Talking with experts in ELT!

Interviews on education and language teaching

Jenny Dooley, President of Express Publishing, talks about women’s leadership

ELT NEWS has taken the initiative to publish a series of interviews on women’s leadership.  Whenever there are talks on gender and diversity, critics and sceptics often revolve around the big question: “Will we ever reach gender equality in the workplace?” or “is it just a theory that is morally right but can never be realized?”

What barriers have business women experienced prior to their success? What kind of sacrifices have they made? Can a balance between family and working life be achieved? What are the traits of a leader?

These are some of the questions we’ll attempt to answer. The first business woman we interview is Jenny Dooley, President of Express Publishing. 

Jenny Dooley is a M.Ed. holder. She has been a teacher, teacher trainer, a certified language coach and an author in the ELT field for more than twenty years. She has travelled extensively, delivering seminars and holding workshops in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. She is the owner and manager of one of the piloting schools used by Express Publishing and is the president of H.E.C., a language exams distribution centre. She has also been influential in the creation of children’s theatre groups, which aim to stimulate young learners’ imaginations while enhancing their English language learning. Her research interests include: language acquisition in young learners; the application of the multiple intelligence theory in language learning; gamification in education; neuroscience; and modern assessment. She has been involved in the development of printed, audio-visual, animated and digital ELT material for more than two decades. Some of her latest publications are: Incredible 5i WonderRight On, On Screen and #English. She has also designed DigiBooks, a gamified LMS platform with ELT content.


  • What does being a leader mean to you?

Being a leader means having a vision and cooperating with your team to achieve a common goal. In our day and age being a woman and a leader demands great strength and discipline. It takes courage and perseverance. In our continuous evolving field of education it also takes a lot of knowledge and research. Being at the top of a pioneering publishing house, Express Publishing, means that I always have to be one step ahead of the game.


  • What is it like to run a publishing company which has expanded in so many parts of the world?


First of all, I would like to say that being the president of Express Publishing is an honor and a blessing. As you may know, E.P. has grown rapidly over the years and enjoys steady growth due to the quality of our material.  Additionally it is financially healthy and transparency is at the core of our business ethic in order to maintain our loyal network and clientele all over the world.  Undoubtedly, this network took quite some time to build and it certainly keeps expanding!


It’s always interesting to visit different countries, getting to meet people from so many parts of the world, making friends, and exchanging not only products but ideas and knowledge too! Most importantly, since the common goal of both Express Publishing and our partners, is to upgrade the standards of language education worldwide, we try to help and learn from each country’s experts. My network of distributors and academic consultants is very happy to be working with E.P. because we provide them with extensive support; many of them have been working with us for more than twenty years. We’re almost like family, so we’re always happy when we have meetings and we strategize together. Obviously, these meetings may be stressful sometimes, especially when we’re in a rush to meet production deadlines, but things eventually work out. Hard work and cooperative spirit are key to our success.    


  • What were the challenges you had to face in the beginning?


As you know, this venture started with Virginia trying to empower the EFL field with her knowledge and successful methodology. Our publishing house was established thirty-five years ago and back then we only had two or three employees. Today E.P. includes more than four hundred members locally and internationally.


One of the difficulties we faced initially was sharing our vision and explaining the E.P. methodology to our partners in order to showcase the added value of our materials and not simply compare us to already established brands. With commitment this led to great success and we became a point of reference and a benchmark. I vividly remember the first presentations I delivered, at the age of twenty-three, in Poland, in front of an audience of highly trained academics. As you can guess this was quite a stressful situation at the beginning of my career as a speaker. Luckily my educational background and my practical teaching experience helped me catch the interest of my audiences, making my popularity grow rapidly not only in Poland but in all the countries I conducted training sessions in thereafter.


My priority since day one has been to create original material. It’s rather challenging to come up with quality educational content rather than rely on marketing gimmicks, which seem to be the latest trend but create only short-term buzz with limited learning significance.

In order to have the desired results we had to conduct extensive training for our associates, deliver thousands of teacher training sessions all over the world, and adapt our material to fit the requirements of each country. This is still a long and difficult process every time we enter a new market. But among our academic consultants, our legal department and all the teams within our company, we have managed to create strong and trusted bonds with our international partners enabling us to overcome any potential matters.    


  • Modern leadership is more difficult now than it was in the past. Is being a leader a journey of hard work and discipline?


I have to agree that being a leader demands a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice. What challenged me the most was trying to balance between my family and the time I spent building my career, since I was away on countless business trips. I’m not going to hide that sometimes I feel guilty not dedicating even a few hours to my hobbies or personal interests, as I often feel that my time should be spent working. Being a leader often means that you need to be available at all times, even in the middle of the night to cater for all time zones. 


However, after Virginia’s sudden death I realised that there is more to life than just work. First of all, we need to be, feel and act human. Whether that means taking a little time off business duty to care for my loved ones, or being there for my colleagues on a personal level, I’m happy to do it! Besides, I don’t believe in an authoritarian leadership style. Both Virginia and I, have formed a very skillful workforce, with continuous training, who are given ample opportunities to thrive and provide continuity and presence within the ELT industry.  Life is unexpected so we always have to be prepared for whatever lemons are handed out to us so we can make the sweetest lemonade possible!    


  • What is one thing you know now about women and work you wish you had known earlier in your career?


To be honest, I think I have been very lucky in that aspect. In my experience, the majority of language educators around the world are women. Naturally there are some female professionals who may face time management issues with their work-life balance. Unfortunately, occasionally there are ladies that I have met who may feel insecure and at times get misguided by men who try to impress them but I do not believe that this is the norm. I have met hundreds of qualified women who are very capable of running their own businesses. I’m delighted to admit that E.P. has a predominately female workforce, where women can truly thrive. That is not to say that we don't have male team members. In general I believe in equality and I respect diversity, hence I aim to provide equal opportunities to everyone.  


  • Do you experience resistance when you are leading men?  How do you deal with it?


As in many professional fields women are often underestimated. What I have come across unfortunately, not so much in Greece but in other countries, is that cultural differences may create problems. For example in some countries men have difficulty accepting knowledgeable and independent women that can handle situations successfully.


And yes, undoubtedly, I have even been in a situation where men have attempted to persuade me into making the wrong business decisions. But since I’m a smart resilient business woman, I know how to negotiate, pick and win my battles. What's more, not only do I have an amazing support system from my loyal advisors but also from my loving family. My daughter, for example, who is currently the head of our marketing department, is rapidly becoming a prominent business woman and my sons are soon to follow!


  • Have you drawn professional inspiration from other women? Tell us about someone who has inspired you.


There have been plenty of women in my life who were my inspiration, but I will only mention two here. Obviously the first one was Virginia who trained me, guided me and made sure I became the business-oriented woman she envisioned. But I think that Virginia has inspired plenty of people in our field. Another inspirational woman was one of my English teachers who used to teach in our language school, Gene Greenwood. As many students at the time, I found the traditional language learning methods quite tedious. Then at the age of thirteen I met Mrs. Greenwood. She sparked the flame of imagination and creativity within me, encouraging me to embrace my theatrical talent and directed my interests towards teaching through drama.


  • Have you ever been afraid on the job?


I would be lying if I said no. My main fear when I was younger, was how I would gain the respect of older colleagues who were more experienced than me and how I would gain their support for my decisions. That fear has worked to my advantage because I earned their respect through my knowledge and hard work and have proven even to my most senior members of staff that they can actually learn from me too, as I have repeatedly learned from them. 


Generally, of course there can be temporary turmoil that can affect processes, but at the end of the day it’s my job to solve matters when issues arise and provide improved solutions.


  • Have you ever been so discouraged you wanted to quit?


Working with Virginia taught me that this position would be very demanding. In her words 'our company is like an express train, there are no stops once you get on it.' So, thinking back, there was a time when I just wanted to quit and leave not only the company but the country altogether. For a very brief period of time I had the romantic notion of wanting to stay home, raise my family, read my methodology books, and probably work in a small school with children for a few hours in the UK where I would live my life in a small house with a white picket fence etc. Thankfully, I quickly snapped out of that fantasy world and the thought that made me realize my true place was the responsibility I felt towards our company’s employees. You see, I’m an only child and I knew that if I was not willing to step up and take control, the future of E.P. would be at risk. After all, what would happen to all the employees? We all know what happens when there are company mergers. Usually half of the staff becomes redundant. I could not bear the thought that some new hotshots would take over the reliable and steady jobs of valued colleagues. Thus, the responsibility I felt towards my colleagues, at the time, quickly wiped away any thoughts of quitting.


  • How do you balance career and personal life? Is there such a thing as balance?


As I have already mentioned being a leader, means investing the majority of your time working, allowing little time for personal life. Although during office hours I’m regularly approached for business decisions and advice, I equally find myself drifting from my social side. It is challenging to uphold family duties with the amount of travelling I have to do and although I have hundreds of business associates, I have very few close friends. Undoubtedly effort is required to maintain friendships and not many people understand my long working hours, which sometimes include weekends and holidays. Consequently some old acquaintances could not keep up with my “express train” as my mother used to call it!


  • What advice do you have for women looking to grow either their own business or within the company they work for?


Well, in my personal opinion, with the right determination and drive it is possible to develop your business. However, we live in a highly competitive world and in order to sustain your business and grow further, you must secure the appropriate finances. Hence it is essential to be financially independent before even starting a company because if your business plan is not solid and profitable you can quickly find yourself in an unwanted mess.  


Networking can also help develop your business, but it should always be done in a professional and ethical manner. Connections and sponsorships can give you a head start and support your journey if you are respectful to those that facilitate your growth.


In all companies there are ups and downs; people want to join you, help you and share the success when you’re doing great but you have to be willing to make the personal sacrifices and put in a lot of hard work. I think that believing in yourself is necessary, but you also should have a clear vision and be surrounded by loyal professionals.


As for the women who want to progress or develop within the companies it is my firm belief that progress needs to be earned. As Virginia used to say: 'In this company highchairs are earned not given'. In my humble opinion anyone who wants to progress must fulfill their responsibilities to the best of their ability and prove that they are willing to take on more roles by taking initiatives and engaging in tasks that benefit their workplace. It is of great importance to demonstrate that you care about your organization and you are qualified with hard and soft skills such as reliability, teamwork, adaptability, loyalty and creativity. If you can manage to achieve that combination, you will be able to flourish within your workplace, be respected by your colleagues, be recognized and get rewarded for your outstanding efforts. 


Lastly, if I may, I would like to note that being a leader doesn’t just signify having a vision and a mission to be accomplished at all cost. It also incorporates being a role model, which requires personal values, honesty, integrity and high ethical business standards. Without those, leadership may prove to be short term.  Respecting and living by a moral code enables valuable partners to trust you. That also includes listening, sharing responsibilities, encouraging and cooperating with others to ensure desirable results. True Leaders don’t prioritize personal gain, they work for the benefit of the many in order to maintain stability and sustainability of the business. They create strong bonds of reliability between their associates, never exploiting them but facilitating them to also become successful. In my personal opinion as a leader, being ruthless or unprofessional leads nowhere! On the contrary, skilled and honest collaboration leads to success.