As people around the world celebrate the achievements of women for International Women’s Day this week, we wanted to recognise our managing director, Fiona Swaffield, and hopefully inspire other women around the world to be bold and take action as she has over the years.
For those who aren’t familiar with the global campaign, International Women’s Day (on 8th March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange, which is a call on the masses to help forge a better working world – a more gender inclusive world. Each person is challenged to take ground-breaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.
As the leader of two predominantly female-staffed companies, Fiona feels passionately about gender parity and helping the women she manages to grow, with her ultimate dream to have the team develop sufficiently to be able to manage a MY PA office in cities all over the world.
You may or may not have been aware that MY PA is not Fiona’s only business, nor something that she had any experience of or education in prior to taking over the reins here at MY PA. You could say it was a bold move, and it certainly hasn’t been the only one in her career that has led her to where she is now.
Originally from the UK, Fiona’s background was in event organisation and business management. Starting her career in restaurant management in Oxford, England, she soon moved on to London’s club scene, where she spent many years as an after dark entrepreneur managing live music venues and nightlife hotspots.
In 1999, Fiona bit the bullet and moved to Dubai, bringing her diverse experience and effervescent personality to the international hospitality and events industry, initially working for Le Meridien Mina Seyahi hotel, but soon taking the plunge to co-create her own highly successful events agency, Siren Events, which she continues to run now as event director and managing partner. This was perhaps her boldest moment, newly divorced in Dubai and with no regular income and bills to pay and animals to feed, but this gave her the drive to succeed. She never once allowed herself to see failure as an option.
After more than a decade in the region, and after using the administrative support services herself, Fiona identified a gap in the market for the provision of premium quality driven business and lifestyle management services, and become managing partner of MY PA in 2014.
Now the director of two successful companies in the UAE, Fiona manages a handpicked team of dedicated and personable consultants here at MY PA who bring the efficiency, insight and focus that she prides herself on, to every business the company works with. She believes strongly in having a good work-life balance, and as a mentor to her team, tries to instil this in each and every staff member.
Fiona credits using MY PA services as the main factor in allowing her to grow her other company, Siren Events, and loves nothing more than meeting and helping other small business owners to grow their businesses. As a client herself, she is a true believer in the service offered, and gets her inspiration from watching the team work together to support clients, and of course from our clients themselves openly sharing how having a PA has changed their lives (we’re frequently referred to as a ‘godsend’ she tells us!)
With most of our clients coming from the SME sector, Fiona has noticed a definite increase in the number of female business leaders here in the UAE, with 50% of our clients now being women. This is a particularly encouraging sign that the call for parity may well be being heard, in the UAE at least. However, The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close until 2186, which is clearly way too late. Moving forward, Fiona believes that male and female colleagues should be treated the same as part of an inclusive office culture. Meanwhile, here in the UAE, she would like to see more clarity and flexibility regarding freelance and part-time visas for women who wish to re-enter the workforce after having children.
We have been inspired by Fiona, and we hope you have too. Every one of us can be a leader within our spheres of influence and it’s time to step up and do all we can to try and reduce the gender gap, and it doesn’t need to be hugely ground-breaking time consuming action. Think about what you can do, whether it’s sharing and celebrating the achievements of women, taking female junior staff members to client or sales meetings, challenging organizers of all-male speaking panels, launching a female-focused initiative, educating boys and men about stereotypes and violence against women, nominating women for senior jobs, donating time to a female-focused charity, mentoring a woman, or setting an inclusive tone in the workplace. We all, men and women alike, have a responsibility, so join us and #BeBoldForChange in 2017 and beyond.
To find out more about International Women’s Day, visit www.internationalwomensday.com