Carmel McKinney OBE was formerly chairperson of two public-sector bodies within the education sector and, in June 2015, was appointed as the first female chairperson of the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service.
In 2017 she won the Award for Outstanding Management and Leadership at the Women in Business Awards, was runner up in The Guardian Public Services Awards for Leadership Excellence, and (most recently) was appointed onto the Guardian Public Services Advisory Board. She is a key role-model for all females wanting to reach their full potential as leaders in the Boardroom setting and has given outstanding leadership in her drive to mentor and encourage other females to consider positions within Boards. She has actively promoted the achievements of women in public life, having been the keynote speaker and panelist at numerous events, as well as interfacing with Fire and Rescue Services across the UK and in the United States as an ambassador for NIFRS.
Do you have a female role model who has inspired you in your career?
I don’t feel, as a woman, that we need to automatically say someone famous. My role model has been my late mother, Catherine.
Mum was a high-achieving woman in a time when very few females held senior positions in organisations. What she always instilled in her 2 daughters was that we were well able to be successful in our chosen fields if we worked hard, treated people with respect and were professionally humble. Strong emotional intelligence was her greatest gift, and her capacity to encourage yet constructively challenge for our own good was the greatest inspiration for anyone to have. At her funeral, hundreds of people arrived to pay their respects and to tell how she inspired them in their careers, so why would I look for a celebrity when I had such an incredible role model in my mother.
What has been your defining career moment?
I have had many successes in my career, and I am enormously privileged to have achieved so much. For me, that defining career moment had to be when I received by OBE at Buckingham Palace. I was with my mum, dad and sister, Sheena. It was the family’s achievement as, without them, I could never have done all the things I have achieved. As my name was called out to move forward to receive my award, I thought – wow – I am an ordinary person who has done extraordinary things. What’s not to like about that!!
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self (or any young woman reading this)?
Think I would say self-belief and to seek a mentor to help you build your chosen pathway; be willing to take the knocks along the way – learn from them, and try again. Avoid negative people, as they drain enthusiasm and confidence; seek out the radiators – people who want you to do well and who are happy to help you get there.
Tell us one surprising fact about yourself.
I am a highly accomplished, award-winning champion Irish Dancer and have adjudicated competitions nationally and internationally. My claim to fame was the invitation to dance for the President of the USA at the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the White House.
What’s next for you in your career?
Continue to fulfil my role as Chairperson of NIFRS to the best of my ability; that will keep me busy for now!