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Women in accountancy - Interview with Director of Learning

Zoe Robinson - Kaplan Director of Learning

There are many women in accountancy, at all levels - despite some lingering and out-dated perceptions. In this piece our Director of Learning shares her experience of gender equality within the sector, over the past couple of decades.

Hi Zoe. Can you describe your role at Kaplan?

After 17 years at Kaplan, my current role involves being responsible for our company’s strategy around teaching and learning. I also oversee all of our course design, how we support students through their learning, and our online learning platforms. So I’m pretty busy!

The Instructional Design Team are part of my team and are responsible for making sure our learning content is as engaging and motivating as it can be. So, in a nutshell, my teams design the way we deliver the learning.

What’s an average day or week for you?

I’ll usually spend a couple of days in London, a couple of days working from home, and one day working from one of our training centres. It’s a good work-life balance, which is ideal as I have two teenage boys. I always wanted to work in London but this way I get the best of both worlds as I live ‘up North’!

In my day to day, I spend quite a lot of time in meetings, also looking at trends and innovations in education. I often liaise with many teams across the business and outside of it.

Back to the beginning….did you always want to go into accountancy?

Yes, I always wanted to be an accountant (I know!). After studying Economics at Uni I trained to be a Chartered Accountant at PwC, where I worked for 8 years.

While I was there, I started to get involved with the training side of things - external training, and exam training. At the time I worked alongside Kaplan to support the new PwC trainees so I saw all the training happening, but from the employer’s side.

Though my official role was Audit Manager, I quickly found that I preferred the training side of things. With accountancy, you develop such a broad skill-set that you often find you can fall into different roles very easily.

How was it as a woman working in the industry back then? Did it feel male dominated?

I consider myself lucky as I’ve never felt that being a woman has professionally brought about any disadvantages.

For me, quite thankfully, it’s never been an issue. I’ve had a good number of discussions with my step-mum about this, because back in the day when she was building her career in banking, as a woman she had to fight to be accepted.

So I recognise that I have been lucky and I’m in no way looking to undermine other women’s experiences.

However, I did experience the odd little quirk, that just seems old fashioned now. When I first started at PwC, women weren’t allowed to wear trousers. This was in 1995, but by ‘98 that all changed. We could rock the trousers from that point on!

But at PwC, even back then, it was pretty mixed and well balanced between the sexes. There was a consistent promotion process, based on merit.

And at Kaplan, we’re similarly progressive. The leadership team is very balanced, with complete transparency.

I am very lucky that sexism hasn’t really affected my career.
What was your career path at Kaplan?

When I eventually made the jump to Kaplan I started as a tutor, and soon ended up looking after the PwC students from the other side. After around 5 years I moved onto the content side of things for a few years - writing the text books and course material for case study and financial management exams.

Eventually I moved into product and became a product manager and then Head of Product Management - until the final move into the leadership team.

Have you seen a change in landscape? Are there more or less women passing through our courses?

I see little change with things at Kaplan. It’s always been quite balanced.

Having said that, the evolution of flexible working here has - for our students and staff - been a massive positive and something I’ve taken full advantage of.

I feel that the option to work from home has truly opened doors for many women at this company.

When I moved into content it was a remote job, so I could work from home regularly. This was ideal as I had two small children at the time so it allowed me to effectively balance their needs with my work. It meant I didn’t have to drop my hours and work part time.

I had flexibility, it was great. I could put the kids to bed and then resume work. At Kaplan we see more and more of that sort of arrangement. We have roles here that are suited to stay at home parents.

This is also reflected with the study options we offer our students, as with something like OnDemand it allows people to effectively balance their study with their personal lives.

With OnDemand, Distance Learning or Live Online, we’ve really opened the accountancy profession to many more people. It’s more accessible for those looking for a change. We’re always happy to help people find a route into a rewarding career.