of the world, it must urgently solve the problems of growing debt and increased competition.
Work, Mate, Marry, Love: How Technology Continues to Shape Our Human Destiny
According to Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar, technology’s greatest power is its ability to define our behaviors. In a world increasingly ruled by AI and robots, each of us must strike a delicate balance between leveraging technology and prioritizing the humanity of our relationships. But as life in the age of technological change reshapes the ways we think, work and live, how will our deepest identities and attachments evolve? In this presentation, based on her latest book, “Work Mate Marry Love” (2020), Spar explains how technology is poised to change relationships in fundamental ways, from same-sex reproduction to poly-parenting and more. Steering clear of both techno-euphoria and alarm, she provides much-needed insights on how we can begin to envision an inclusive and better tomorrow and program our machines with this future in mind.
The History and Future of Technology
Throughout history, each novel innovation brings new chaos into the world. Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar has spent many years studying how this chaos transforms politics and business. By delving into the history of such technologies – the printing press, cartography, the telegraph, software encryption – she shows how new commercial opportunities shine a light on societal and marketplace inadequacies. The result is a need for new rules of property, coordination and competition. Through an exploration of government’s role in creating a fair marketplace that can drive discovery, Spar provides a blueprint for understanding how to channel today’s most disruptive technologies toward the common good.
How to Make Technology More Equitable and Accessible to All
According to Harvard Business School Professor Debora Spar, three major technological revolutions have reshaped human society: the Agricultural, the Industrial and the Digital. Each evolutionary moment spurred reactions against progress and triggered nativist, tribalist, conservative movements seeking to maintain the old ways of life. Now, as humans lose their monopoly on production to artificial intelligence, Spar sees today’s crossroads as a chance to proactively set terms, regulating new technologies so they don’t become concentrated in the hands of the rich while bypassing the marginalized and allowing inequalities to take root. In this presentation, Spar reveals that there is no master plan for how technologies will change us. We can’t put technology back in the bottle, but we can create rules of engagement that bend technology toward moral ends.
Have the Anticapitalists Reached Harvard Business School?
November 28, 2022
Making Diverse Leadership a Priority at Whittier College (Audio)
February 1, 2022
How Technology Is Re-Shaping Our Families
July 14, 2021
The Challenges of Commercializing Fertility
November 10, 2020
Have Technology And COVID-19 Accelerated Social Changes? (Audio)
October 15, 2020
From the Plow to the Pill: How Technology Shapes Our Lives
October 6, 2020
Two Books Wonder: How Long Until You Fall in Love With a Robot?
September 11, 2020
Today’s Awkward Zoom Classes Could Bring a New Era of Higher Education
September 10, 2020
How Technology Inspired Feminism and Transformed Masculinity
August 31, 2020
Technology and Human Relationships (Audio)
August 31, 2020
Goodbye, IVF, Hello, IVG
August 19, 2020
The Poly-Parent Households Are Coming
August 12, 2020
HBS Online Will Keep Changing The Game. Here’s How
January 25, 2020
'Berg Featured in New Harvard Business School Case Study
November 5, 2019
Thermo Fisher Scientific Elects New Director to Board
September 5, 2019
Debora Spar on Women’s (Impossible) Quest for Perfection
January 13, 2014
Women, Stop Trying To Be Perfect
October 11, 2012
Work Mate Marry Love: How Machines Shape Our Human Destiny
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2020)
Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection
(Picador, October 2014)
The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception
(Harvard Business Review Press, February 2006)
Managing International Trade and Investment: Casebook
(Imperial College Press, April 2003)
Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Discovery, Chaos, and Wealth, from the Compass to the Internet
(Harcourt, September 2001)
Beyond Globalism: Remaking American Foreign Economic Policy
(Free Pr, November 1988)
Praise for “Work Mate Marry Love”
“Thought-provoking . . . Spar’s explanations of how specific technologies developed are lucid and insightful. Readers will take comfort in this clear-eyed assessment of humanity’s ability to adapt to technological change.”
“Throughout history, technological change has reordered our lives, including its most intimate aspects. In this powerful account of 8,000 years of human development, Debora L. Spar traces how first settled agriculture, then the steam engine, and eventually the mid-twentieth century revolutions of cars, modern household appliances, and the pill transformed work and family patterns, production and reproduction. This dazzling and fast-paced guide to a new world in the making will make you recoil at times. Yet by unsentimentally historicizing the most intimate aspects of our lives, Spar’s big-picture book opens up new vistas for understanding the most consequential changes of our times.”
“Based on thousands of years of history, Debora Spar convincingly argues that the major changes we are seeing in the technologies of biology and artificial intelligence are about to change how we think of ourselves and our places in society in fundamental ways. More than thought-provoking, this is a book that will make you examine why you are the way you are.”
“A fascinating read. Equal parts history and imagination, ‘Work Mate Marry Love’ explains how technology always has and always will shape who we are though we are often blind to its true impact. Spar will push you to examine your own experience with tech, and you will wonder where its influence ends and the real you begins.”
“Debora Spar’s ‘Work Mate Marry Love’ is a beautifully poetic examination of how the technologies we feel we are shaping are actually shaping us. With algorithms mediating every aspect of our lives and robots slipping into our bedrooms, it’s essential reading for anyone exploring what it means to be human at this time of revolutionary change. I couldn’t put it down.”
“With a fresh and incisive take on how technology has long shaped our relationships with work and with each other, Debora Spar mines the past to show us where we are going next. ‘Work Mate Marry Love’ is a sweeping, fascinating journey that tells us what we need to know now to be prepared for the next inevitable wave of change.”