November Spotlight: Debbie Dowling Learning and Development Dubai

Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East.

14 years ago, I left my home country; Ireland as I wanted to experience living and working within different cultures and diverse backgrounds. I have lived in 11 countries in total; Brazil, South Korea, Maldives, the US, and for 9 years; the UAE. Each country and experience has been unique with different flavours and learnings, both on a personal note and from a career perspective.

I moved to Dubai initially as I wanted to continue to work in a multi-cultural environment, but to put down roots in a place that could feel like my second home. Dubai is a special place for me as it does not get much more diverse than 200+ nationalities living and working amongst each other. I have built my career in Academia and Learning and Development, working for Hult International Business School & the Emirates Group.

I now work for myself as a Corporate Trainer, Professor and L&D Consultant where I have built a client base from varied sectors such as Retail, Finance, Consulting and Education. I have trained, taught and managed over 3000 business professionals in the UAE and my passion and speciality lies in helping companies to develop training solutions for their people and to train and teach individuals’ leadership skills in areas such as emotional intelligence, team dynamics, cultural intelligence, productivity and doing business in the Middle East. My research interests are in organizational behavior and positive psychology, focused in the areas of mindfulness, flow and resilience.

On a more personal note; I met my husband in Dubai. We got married in 2018 and we are about to have our first child in January, so Dubai will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve been fortunate to visit over half of the countries in the Middle East over the past 9 years and I hope that by the time I leave that I have visited them

What are the skills and competencies that are needed to meet the region’s talent requirement?

There is a rise in businesses in the region becoming more lean, but with the expectations still there for employees to have a greater output and productivity. This calls for talent that are agile, can adapt easily to change and respond positively to stressors. Resilience, grit or mental toughness are various ways to refer to a person who has the ability to cope under pressure with self-belief and focus and this is a highly sought-after skill in today’s world but particularly in the region.

Emotional Intelligence

EI (or EQ) has surpassed IQ as a highly sought-after quality for leaders to possess. Broken down, emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor our own and other people’s emotions, to label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide our thinking and behavior. Studies have shown that people with high EI have greater mental health, higher job performance, and stronger leadership skills.

Cultural Intelligence.

Understanding how to successfully work together among 200+ nationalities is not an easy feat but it begins with taking time to understand different backgrounds and the often complex dimensions that underpin these cultures.

While it is a huge responsibility for organizations to invest in their employees’ cultural intelligence and to incorporate this into their core values, it is also our own responsibility as individuals to do our research and to develop our own cultural intelligence. Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of National Culture is a great place to begin to learn more about the backgrounds of our colleagues and important stakeholders we work with.

What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

Focus, flow and digital distractions. Noise distractions in offices lead to lower productivity and higher absentee rates. Digital distraction alone costs U.S. companies almost $1 trillion dollars annually. Managers need to consider this and help set their people up for success if they are asking for output that requires deep thinking such as strategic plans or KPIs that require deep thinking. Employees should be encouraged to take time in quiet settings away from the typical open-plan office, or off-site to do deep work and get into a state of flow.

Well-being of employees. There is increasingly more emerging data to show how Mindfulness training can have a significant effect on the productivity of employees and therefore the organization. The benefits are exponential but it’s important to look at how a lack of focus in this area can affect productivity and bottom line if employees’ well-being is not prioritized. These 4 factors can be detrimental to both individuals and the organization: Lack of focus, Presenteeism, Burnout, Disengagement as a whole.  Flexible-working hours. The 8am – 6pm working day is still very much business as usual in the UAE. Unfortunately, this does not always accommodate working mothers, families and individuals who thrive in a more flexible working environment. There needs to be an element of trust within teams and an openness to attracting a more diverse workforce when recruiting talent. Often, hiring managers will miss out on an excellent candidate because of ‘’existing policies’’ or ‘’traditional hiring measures’’ that focus on full-time positions when a part-time or temporary position could be the perfect solution.

What is your Philosophy?

Never stop learning and stay curious! I’m fascinated with learning as a whole and becoming better at what I do every day, little by little. It’s important to realize that while we may not be naturally talented or skilled in a certain area, by adopting a growth mindset, practicing and creating lasting positive habits, we can improve. What you practice grows stronger!

Perfection does not exist but we all have the ability to change and transform.

How has the role of a Learner & Learning & Development evolved?

Bersin by Deloitte’s famous infographic ‘’Meet the Modern Learner’’ gives us a snapshot into the challenges facing learning professionals today. The role of a learner is ever evolving and I believe the following tools are taking learning as we know it to the next level both on an individual level and in organizations:

  • E-learning/ Micro-learning. Learners across the globe feel that the unprecedented busyness of modern-day life does not leave enough hours in the day to study or upskill. Technology allows us to incorporate bite-sized learning into our lives, while we are enroute to work, on a break or simply taking 30 minutes out of our day to upskill or train in a new area. Many organizations have now incorporated a blended-learning approach to L&D where e-learning is embedded into the training strategy.
  • Research from June 2019 tells us that there are more than 700,000 active podcasts and more than 29 million podcast episodes available to us. Podcasts are an excellent way to keep up-to-date with what is going on in business, science and culture worldwide, and technology makes it easily accessible to us at any time of the day.
  • Free University Courses. Coursera & edX are making education accessible to anyone who has access to technology or a computer. Top universities such as Harvard and MIT allow learners from anywhere in the world to gain new skills and earn a certificate of completion, proving that if you have the interest and dedication in developing yourself, that you can access world-renowned material for free.

Learning & Development as a whole is no longer a nice to have or an add-on to the HR Function. It needs to be fully integrated into the overall strategy to ensure alignment with the organizations’ Employee Value Proposition, core values and mission.

Debbie Dowling 

Corporate Trainer, Learning & Development Consultant, Professor


Instagram: @debbiedowlingdevelopment


Mobile: +971 55 288 1572