Working up a healthy appetite

In our Women on Wednesday My Career slot we feature CEO of Food Choice at Work, Fiona Geaney
Working up a healthy appetite
Fiona Geaney,CEO, Food Choice at Work

My Career: CEO, Food Choice at Work, Fiona Geaney

Name: Fiona Geaney

Age: 32.

Lives: Knockraha, Co. Cork

Job title: CEO, Food Choice at Work Limited/Adjunct Lecturer Public Health Nutrition.

UCC Salary bracket: Not quite on the annual rich list... yet!

Education background: I have a BSc in Nutritional Sciences, a Masters in Public Health and a PhD in Public Health Nutrition. Last year, I also completed an online certificate in Teaching and Learning for Higher Education.

Hobbies: Running, gym classes like bodycombat, spending time with family and friends, reading, travelling to see new and exciting places.

Describe your job in five words: Rewarding, exciting, interesting, challenging, inspiring.

Describe yourself in five words: Passionate, forward-thinking, positive, energetic, genuine.

Personality needed for this kind of work? To be innovative. A strong work ethic, passion and a ‘can do’ attitude is pivotal when trying to run any company. It’s also important to be self-aware, to be able to ‘put yourself out there’, to have the ability to empower and support your team. I also believe that you need to be focused, by understanding where you need to go and how you are going to get there.

You need to care for people and believe that you are in this job to make a meaningful and positive difference in employee health. An eye for detail also helps!

How long are you doing this job? I am running Food Choice at Work for 15 months but I have been conducting research in the area of workplace dietary interventions for seven years.

How did you get this job? With my mother being a passionate chef, I was lucky enough to grow up around food. I was always fascinated by food but from a different angle. I was interested in the relationship between our diet and our health. Following my BSc in Nutritional Sciences, I was absolutely sure that I desired a career where I had the opportunity to promote and support healthy eating but from a population perspective rather than an individual perspective. Although I was willing to travel elsewhere to further my studies, the Masters in Public Health with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in UCC ticked all my boxes! A one year, full-time taught masters that focused on the theory, practical understanding and promotion of public health. This multi-disciplinary Masters was like a training camp for public health advocates where we were inspired, educated and equipped with the necessary tools to enable us to become future public health leaders!

During the Masters, we all had the opportunity to complete a thesis in our chosen topics and this is where my story really kicked off! With the incredible supervision of Professor Ivan Perry, I was supported to begin a thesis project that focused on positively modifying workplace eating environments to encourage healthier eating behaviours. I later published my thesis findings in 2010 in a peer reviewed academic journal, noticed that there was a great interest in the findings and then returned to UCC once more to commence a PhD in 2011 on the basis of my Masters’ thesis. Funded by the HRB Centre for Health and Diet Research, I led the development, implementation and evaluation of the Food Choice at Work programme. This resulted in a large number of peer reviewed academic publications and provided me with the opportunity to travel to national and international conferences from Dublin to South Africa to share our research findings.

Food Choice at Work represents a ground-breaking disruptive approach to providing employers with a scalable solution to workplace health. Food Choice at Work is scientifically proven to improve employees’ eating patterns and nutrition knowledge and to reduce employees’ levels of obesity and employer’s costs associated with absenteeism.

Food Choice at Work is the ultimate healthy eating management system that deals directly with the caterer, workplace stakeholders and employees making fundamental changes to purchasing, preparation and presentation of food in the workplace.

Owing to the increasing interest in the programme, I decided to commercialise Food Choice at Work in December 2015. With the appreciated support of our Local Enterprise Office in Cork City, Enterprise Ireland and AIB, Food Choice at Work is now an exciting spinout company from Gateway in UCC that is transforming the ability of employers to partner with their employees and catering provider to optimise employees’ health.

With a growing Food Choice at Work team, we are now lucky enough to be working with leading blue chip companies and are currently developing a software programme to help to scale our concept to the next level and expand into international markets.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Yes, all of our Food Choice at Work team have an undergraduate degree, a Masters and/or a PhD in Nutrition/Dietetics/Public Health/Food Science.

Describe a day at work: I usually check my calendar and emails before I reach the office. When I reach the office, I usually start by filling my bottle of water and have a catch up with my team including the operations lead, Clare Kelly; the research lead, Dr Sarah Fitzgerald, the Food Choice at Work leaders, Lauri Gilgan, Clodagh Murphy, Louise Welland, and our MPH intern, Karen Buckley O’Farrell.

For each day, I ensure that I have a priority list which means that no matter what distractions come my way, I need to ensure that these tasks are completed on that day.

Throughout the day, I attend meetings with potential clients and follow-up meetings with existing clients.

As our company is very much research- based, I also review any recent publications in the area. I like to ensure that our Twitter (@foodchoice_work) and LinkedIn pages are kept up to date to ensure that we are building our Food Choice at Work profile. I also check in with my advisors and check progress on our software development team every few days.

How many hours do you work a week? 50-plus hours.

What do you wear to work? Smart dress. I think that if you look the part, you will feel the part and will probably perform the part better.

Is your industry male or female dominated? Public health nutrition is female dominated.

Does this affect you in any particular way? No, it’s great.

Is your job stressful? No. It can be challenging at times but I love to solve challenges.

Do you work with others or on your own? I work with six other amazing ladies at the moment.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? Never, this work is a way of life for me and I absolutely love the work that I do.

Best bits: Working within a team that care as much about employee health as I do! Every day is different with a new experience, a new challenge and new energy.

Worst bits: Only having 24 hours in the day!

Advice to those who want your job? Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Any other comments? We spend many hours at work so try to work in an area that you are passionate about. If you can’t see a clear career path, create your own — take a chance and don’t be afraid to step outside the box!

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