Ireland’s most successful women share their experience of gender balance

This International Women’s Day, the theme is Balance For Better. Some of Ireland’s most successful women share their experience of gender balance with Ciara McDonnell


One of Ireland’s pioneering women on air, Alison Curtis occupies prime position as the anchor of Weekend Breakfast on Today FM

There was a stage at Today FM for a good eighteen months that I was the only female host across the whole schedule. When I started in radio it was very male-dominated but I think that it had to change.

Women as consumers and leaders when it comes to social media and personalities in Ireland are tipping the balance and it had to be reflected on air. We are seeing women on the covers of all the supplements, as the lead news stories - women are the buying power now. Women want to identify with women in the news and on air - myself included.

When Muireann O’Connell got the lunchtime show at our station it was such a great moment. I was so happy to see it happen in my career time because women take up over half of our population and should be reflected as such in all walks of life.

When I was starting out I listened to strong women like Zoe Ball, Sara Cox and Jo Wiley who all played incredible music on their shows. At home, Jenny Huston, Ruth Scott and myself all came up at the same time. Now, all the women in Irish radio support each other – we are always chatting, there are many incredible women working on air today.

Ian Dempsey was a huge role model and mentor to me, and I do very much model how I present around him. He is married to a strong woman and is very proud to be a father to a strong daughter and we learned a lot from each other during my early years when I first worked with him.


A Chartered Physiotherapist by professional, Fiona is a former Irish Rugby International and Stage 4 head coach and is a regular rugby analyst on RTÉ and Newstalk.

I grew up as the only girl with five brothers, so my gender ‘inequality’ started at a very young age. I was lucky to have parents who put me forward to be equal to if not better than the boys. When I started playing GAA, I played with the boys until I was 14. I was treated equally to the boys. That was a really good grounding for me and I have never seen myself as inferior in any respect. I long for the day that we don’t have to celebrate International Women’s Day. We should be celebrating a person for doing a great job, not that they are male or female.

If you look at the Athletics last Sunday, there was equal joy for Mark English and Ciara Mageean. They probably get equal support, equal portfolio and equal profile, which is fantastic. Team sports are a little different. There is huge disparity there, and in fairness, a lot of the organisations try to address the imbalance.

As a coach, when I did my coaching courses with the IRFU I was the only woman at the time with 48 men and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I was given the absolute same respect and level of support as the men.

I have three children and a very understanding husband. I know that one of the reasons I can do all that I do is because of John. We have great respect for each other, and recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It works because of that balance.

- Fiona will be speaking at Building Resilience, Network Ireland’s event at Thomond Park, the home of Munster Rugby, today to celebrate International Women’s Day.


Emily is the first Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is made up of myself as chief commissioner and then fourteen members of the commission and we are gender balanced. In terms of management, we have a director, and then our management team is made up of two men and two women. My view is you shouldn’t surround yourself with cheerleaders. If you want to keep your antenna sharpened then you need to seek people more expert than you at different things.

I had a very good experience while working at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Sally Nethercott, who was the Director of Nursing there was probably one of the outstanding role models for me. She was very generous of spirit to women to encourage them to advance their careers and aspirations.

I was 26 when I got my first management job and had 35 staff. It was really she who encouraged me to the post of Director of Nursing at Crumlin Hospital, where I had 650 staff and it was Sally Nethercott who said ‘you can do that job. You need to go back and change the Irish health service.’

Sometimes it’s really good when other women take time to look after women who are not just beside them or ahead of them, but who are coming behind them.


Helen is president of Network Ireland, the country’s leading women’s business network and director of the Celtic Ross Hotel and Marina Commercial Park.

I joined the Cork branch of Network Ireland when I moved to Cork from Dublin and I didn’t know other women in Cork in terms of business. Your head can be so stuck in your day, and being able to get out and go to a place and realise that everyone is going through the same thing is so important. Being able to have a chat with someone and find they may be having the same problem, or may be able to offer a quick solution to it gives that support.

You will hear people talk about women not having the confidence to go for a promotion or to ask for a pay rise. Maybe we over think things - I know that I do. I know I strive for perfection and I have to keep telling myself I am good enough andI need to think a little bit less. Through my role at Network Ireland I am being personally and professionally challenged left, right and centre. I need to practice what I preach, so I am doing my best to take chances as they come.

I believe in mentoring and coaching and training and using and garnering the support that is open to you. I have always done training, whether hard or soft skill training. From a young age, my father has been a wonderful mentor to me. He is pivotal in my life and I am working in the family business, and instilled the values that fuel the business.

What advice would I give to people in terms of confidence? If you feel you don’t have the confidence, just fake it. There is a pretty good chance that you have the skills and the expertise to back it up, because otherwise you wouldn’t be doing so well.


Comedian, comedy writer, radio producer and actress, Alison Spittle is one of Ireland’s most sought after talents.

When I worked in radio, I was told women don’t like other women’s voices. I still don’t think there are enough women on the airwaves, but there are a huge number of them doing podcasts. It’s like Jurassic Park - Nature Finds A Way.

I went to an event this week called Comedy 50:50 and it was run by ITV, with an aim to get women into writing for television. The room was overflowing with female talent and people were surprised at how many people were there. If people can’t see a problem, then they can’t solve a problem, and people haven’t ‘seen’ all the female writers for years.

I think a solution would be an environment where you can’t just have one person representing their background. So, you can’t just have one working class person, one person of colour and one woman, because then they have to represent their entire demographic.

I’m a comedian, and sometimes I am asked ‘what’s it like being a woman in comedy’? Half of me goes, ‘do you actually want to know or do you want the answer you want?’ The solution is always: have more women doing comedy.

My experience of being a comedian has improved ten fold over the last few years because there are more women doing comedy.

Audiences are campaigning clubs for more women on stage, and that’s brilliant because it is showing that more women need to be booked because there is an actual commercial demand for us.

More on this topic

Reader's Blog: When women vote for Trump, then nothing will change

Maisie Williams hopes there will be no need for another Me Too campaign

'Don't buy me cupcakes - treat me with respect' say protesters on International Women's Day

Writer Scarlett Curtis: Collective identity of feminism gave me reason to live

More in this Section

Pauline McLynn shines in creative homecoming for Enda Walsh's The Small Things

Double act: Why talking to your baby is essential

Ask a counsellor: ‘My mother’s become so high maintenance since moving closer – what should I do?’

Victoria Pendleton on veganism and why she thinks everyone should eat less meat

Latest Showbiz

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon honoured for his love of poetry

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you mix Billie Eilish with a group of Irish classical musicians?

Love Island's Joe Garrett taken to ITV 'safehouse' after backlash

Toy Story 4 star Tim Allen says Disney franchise should emulate Star Wars

More From The Irish Examiner