Zoe Hancock talks leadership, inspiration and education

08 March 2018

Zoe Hancock is Principal and Chief Executive of Oaklands College, a large Further Education college with campuses in Welwyn Garden City and St. Albans, with a further training provision in Borehamwood. She was appointed Principal in March 2011 having joined Oaklands College as Deputy Principal in 2008.

Prior to this, Zoe worked at The British Museum as Director of Planning and Projects, Macmillan Cancer Support and at PepsiCo. Zoe qualified as a chartered accountant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers after achieving a first class honours degree in Modern History at Merton College, Oxford University.

Zoe is also Chair of Wenta which is a social enterprise that provides a one stop shop for business support. Her role works closely with the Chief Executive of Wenta, and Wenta’s Board in shaping the strategic direction of the enterprise agency that has been established now for over 33 years.

Last year Zoe received the ‘Business Leader Award’ at the St Albans Chamber of Commerce 2017 Awards which recognised her key role within the ongoing success of students and staff at Oaklands College, while championing the drive for Oaklands College to continue to play a key role as a community asset.

Q: What first drew you to a leadership role in the education sector?

A: I was working at the British Museum having already chosen to move into the public sector as it was something I cared more about than how much money my organisation was making. Further Education appealed to me as it fitted with my value set which is focused on supporting people to be able to develop and have more positive lives.

Q: The educational industry is renowned for having equality at the forefront. What have been your experiences in the sector and throughout your wider career?  (any challenges to be overcome etc)

A: I still remember when I was training as a Chartered Accountant in 1995 being told I couldn’t wear a trouser suit as it wasn’t professional! Education has been far more focused on equality in a meaningful way and I really do believe we are here to support everyone to their own destination whatever that may be.

Q: This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. What steps can we make as a College to motivate and unite students, staff and the wider community to think, act and be more inclusive?

A: I think we have a responsibility to act as role models. We have to challenge behaviours. We have to educate – it is just as important to make our students aware of their responsibilities in the wider world as it is to enable them to achieve their qualifications.

Q: In your day to day role at Oaklands, what motivates you and how do feel your role can make a difference?

A: My team and my staff are the biggest motivator. Their constant strive to do better and to do more for our staff and our students is absolutely key. We all believe we are here to make a difference and that is what we try and do each and every day. I think my role is to create the environment where everyone believes they can make a difference and are motivated to do it.

Q: Diversity is a key value at Oaklands. What is the importance of diversity in the workplace to you?

A: Diversity is essential. Life would be very dull if we were all the same. Different backgrounds, views and experiences are absolutely critical to ensure that we provide the best possible opportunities for everyone.

Q: For many years women and girls have played important roles in science and technology. How can/do we as a College challenge under-representation in STEM education and careers?

A: We are very lucky with some of the engineering companies we work with like MBDA who positively promote engineering roles to women and have a really good representation of women as apprentices. We will continue to work with employers and schools to promote these as well as using our Children’s University to demonstrate career opportunities to primary school children so they know what is possible from an early age.

Q: Oaklands College has great success in sport and attracts and grows talented sports students. International Women’s Day are celebrating the participation and coverage of women’s sport on a global scale to help speed up gender parity. Can you tell us more about the Sports successes the college has had recently?

A: We have amazing sporting success on a national and global scale. Recent women sporting achievements include Maria Lyle, IPC World Athletics Championships, Vera Chinedu, Youth World Games, U18 national Women’s basketball champions and football scholarships in America. Previous students also include Daryll Neita who won a bronze medal at  the Olympics in Rio.

Q: Which other women (in the education sector and/or in the wider world) inspire you and why? What kind of women would you say are a good role model for young women today?

A: Dawn Austwick was the Deputy Director of the British Museum when I worked there. She gave me the opportunity to move out of finance into a broader role and allowed my career to flourish. She was the first senior female that I worked for, and with, in my career and she was an inspiration. Up until that point my world had been far more male dominated and it was very refreshing to see a female be successful in her own way. She actively talent spotted people and gave opportunities to develop by engaging them in various projects and this has been something I have adopted as I have progressed.