Niamh Hennessy.


Women in charge: The secrets behind their success

From academic prowess to cutting-edge research, Ireland’s young women are an impressive bunch, writes Niamh Hennessy.

Women in charge: The secrets behind their success

WORKPLACES can be challenging environments for women.

Next week in Munich, young girls will gather from across the world for the eight annual Girls20 Summit. Girls20 is a programme which aims to improve female participation in the workforce. The event takes place this year from June 16-23 alongside the G20 and participants make recommendations to G20 leaders in relation to areas of key economic and societal importance. This year they are focusing on energy and climate change, the digital economy and migration.

Ahead of the summit we look at some young Irish women who are achieving exceptional things in the workplace, sport and academia.

Emma Young

Age: 19

West Cork native, Emma has been chosen as the EU delegate for the Girls20-Summit. Emma is studying Law in Trinity, is involved in the European Youth Parliament and is a UNICEF Ambassador. Emma’s passion is to try to get young people, and young girls especially, interested in politics and social issues.

Emma doesn’t believe Millennials have it too easy but she believes social media and the internet have created a culture of insecurity: “Young people are pressurised to become perfect idealised versions of themselves. Failure is a natural part of life, but to our generation failure has become unacceptable— something that comes from social media and that can destroy self-esteem.”

Where do you see yourself in 20 years’ time?

Hopefully working in the area of international politics or development. I don’t want to be more specific than that, because in truth I don’t know myself. Hopefully at age 40 I will have had the opportunity to influence positive change for women around the world, as well as travel as part of my career. Anything else would be a bonus.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Other than my mother, who has guided me all my life, I would have to say UN Under Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. I met her when I was 16, when she came to Dublin through her work on the Sustainable Development Goals. She specifically wanted to hear from young people about their thoughts on the Goals, and I remember how gentle and genuinely interested she was in us. Notwithstanding all of her amazing achievements, she is a kind and warm person, which is the kind of leader I aspire to be.

If you could invite three famous people to dinner who would they be?

I think Nicola Sturgeon, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (president of Liberia) and Barack Obama would be three very special dinner guests. All three are passionate, confident leaders, and it would be very interesting to hear their perspectives on the political climate we live in today.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your life so far?

I would say moving to Dublin for university. Having grown up in the West Cork countryside, it took a couple of months to get used to the noise and tempo of a big city. I think adjusting to a new way of life, without your family support system, is a challenge that is often underestimated by first year college students. However, I also recognise that it is a huge privilege, and I am making the most of my time in the capital.

Do you believe you would always live in Ireland or would you like to live elsewhere?

I think, in the end, I will always end up back home. Although my dream is to help solve the world’s problems, the development of my country is and will be very close to my heart. Female representation in Irish politics is an issue I am very passionate about, and in the future I would love to campaign for the first 50:50 Irish cabinet.

Nicole Turner

Age: 14

At just 13 years of age, Nicole made her international debut for senior paralympic swimming and in September last year was the youngest athlete of the Irish Paralympic Team at the Paralympic Games. Last week she was honoured with a civic reception from Laois County Council.

Nicole believes it’s easier now for young people than it was ten years ago. “I have more opportunity to do the things I want to do. There is more support too for people with disabilities,” she said. Asked if she is worried about the future, Nicole says no. “I live for today and enjoy every minute living it.”

Where do you see yourself in 20 years time?

I see myself working in Ireland as a swimming coach, inspiring swimmers to achieve their dreams.

Who has been your biggest influence?

My parents and my swim coaches. They have always believed in me from an early age and encouraged me. Dave Malone, director of Paralympic Ireland, has been a massive influence from such an early age. I have known Dave since I was seven and he always told me I would achieve great things in swimming.

If you could invite three famous people to dinner who would they be?

Niall Horan and Ed Sheeran because I love to listen to their music. Brendan O’Carroll from Mrs Brown’s Boys, I think he is hilarious.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your life so far?

Probably, because of my small stature, getting clothes and shoes to fit properly. I even have an issue buying swimming skins because the legs are too long for my short legs.

Do you believe you would always live in Ireland or would you like to live elsewhere?

I love living in Ireland and I think I would love to stay here.

Joanna Stanicka

Age: 30

Originally from Poland, Joanna has been living in Ireland for the last 11 years. In that time she has completed a Degree in Biochemestry, has a PHD in Cancer Biology and is was named the Irish Cancer Society Postgraduate Scholar at UCC. These achievements have now caught the eye of Harvard University where Joanna will begin a work as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. Joanna does all this while raising her six-year-old son, Michal.

“Being able to do research every day, along with raising my son, feels extremely fulfilling. For me, true success is not getting titles, taking courses or ticking boxes. It is getting up every day excited about going to the lab, working hard on my research, and then ending the day feeling tired but accomplished, knowing that I have done my best,” she said.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years time?

I try to live thinking about the next six to 12 months rather than 20 years. But I can’t emphasise how important it is to dream big, rather than small. When your dreams are faced with reality, not everything will turn out ideal. But by aiming high you still make progress. Less philosophically, in 20 years I would hope to have my own cutting-edge research group investigating cellular signals in health and disease. As a university lecturer, I would like to promote health in society and develop the next generation of scientists.

Who has been your biggest influence?

My grandad. As a little girl growing up in rural Poland, I wouldn’t have had the courage and strength to come to Ireland as a 19-year-old, learn English, enrol in UCC, work hard and raise my son Michal, who is named after him. He told me there were no limits to what I could achieve in my life. Sometimes it just takes that one special person to believe in you, for you to believe in yourself too.

If you could invite three famous people to dinner who would they be?

I would share my Polish, Irish and Thai curry dish with: as a soccer fan, Robert Lewandowski; as a European/Polish citizen, European Council president, Donald Tusk; and as a researcher, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, the double Nobel Prize- winning Polish scientist.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?

Finding the balance between pursuing my extremely demanding career and maintaining a healthy family life. This often comes with guilt from both sides, but I accept this and persist because at the end of the day I can only do my best.

Do you believe you would always live in Ireland or would you like to live elsewhere?

I have lived for 19 years in Poland, and almost 11 years in Ireland. At this stage I would consider both countries my home.

Edel Browne

Age: 20

Edel is currently undertaking a Degree in Biotechnology at NUI Galway and has been accepted onto the Ignite programme for life science entrepreneurship in Cambridge University. She is also the founder of Free Feet Medical, which develops technology for people with Parkinson’s disease by enabling them to adjust their gait easier.

In future years Edel said she would like to travel, but ultimately live in Ireland. “London and New York have always been on my radar as great cities to work in, so I’d like to experience that, but I’m very much rooted in Ireland. I love it, and I’m very much a Galway Girl at heart,” she said.

What do you believe has been your biggest achievement to date?

My most memorable and biggest achievement to date was winning the Best Individual Award and second place overall at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in 2013. My project was Free Feet, and involved the development and testing of the device which I’m now working on commercialising. It both paved the way for my future, but also, having had three of my brothers having previously enter projects at the exhibition, being able to beat their record was pretty satisfying.

Do you believe it’s harder being a young person now than it was ten years ago?

I wouldn’t necessarily say harder, but there’s definitely more pressure and expectation. With social media adding to the already demanding life of a young person, it’s an extra level of pressure to always be ‘insta-ready’.

Who has been your biggest influence?

My mother, Vera. She has been extremely inspirational to me. My dad passed away from cancer when I was only two, and she’s put my five siblings and I through univeristy, four currently having PhDs. If I’ve inherited even an ounce of her determination and grit I’ve won the genetic lottery.

If you could invite three famous people to dinner who would they be?

Michelle Obama, Emma Watson and Colin Firth.

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