Lionel Paolella

Associate Professor in Strategy & Organisation

Ecole Normale Supérieure, LLM (Rennes I), MSc (Paris X Université), MA (EHESS), PhD (HEC Paris)

My research interests include strategy, economic sociology, and organisation theory. My main focus is around categorisation, and diversity, equity, inclusion.
I’m a member of the Strategy and International Business subject group at Cambridge Judge Business School, and along with my colleagues I actively contribute to both academic and business communities.

Professional experience

Lionel Paolella is an Associate Professor at Cambridge Judge Business School, and an Affiliated Faculty at Harvard Law School (Center on Legal Profession). He graduated from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan (ENS) in France, after which he took a MA in Sociology at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), a MS in Management and Organization Science (University Paris X), and a PhD in Strategy (HEC Paris). Before joining the University of Cambridge, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago (Booth Graduate School of Business) in 2011, and a Chazen visiting scholar at Columbia University (Graduate School of Business) between September 2012 and December 2013.

Lionel’s main line of research explores: 1) how market categories – a set of firms that share cognitive and cultural similarities – affect the social evaluation and performance of organisations (eg in the international legal services market or the Islamic banking industry) and 2) how to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in organisations.

Lionel currently teaches the core Strategy course and the ED&I module in the MBA curriculum, and he is also involved in many Executive Education programmes (Strategy, General Management, Professional Service Firms, Diversity Trainings). He received the Cambridge Judge Teaching Award in 2017, the MBA Faculty of the Year Award in 2018, and he has been listed among the Best 40 under 40 Professors by Poets and Quants in 2019.


Selected publications

Journal articles

Awards and honours

  • Listed in the “Best 40 under 40 Professors”, Poets & Quants, 2019
  • CK Prahalad Best Conference Paper Award, Strategic Management Society Special Conference (India), 2018
  • MBA Faculty of the Year Award as voted for by the Cambridge MBA class, 2018
  • Cambridge Judge Business School Teaching Award, 2017
  • Cambridge Art and Humanities Research Grant Scheme, 2017
  • Emerald Citations of Excellence Award (for “Category stretching: reorienting research on categories in strategy, entrepreneurship, and organization theory” by R. Durand and L. Paolella), 2016
  • Winner, Best PhD Paper Prize (with Maima A. Syakhroza), Strategic Management Society Annual Conference, 2016
  • Nominee, Best Paper Prize, Strategic Management Society Annual Conference, 2016
  • Cambridge Art and Humanities Research Grant Scheme, 2016
  • Winner, Roland Calori Award, Best Young Scholar in Strategy, AIMS (French Association of Strategic Management), 2015
  • Finalist, Wiley Blackwell Award for Outstanding Dissertation Research in Business Policy & Strategy, 2015
  • Center for Research on Society & Organizations Visiting Scholarship, 2012
  • HEC Paris Foundation Visiting Scholarship, 2011
  • HEC Paris Doctoral Fellowship, 2008-2013
  • ENS Cachan Fellowship, 2003-2007

News and insights

Law firm employees in the board room.

Male-dominated industries like law firms increasingly face pressure to appoint more women to very senior roles, and many firms are doing just that. But does the hiring of women in senior management posts translate to diversity throughout the organisation? And if not, is there a way to ensure that women are recruited at all levels in hopes of greater inclusion and diversity from top to bottom?

Runners competing on track.

Learning the art of negotiation at Cambridge Judge Business School helped Chris Spinello (MBA 2018) assist in securing The Olympic Partner (TOP) programme with Deloitte.

The classical ceiling of the law courts.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Do law firms trade off different types of diversity?

Law firms and diversity: clients should examine the fine print carefully as firms may substitute racial diversity or pro bono work for gender diversity.

Media coverage

Financial Times | 6 November 2023

Letter: Law firm gender progress is not quite what it seems

In a letter to the editor of the FT, Dr Lionel Paolella writes “in a recent study … we found that firms may recruit more females to match the gender-parity expectations of prospective clients but this often shows up only in the non-equity ranks of two-tiered firms. So while such two-tiered firms may use gender diversity to help their competitive position with clients, this often occurs without disrupting what we termed the ‘top echelons’ of the partnership..”

Widoobiz | 28 March 2023

Diversity and inclusion in companies: a unique reference system to test and accurately measure your skills!

Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy and Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, is featured in this article about a study regarding diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Droit-Inc | 20 March 2023

When diversity is only seen as a showcase

Lionel Paolella, Associate Professor in Strategy and Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, is featured in this article about diversity in law firms.

“This suggests that companies can strengthen the lower echelon of partnership levels to send diversity signals to potential customers, while not disrupting the upper echelon of a company that actually lacks diversity,” says Lionel.