06 March, 2024 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

How to #InspireInclusion this International Women's Day with Portobello Institute's College Director

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion.

International Women's Day is a global movement which aims to create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Portobello Institute was founded by Delia Lyons in 1981, and today, her daughter Rebekah Lyons continues to make education accessible.

As a female-led further and higher education provider, we are looking inward this International Women's Day to celebrate the women who make Portobello Institute the wonderful, supportive, nurturing and inclusive learning environment it is.

Introducing Denise Flood - Portobello Institute's College Director

Denise is celebrating 20 years with Portobello Institute this month.

As we celebrate International Women's Day and #InspireInclusion, this is the perfect opportunity to shine a light on her career, her leadership and showcase the trailblazing work she has carried out over the last two decades in further and higher education.

Coming from a varied career, Denise completed a science degree and was accepted into An Garda Síochána where working with underprivileged children and families became her passion.

She gained her Master’s degree in child protection and welfare at Trinity College Dublin where her research focused on investigating child sexual abuse cases.

Later, she took a career break and completed a Montessori Teaching Diploma and other early years programmes. She opened her own Montessori school and a short time afterwards was invited by Portobello Institute to teach on their early year’s programmes.

After working as a tutor and then as a programme manager, Denise was promoted to Academic Director and then College Director over seven years ago.

Portobello Institute is delighted and honoured to have Denise on board for 20 years now and counting!

She is an invaluable member of the team and is the driving force behind some of our greatest developments in offering flexible learning modes, supporting our learners one-to-one and leading incredible social missions through our in-house charity plus much more behind the scenes.

This International Women's Day we celebrate women like Denise all over the world, who work hard for others and who inspire inclusion today and every day.

Q&A with Denise Flood - International Women's Day 2024

What is your role at Portobello Institute? 

My role is to lead the academic and operational functions at Portobello Institute. It is my role to ensure our learners have an excellent educational journey. My function is to also ensure that our programmes lead to career pathways that support our learners to progress in their careers and to take on careers that they have dreamed of pursuing.

My role is to support a culture of sharing and collaboration within our teams. We want our staff to feel part of something very special however long they stay with us.

As a leader, I want my legacy to be one of inspiring people to do their best work and to feel inspired to be ambitious in niche spaces. I lead by example where people feel heard.

How long have you worked at Portobello Institute and how would you describe your journey here?

20 years. I have worked my way from teaching staff to Programme Manager, then Academic Director to College Director and a director of the company. 

My journey has been fulfilling. I have watched people come on programmes who had no confidence to succeed and continue to heights they never dreamed possible. I have met so many great staff over the years.  

This was my third career and it's been the one I spent the longest in. My background supported me in this career and I embrace this educational environment through lifelong learning and upskilling with Master's studies and CPD while supporting and encouraging all Portobello staff to do so too. This is so important for everyone to stay ahead of the curve and to create a 'can do' culture.

Education is life-changing. It empowers people. It is a privilege to work in a sector that has the power to change lives. 

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, can you share some thoughts on what this means to you as part of your role at Portobello? 

I believe we support people from all walks of life at all stages of their lives, where their lives are going on while they are upskilling/reskilling. We support them during their lives to fulfil their potential.

We believe everyone has potential and we support people to come to education and we support them to select the best course for them at the stage they are at and onto the programme that they will have the best success completing.

We support people to define and reach their dream careers. 

We are a female-led organisation and the two leaders have young children and understand the challenges of working/parenting and study at the same time.

We also have extensive experience over our 40 years in existence of supporting people with a range of additional needs, challenging education backgrounds/challenging lives outside of study.

We listen well and tailor our courses to support and attract everyone. There is a course and mode of delivery for everyone. Our delivery and assessment strategies are devised with the diversity of learning styles and dispositions in mind.  

Being a woman, working in education and working in a female-led environment – how has this supported you to retain your career and deal with life as it happens? 

The Managing Director of Portobello Institute is a woman with children and understands the demands and challenges at times of working full-time and rearing a family at the same time.

Empathy and understanding are rewarded with my loyalty and commitment to the organisation. It has also allowed me to lead with this open and supportive mindset. 

Through your work at Portobello Institute, how do you inspire inclusion for others? 

I am a woman leading with another woman a very large organisation. We aim to lead with passion, honesty, ambition, empathy and inclusion. We have people of all ages, geographical backgrounds, races, sexual orientations and gender identities working with us.

All of our staff are afforded the same opportunities in terms of mentoring, CPD, and career progression. We believe in sharing knowledge and work hard to communicate our vision effectively. 

Do you have examples of times when you saw inclusion making a positive impact on students and/or colleagues? 

In my first year teaching at Portobello Institute, I met a lady in a class I was teaching. She had a very poor formal education. She was very low in confidence. I worked with her for nine months to build her confidence and she got formally assessed for dyslexia. She finished up the course and opened her own Montessori school and took our learners. She had very low self-esteem and education and the qualifications gave her the self-belief and confidence that anything is possible.

I met her last weekend, and she has only recently retired and said I never forgot you and the things you told me. She would have been someone who would have really questioned her ability to come to do a programme due to her early education needs not being addressed and she had herself in a space where she did not believe in herself.

This course and qualification were life-changing for her.

Why is inclusion important in education? 

We believe that learning is a lifelong thing. Whatever stage of your life you are at there is more to learn. If someone feels that they want to embark on a journey of learning we believe it is our role to support them to find a pathway to their end goal.

Sometimes we can offer advanced entry based on their past work experience. People come with different backgrounds and needs and we tailor a learning plan to suit them. There is not a one-size fits all as people's lives and needs are all different.

In your experience, how can education play a role in empowering women? 

Women often put their children's and family's needs before themselves. Education affords people self-belief and confidence in their ability. They also meet other like-minded people, learn from them and build communities of support and learning for the future.

We have been involved in the past in delivering education in socially deprived areas of the world such as India and Belarus. Having an education and qualification allows these women to provide for their children and families.

They also inspire their children to start or stay in education as they can see the positive benefits in their lives with qualifications.

Giving Back

At Portobello Institute we understand the importance of giving back by having a small in-house charity we set up called 'Dochas Leanai'. 

College director, Denise Flood, travels to India and Belarus twice a year with a team of about 15 individuals, across staff and students. Devoted work includes training Montessori teachers and setting up Montessori schools in slum areas in Pune India.

The charity is also heavily involved in supporting training in a girl's rescue centre and a small school for profoundly hearing-impaired children. This involves self-defence training in a community project and sports and arts and crafts camps in a slum school in Pune.

Read more inspiring International Women's Day interviews here.