Women are told they’ve never had it better, yet still face major challenges in the workplace. Here, the experts offer us some tips, writes Karen Murray
Most women will remember our parents’ generation telling us how easy we have it — we can juggle careers and motherhood with the bonus of all the modern conveniences at our fingertips.
Yes, women have progressed in business and politics — although there’s still a long way to go to tackle the gender pay gap and glass ceilings. Yes, we can be mothers too — providing we have a career that pays enough to fund childcare. And we have all the gadgets to facilitate us — an app to tell us how many steps we have taken that day, another to regulate our heating at home when we are stuck at the office, and ones to access to our emails 24 hours a day.
Win win, hooray for us.
The price we pay is high. We are permanently on the go, be it at work or at home. Juggling so many balls in the air that it feels like a circus. There’s a danger in being always ‘switched on’ because there’s always something else that needs our attention. And too many of us seek a perfection that can never be achieved.
To mark International Women’s Day on Thursday, March 8, a business event with a difference is being held in West Cork. Under the theme of Push for Progress, the focus isn’t just on how to progress in business but on teaching women to switch off, wind down, and practise self-care — why we must put our mental health first.
Keynote speakers include PR and communications expert Terry Prone, Cocoa Brown founder Marissa Carter, founder of the Irish Film Academy Rachel Sarah Murphy, and e-commerce consultant Jennie McGinn.
Event organiser Christine Duggan says it is a day to celebrate women rather than a day for comparing. “Too often women try to be and do everything but there comes a point where they must say enough is enough — what I’m doing is enough and I don’t have to keep trying to prove myself.
“Everything we see online is perfect and put together and although we know life isn’t like that we are caught in the trap of trying to meet this perfection which doesn’t really exist! It’s time to ask ourselves what is more important: A public image or our own personal wellbeing and happiness.”
Times have changed for women. I was fired from my job in RTÉ Radio during the Troubles in the last year it was possible to be fired for being a woman. Me and five other female broadcasters, all — inevitably — on short-term contracts were fired because the guy firing us ‘couldn’t send a woman down the Falls Road’. I asked him if men were physically more bullet-proof?
These days, I tell women to go for whatever they want and make damn sure nothing distracts them from it. Distractions include wanting to be liked (waste of time — someone’s always going to dislike you, and you know what? You’ll survive it.) Also social media: How to get completely up to date with the completely irrelevant in five wasted hours.
Do what you want, not what anybody else thinks you SHOULD want. If you want to be vegan and do pilates in your spare time, off with you. If you want to concentrate on your career and get someone else to iron your clothes, ditto. ‘Me time’ is best achieved by knowing who ‘me’ is.
All women deserve an Oscar for what they do, we need to congratulate ourselves more and tell ourselves we are doing fine. Life is tough and it’s OK not to be OK — we all feel the same.
It very difficult for us to find time for us. Women by nature are nurturers so we usually put ourselves last when really we should be first. If we’re healthy and happy then all our family benefits from that. My time out is acupuncture once a week. When I am stressed it’s the only thing that gets it out. I do meditation when l can. I have to or I would literally not be able to cope with the pressures of being a woman in business today. I’m not superwoman and I know that.
Social media pressures are huge for women. We see perfection that is Photoshopped and lives that are completely fabricated and we buy into it. I wish it didn’t exist but it does and, yes, I’m on it. I have a vlog l post too. We cover a lots of topics — and I keep it real.
Our mothers fought to be allowed to return to work after getting married and perhaps survived in a male arena by defeminising — hark back to shoulder pads and power suits in the 1980s. Almost 40 years later, women commencing their professional careers no longer feel their femininity is seen as a weakness but that doesn’t mean we are entirely comfortable negotiating aggressively. As any person in business knows, the art of negotiation is perhaps the most important professional tool you can hold in your arsenal. Pushing for progress to me, personally, means fearlessly negotiating the best deal for yourself/your business in all respects.
There will always be a gap between how much you can achieve during working hours and how much you wish you could achieve. There’s always one more email to send, one more message to reply to, so learning to live with the feeling that there’s more to do but finishing up anyway is the only way to keep any sort of balance.
I’ve started to put ‘me’ time in my diary the same way I would a meeting. I find booking a specific amount of time out in my week is really helpful and makes me feel less guilty about it. ‘Me time’ usually involves attending my book club or meeting a friend for lunch. I think we can support other women to make the decision to switch off by encouraging each other to feel the guilt and do it anyway.
I try to do business in a different way, I work with a few different clients and try to work with those who support each other. I am a mother now too to a 9-month-old boy so I need to be allowed to juggle.
We need more progressive workforces. Flexible working, remote working — respecting staff and trusting them to get the job done. When you have children, you can’t predict if they are going to get sick. If this happens, I will need to go — but I will still get the job done.
There’s an assumption when you have a child that you will be less driven but I think I actually am more ambitious now because I want to provide a good future for my son.
The whole theme of this conference is to push for less, not more. We are so pressured all the time. We need to find ways to work smarter, not harder.
Women in business face unique challenges and it puts enormous pressure on us. We need to support each other.
The Push for Progress event will take place on March 8 at the Celtic Ross Hotel. The event, which marks International Women’s Day, will be hosted by the Local Enterprise Office Cork North and West. Tickets can be booked by calling 023 8834700 or online at localenterprise.ie/CorkNorthandWest/