What works for women at work
Honesty, family support, self-belief, learning to switch off – these are just a few of the non-negotiables for getting on in life. So say a group of Ireland’s most successful women, whose achievements are being recognised at a WXN network award ceremony next week
‘Don’t panic. take a deep breath’
CEO and founder of Cara Pharmacy Group
Growing up I had two siblings who suffered from having narrow trachea. If my sister Claire or brother Thomas didn’t chew their food properly, they ran the risk of it lodging in their throats and choking. The first time it happened to my sister I panicked thinking she was going to die. If you panic someone their whole body tenses up, narrowing their trachea even further. It happened several times before I learned that I could control the panic she and I felt by breathing exercises. Breathe in deeply through the nose, hold your breath and count to eight. Repeat 10 times to learn how to keep calm and carry on. I am now very good in a crisis. When a customer came into one of our chemists with his dental plate lodged in the back of his throat, restricting his breathing, I kept him calm. It saved his life.
‘Know who you are’
Reverend Pat Storey
Bishop of Meath and Kildare
Being yourself is the most important lesson life can teach you. To do that you’ve got to know who you are. Self-knowledge is a strong asset to bring to any job. Part of it is being quite secure in yourself. I couldn’t do what I do on my own strength alone. I lean on God and gain strength from him. I incorporate prayer into my everyday activities, multi-tasking if you will, while walking the dog, a golden retriever named Rudy after Rudy Giuliani who was mayor of New York when 9/11 happened. He’s one of my heroes. I also swim in Carton House, praying while moving up the and down the lane – although not out loud.
To get to know yourself you need time to think. I accompanied the whole house of bishops, 12 of us in total, on a four-day silent retreat to a monastery in Yorkshire. I had hours and hours to think. To slow down and not speak for four days really helped me.
I also have a life coach who I talk things through with, such as how I perceive myself to be, what I want to achieve. I even talked to her about taking on this job. Her name is Kate Marshall. I saw her speak at an event in Derry when I was based there, really liked what I heard and took a punt on asking her if she would be willing to coach me. vistagespeakerbureau.co.uk
‘Family and friends come first’
Assistant Global Controller and vice president for M&A at Oracle
Never give up a special family or friend’s occasion for a meeting that happens once a month. In life what you will regret is not attending events such as a milestone family birthday, a special anniversary or a son’s rugby match. If you have a good team, the works gets done. The more you balance life the more one aspect of it helps another. At work, my boss and I go through the family events of our core team and work our travel commitments around these.
At each career and life stage you’ve got to adapt and learn how to work differently. I was not a natural delegator. When I was 30, I teamed up with a colleague and we mentored each other. She over delegated. At that point I needed to check every detail. By standing in each other’s shoes we could see how the other approached a problem. We both learned on the job and it helped me climb the ladder. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Ariana Huffington advocates seven hours a night in her book Thrive, describing it as the only way to get to the top.
‘Fight for what you believe in’
Secretary General, European Commission
The biggest lesson life has taught me to date is to be a fighter. If you believe in something you should be prepared to work for and fight for it. You can’t always win, but at least give it a go.
After 35 years, I know the European Commission inside out. I have a good idea of what can work and what does not. My current job involves a huge amount of forward planning. I find it important to be clear about priorities and to make sure they are delivered – otherwise you can get drowned in what is urgent today but not important for tomorrow. I hope for the best and plan for the worst.
The EU moves forward by trying hard to bring everyone on board – which makes for a lot of long and sometimes tedious meetings, but it is important to make sure that all points of view are heard. Stamina and diplomacy are essential.
‘Say no to prejudice’
Irish Times journalist
Growing up, my mother (journalist Mary Holland), and father (author, activist and journalist Eamon McCann), taught me that the way you view the world is important, that there is no room for prejudice. Every person you come across is just the same as you are.
The mother bringing up her kids on a halting site has the same hopes and dreams for her kids and the same frailties as the mother living in Stillorgan or Blackrock. Don’t judge someone until you have spoken to them; don’t judge their situation and don’t judge how they got into that situation. The world is a tougher place for women to be in and women need to be alert to that and that misogyny ends up killing women, not just in Pakistan and Nigeria but in the western world and in Ireland.
Men are rarely described as being angry, hysterical or over reacting. Calmly be the best you can be and be confident enough to display it. Women need to know they deserve the recognition, be it a pay rise or the job. A lot of the time working women are just getting on with it because they also have responsibilities at home, responsibilities that men don’t feel they have.
‘Understand what makes you happy’
Microsoft Ireland managing director
Your work needs to drive and energise you, so do something that will have you bouncing out of bed. If something is no longer making you happy then you should stop doing it. This is how you can be authentic as a person. In early working life there can be an expectation from people for you to be someone that you are not.