IWD: Customizing training programs to break barriers to gender diversity, inclusion
Fiona McBride, Chief Executive Officer at Kaplan Professional ME, has achieved phenomenal success in elevating the profile of the business since she joined, working closely with many governmental organizations in the UAE and KSA to upskill and develop their workforce.
She has dedicated her professional life to the development of ‘Skills and Knowledge’.
Economy Middle East interviewed Fiona as part of our IWD coverage and asked her:
What can you tell us about your growth journey as a business professional prior to Joining Kaplan Professional ME?
I began my professional journey as an economics and politics graduate and later pursued my ACCA, a professional accounting qualification. My experience has allowed me to hold titles such as CFO in European Supply Chain, Sales, and Marketing, and Country CFO for Ireland, all within Kellogg’s, where I worked for 12 years. I have also been the CFO for Pearson Vue, a leading global organization in the assessment industry, and subsequently, the CEO within a Pearson Education division that specializes in Vocational Education.
It was during my time in the Vocational Education sector that my commitment to the value and need for vocational training became stronger. I have dedicated my professional life towards the development of one’s Skills and Knowledge – key elements for a successful career of young people. Although I am a seasoned practitioner of finance, the professional education space serves my passion perfectly, and my commitment to support and deliver professional skills and training is my vocation.
Read: What is the theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year?
Currently, I am the Chief Executive Officer of Kaplan Professional ME, which I took up in March 2020, following four years in Kaplan Professional UK and Managing Director of their UK Apprenticeship Business.
Throughout my journey, I faced my fair share of setbacks and obstacles. As I reflect on my journey thus far, I realize that it was during these challenging moments that I learned some of my most valuable lessons. It is not about the number of times we fall, but rather the number of times we get back up and continue our journey. Further, I strongly believe that when you are confident in your abilities, you can accomplish some truly remarkable things.
What brought you to the UAE in your current capacity as CEO and what are your current duties?
In 2020, I was relocated by Kaplan Inc. from the UK to transform the Middle East’s training and development landscape. My mission has been to propel the region’s training industry forward and develop the business as a change-maker catalyst.
Mainly, I look at implementing effective business strategies, building strong partnerships and collaborations, identifying growth opportunities in the region, introducing innovative and learner-centered programs to drive value for our students, and building a great organization with cross-functional teams.
How do you assess this cultural change for you, especially in terms of ease of doing business as a woman in this region of the world?
When I moved from the UK to Dubai, I was pleased to see that the region was already experiencing a cultural shift towards women’s empowerment. It was great to see the efforts being made toward improving laws, policies, and the status of women in society and the workplace. I felt optimistic about the potential opportunities for me as a woman in the region.
In fact, with corporates and businesses becoming more and more open to diversity including women in leadership positions, I hope to be the ambassador of this change and inspire women in whatever little way I can and help shape more equitable and diverse workplaces.
However, the experience of adapting to the cultural diversity of Dubai was one of the challenges I faced when I relocated. Having grown up in an environment where cultural practices were similar, I found myself surrounded by a diverse mix of nationalities, languages, and customs in Dubai. It was a learning curve to adjust to the new cultural norms and practices and to navigate different social situations.
Despite these challenges, I found the experience of living and working in such a diverse environment to be incredibly enriching. It allowed me to broaden my perspective and learn from people with different experiences and worldviews, and I have truly come to appreciate the value of cultural diversity in both personal and professional settings.
What types of support do businesswomen need in this and how are you supporting in these endeavors?
It is essential to create an ecosystem that supports women in business. For that, the businesses in the region must prioritize effective policies and regulations that promote gender equality, a safe and inclusive environment, and opportunities for career advancement.
As a female leader in the industry, I have recognized the grave importance of gender balance, both externally and internally. To address the challenges faced by organizations in the Middle East, we have developed customized training programs aimed at eliminating barriers preventing gender diversity and inclusion and ensuring a more women-led workforce in senior and top-level management positions. The results have been impressive, with 100% of program respondents feeling motivated and confident in their growth towards managerial positions and 75% of candidates experiencing significant changes in their role and seniority post-program.
I believe that achieving gender balance in a company goes beyond simply ensuring that there is an equal representation of men and women in the workplace. It is equally important to strive for gender balance across all teams, departments and levels within the company. At Kaplan Professional Middle East (KPME), we have made significant strides in promoting gender balance. Currently, 50% of our workforce comprises women, and we have actively promoted women teams, senior female leaders, and overall gender balance in the company.
I am proud of the progress we have made toward promoting gender balance and inclusion in the workplace, and I hope that our efforts will inspire other organizations in the Middle East to follow the same. By working together, we can create a more equitable and inclusive business landscape for all.
What does IWD mean to you personally?
International Women’s Day, for me, is a day to reflect on the progress made toward women’s empowerment but also on how much still needs to be done. It is a day to recommit to addressing the ongoing challenges that women face around the world. It is a time to recognize the critical role that women play in society and to acknowledge the contributions they make to their organizations, families, communities, and the world at large. It calls on individuals and organizations around the world to take action toward achieving gender equality and help get them to the next level.
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