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Three female faces

In celebration of International Women’s Day we spoke to three senior Kaplan employees about their career paths, and what it’s like to be a successful woman in their chosen profession.

What is your role at Kaplan?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

I lead the teams which design our apprenticeship and PQ curriculum and courses, create our digital content, and make sure our courses are available online and in our virtual learning environment.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

I look at apprenticeship strategy, how we should be developing our offer, as well as lead on personal development initiatives for apprentices. I’m also fortunate to work across different groups within Kaplan as part of the EDI steering group.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Delivery and Operations

My role includes everything from learner applications processing, delivery of both classroom and live online tuition, and wrap around academic support.

I’m also responsible for ensuring that learners are provided with learning materials and receive support from our talent coach team.

What does an average day or week look like for you?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

There really isn’t an average day or week at Kaplan - I work with my own team but also collaborate with numerous teams across the business.

I spend a lot of time meeting with other people - planning and working on projects to continuously improve what Kaplan offers to its learners. Every week I spend time with my direct reports, helping them to achieve their own goals and solve problems.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

What is typical each week is the breadth and variety of work.

Today, for instance, as I’m writing this I’ve: had meetings on the changes to Financial Services apprenticeship standards, discussed green skills in apprenticeships, prepared to deliver a talk for the Institute of Student Employers conference, discussed summer internships, and more.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

There is no such thing as an average day in this role. Coordinating activities of large groups of people to support thousands of learners is something that is very varied and interesting.

What has been your career path at Kaplan?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

I started out in faculty in 1998 at our London ACA business. For the next 6 years I worked in various roles such as: a subject matter expert, managing client relationships, and with overall leadership responsibility for our London ACA training centre.

In 2006, after I had my second daughter, I moved into a role to digitise our programmes. At the time, learning content on CD Roms was as digital as it got!!!! I procured and set up Kaplan’s first learning management system and created our first learning design and development team.

In 2020, I became responsible for our Learning and Curriculum team.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

I joined Kaplan in June 2019 as the Head of Client Solutions following 25 years in the professional services and education sectors. In 2020, I managed the Partnerships, Education and Design Team as Apprenticeship Partnership Director.

During that period, we adapted to Covid realities by innovative solutions for skills and behaviours for apprentices.

More recently, I became part of the Professional Senior Leadership Team.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

I started my career as a tutor in the Nottingham office in 2004 after leaving Deloitte.

My experiences within the Nottingham office gave me the opportunity to schedule courses and coordinate tutors which I fell in love with, especially seeing how the whole picture fitted together.

This allowed me to progress to managing courses and people, then centres and budgets. I eventually moved into supporting entire central functions at Kaplan.

I’ve loved my journey at Kaplan, it has allowed me to understand lots of parts of our business and see how it all fits together.

Back to the beginning… where did you start your career and what influenced your choice?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

I started out in practice at Touche Ross (now Deloitte) as an Audit Junior in the Services team. I worked on a vast range of clients including transport, construction, telecommunications and a patisserie (which wasn’t great for the waistline!).

I attended courses for my ICAEW exams at The Financial Training Company (FTC) - which later became Kaplan and the training centre I would go on to manage.

As an audit senior and junior manager at Deloitte I spent time in the training department helping onboard and develop new audit juniors - I loved this aspect of my role and decided I wanted to spend all of my time teaching.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

Wanderlust dictated my early career: from working in a school in Australia, to qualifying as an English Language Teacher and teaching in colleges across Italy and France.

Then I trained to become a lawyer and worked as a solicitor for a firm in London and in Brussels. But I couldn’t ignore the pull and purpose of education.

So I joined a law school in 2003 - where I developed legal apprenticeships as Director of Business and Apprenticeships.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

I started my career at Deloitte at 18 as a secretary, in the tax department. A job I found accidentally that everyone said I wouldn’t get.

This was a whole new world for me having grown up in quite a disadvantaged area. After seeing professional people operate in the professional world, I was hooked! I wanted to progress and looked out for lots of opportunities to do so.

Once I studied to become ATT qualified I immediately commenced my ACCA studies. At this point I was sent off to Kaplan to learn accountancy and my dream of becoming a tutor was born.

How was it as a woman working in industry when you started out?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

Whilst there were a reasonably even proportion of male and female graduates joining Touche Ross, what was noticeable was the lack of females in senior positions. So from that perspective it did feel male dominated.

We even had to campaign for the female staff to be allowed to wear trousers - we were successful!!

Things have changed a lot since then.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

In the late nineties, the legal profession was male dominated at partnership levels, but there were equal numbers of men and women joining the profession. What would feel out of step now would be the corporate dress code in the City back then, and the way some Merger & Acquisition deals were celebrated.

The firm I worked for had strong female role models and a very positive culture, and I’ve been fortunate to continue to work for organisations where that’s the case.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

When I first started as a secretary, it was entirely dominated by females. Good, strong, females who I looked up to. The partners at the time were male, but the departments I worked in were really mixed.

To be honest it never occurred to me that I couldn’t make it because I was female, but I recognise that it was because I was surrounded by great female talent.

Have you seen a change in the education/ employment landscape? Are there more or less women passing through our courses at Kaplan?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

It’s been a while since I have been in the classroom but it feels well balanced and I’ve always felt that women have been well represented at senior levels here.

I am still friends with some of the female senior managers who were my role models at the start of my career - their careers have gone in different directions but we still stay in touch.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

The greatest shift is in flexible working within the employment landscape for women and men. Kaplan’s apprenticeship programmes have a good balance of men and women, although there are some which are male dominated. I’m really pleased that we have a pretty even balance in our Kaplan Apprenticeship Advisory Panel.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

I think it has always been quite balanced in my time here, I don’t ever remember a time where I looked out at a group of students and felt that one particular group dominated another. Accountancy has attracted a real mix and that has continued throughout my time at Kaplan.

What challenges did you have along the way? Do you think this has changed?

Lisa Nelson, Director of Learning and Curriculum

I think trying to progress my career and raise a young family was challenging at times and I am not sure much has changed on that front. It’s still a juggling act and in spite of massive improvements, childcare responsibilities still fall predominantly to women.

I have been fortunate enough to work for an employer that actively supports part time and flexible working, and was able to continue my career on a part time basis for a number of years.

Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity

Wanting a career in the City and bringing up children was a different prospect in the early 2000s. It would have been unheard of to do what the CEO of the Co-op’s food division recently did: saying she would take a four month career break to help her children through their GCSE and A Level revision stages.

Also, in the news recently there was a story about a firm appointing a “fertility officer” to dispel the idea that motherhood jeopardises career progression. Employers in general are much more empathetic towards employees than when I started my career.

Stacey Fitzsimmons, Director of Deliver and Operations

Luckily I’ve been able to balance the time I’ve had off work with the needs of my family and my role. I’ve been lucky to be able to share my maternity leave with my husband which has worked well.

I think a common belief has been that a woman always has to make a choice of career or family. I felt that I wanted the best of both worlds. I’ve strived hard to achieve the right levels of flexibility and have been supported to be able to do so.

But today’s young people face more change than we ever used to have to deal with. The world moves fast so always make sure you are open, adaptable, and at the forefront of it.

Support change, drive change, and embrace change!!

If you have ambitions to work in accountancy or other professional sectors then please visit our course overview page.