Women in RKC – Manal Al-Khaled – MA Leading Innovation and Change graduate

This week in our Women Day series, we have another special lady with us with her unique story through her Masters with Robert Kennedy College.  

Manal Al-Khaled is a graduate of the MA in Leading Innovation and Change (MALIC) programme, York St John University, UK. This programme was revamped and is now offered 100% online as MBA programme in Leading Innovation and Change.  

Manal Al-Khaled

Who is …

A short profile: 

Vidhi Kapoor (VK): Who are you, really? 

Manal Al-Khaled (MA): A mother, wife, daughter, a traveller, a reader and above all a woman !  

I grew up in a multicultural and multi-religious family; an Arab father and a Russian mother is a combination that gave me a wider cultural exposure at an early age. Growing up in the Middle East has enriched my knowledge of how great my desire was to not only be successful but “a successful woman”. I didn’t have much choice but to be educated and successful. I studied in Switzerland to obtain a Higher Swiss Diploma and a BA from the United Kingdom.  

With experience in the hospitality field, training and education, and international development in different parts of the world from Cyprus, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Jordan and Bahrain, it wasn’t long before I realized I needed to do further self-development. I decided to do a Masters degree which I successfully completed at York St John University, MA in Leading Innovation and Change.  

I currently live and work in Canada, where I work as a project manager in a non-profit organization in the Toronto area.  

Getting back into education 

Your story of getting back to do a Master’s degree 

VK: What was the driving force behind your enrolling for an online degree? Who inspired you? What motivated you?

MA: In 2013, my daughters were only 4 and 5 years old when my husband lost his job due to political unrest in the region (Middle East). There was never a right time to do my Master’s degree. There were other financial priorities always and with 2 little kids and a full-time job, time was a luxury, that I didn’t have much of it or under my control. I kept postponing it for all the reasons in the world. Then it hit me, it’s now, no matter what. My father was my supporter all the way who believes education is the best time and money investment. No matter what life brings, with the proper education, not only people but nations rise. That was my turning point, I started my first module in January 2014.  

Today, I truly believe it was the best time investment I have made in a very long time. It was a rocky road indeed with some bumps. But in addition to family support, the instructors within the program were not only great academics but wonderful people that offered support where they could.  

VK: What were the thoughts/situations/people/challenges holding you back from starting (if any)? How did you overcome them? 

MA: There were many challenges, in my decision, and during the program. It was the time when my husband lost his job, so certainly, financially it was way far down the list as a priority. With two tiny kids, having sleepless nights and being needed as a mom at all times was also a struggle. Being a full-time employee working 9:00 am-5:00 pm added to this struggle. 

I learned to spend quality time with my children, and my evenings that went into reading a book or watching my favourite shows and movies, switched to reading the module related material, participating in class discussions and working on my assignments.  

I thought waking up every day at 6:00 am was early enough, but I have developed a habit of waking up at 4:00 am to catch up on my work and it eventually became the most productive time of my day.  

I believe the less options we have, the more determined we are to succeed. I didn’t allow myself to think of failure, I kept thinking of ways to succeed. We sometimes forget down the road the main reason why we did things. We don’t just join a Master’s degree programme for nothing. There’s always a reason. We just need to remind ourselves why we wanted it.  

VK: What surprised you the most when you started your studies? 

MA: A couple of things truly fascinated me when I first started. First, the high level of program delivery that is actually possible online; the whole concept was very new to me then. Access to libraries, articles, books and journals was amazing. Also, contacting classmates for any module helped share ideas and thoughts. Wonderful platform to have access to.  

The academic profiles of the instructors were jaw-dropping. Successful people with good knowledge of various industries made theory and practical gap way smaller than many might assume.  

 VK: Do you feel there are unique challenges women face when deciding to get back into education? 

Absolutely. No matter where you come from, women are still fighting to get equal rights in hiring, in wages and many others. Women, in many parts of the world, are still struggling in balancing between what they want to achieve and what is expected from them by society. Going back into education is challenging after starting a career path or starting a family and/or having kids. After living in many parts of the world, I came to realize that women are challenged everywhere not only in certain parts of the world. In the most progressed countries, women are still fighting for equality on different levels.  

Put all that together, going back to education is not always an easy path to choose, but in my opinion, it is certainly the right path.   

Manal works as a
project manager in a
non-profit organization in the Toronto area.

Getting the degree 

The work to get the degree – what did you learn, how did you balance, what would you do differently 

VK: Which programme did you do? Why? 

MA: I did MA in Leading Innovation and Change. I could not resist the program’s title and description. Being a woman who thrived to lead, to find new ways and to change, that was a dream come true. We all need change, we all ask for change, and yet, many are scared of change. The program gave me answers professionally and personally.  

VK: What is the single most important thing you learned during the programme? 

MA: The more you learn, the more you realize you want to learn more!  

VK: How did you balance work and studies? 

MA: In fact, it was work, studies, and family balance. Only through time management. I wish there was a magical method, but there isn’t. Time management and being efficient in using that time. As silly as it sounds, we get dragged sometimes in doing things for a long time that aren’t necessarily productive. I am old fashioned until today with my tasks, I always have a notebook with my tasks to complete for the day and they need to be ticked by the end of the day.  

VK: Any particular challenges to being a woman and studying online, or do you think all students face the same ones? 

MA: I believe that studying online has similar challenges for everyone but being a woman sometimes may add to those challenges with extra challenges to face in daily life.  

Life post degree 

What changed, if anything? 

VK: What’s new in your life since graduating / starting your studies? Any visible impact already? 

MA: Absolutely! Having a master’s degree has placed me on a more senior and managerial level in my career path.  

VK: Anything you are doing differently now because of the things you learned? 

MA: This question is being answered during the COVID-19 shutdowns worldwide and organizations shifting to working from home. I had to be part of a major organizational change from delivering service to clients face to face without having the option of working from home, to an organization that shifted all services delivered to clients to online and everyone is working from home. Being part of the management team and leading my team through that change successfully and smoothly was mainly about my knowledge gained in the program on how to lead and implement change in an organization and its impact on both the organization and individuals.  

VK: Do you feel that getting a Master’s degree or doing other online programmes can reduce gender discrimination in the workplace? 

MA: Yes. Professional development is essential in any career growth. Doing it online at your own time and pace allows a wider range of individuals to be part of this development. This will allow more females to enrol in various programs to develop their skills and advance in their careers and they will compete professionally with other colleagues based on their knowledge rather than gender.  

Advice for other women 

Or other students, really. 

VK: Imagine you could send a message back in time to your pre-degree self: what would it be? 

MA: Use time efficiently, do not get distracted. Focus on what you want and make it happen. Always remember, success feels good and make this your motivation 

VK: Imagine you could send an object back in time to your pre-degree self: what would it be? 

MA: A good lumbar support office chair. 

Closing thoughts 

VK: Anything else you would like to add that could help with the goal of increasing women’s participation/access to a Master’s degree? 

MA: Women in history have succeeded in everything from raising families to leading armies. There’s still a large gender gap in women’s roles in decision making and leadership. Women sometimes need to work harder to reach those positions. Education is a great tool for success. Follow your dreams and make them happen.  

How about that! A good lumbar support office chair – that sure is one original suggestion, Manal! Manal’s advice to buckle up and be prepared for the challenges of the Master’s programme should be taken to heart.  

Do you see yourself going through this wonderful journey? Share your thoughts with us, what motivated you or what stops you from enrolling in your dream Masters programme in the comments below. 

Vidhi Kapoor

Vidhi is an MBA graduate and has prior finance experience working with the United Nations and in Corporate Banking. A former education advisor, Vidhi pioneered the social media and content marketing team at Robert Kennedy College since 2017. A dynamic and creative person at heart, her passion is to kindle flames of inspiration and positivity within you. While in her day job Vidhi enjoys penning down solutions to academic and personal student issues; she loves to paint a beautiful sunset outside her work. An avid travel enthusiast (lived in India, UK and the US), Vidhi is now exploring her newfound love for skiing in Canada.

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