Limerick women on a mission! Local personalities talk about inspirations, career and home life

Dee Ryan starts work as Limerick Chamber CEO

International Women's Day will be marked on March 8, 2021

Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8 we chat to five prominent Limerick ladies about their road to success and the challenges of today.

DEE RYAN - CEO, Limerick Chamber

Who is, or has been, the most influential female in your life, and why?
The most influential women in my life are my mom, aunts, cousins and friends - my crazy tribe. They are a varied mix of incredible women, ranging in ages from 24 to 69. I am hugely influenced by their strength /resilience and hilarious, caring, no-nonsense take on life. They have instilled values of hard work and fun into my life and I am very grateful for their love and support.

What single quality or attribute do you think you possess which has gotten you to where you are today?
I am a curious person - I'm interested in other people, their businesses, their lives. That, combined with my communication skills has allowed me to develop a career that has been about getting attention for businesses or issues, and advocating for positive change.

What in your opinion is the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace?
Most women I know are expert jugglers! Balancing the demands of workload inside and outside of your paid job can often be the biggest challenge. Outside of that, visibility of women is very important in encouraging other women to voice their opinions and input into decisions. I see more companies making efforts to strive for diverse and inclusive leadership teams because research has shown that greater diversity leads to better decision making, better outcomes and overall wellness in workplaces.

If you could change one thing in terms of women’s welfare, be it in home or work life, what would that be?
I don't think that enough is being done to protect women and children from domestic violence and sexual abuse. As a society I'd like us to prioritise protections and justice in this area. It is a problem across all sections of society, and a trauma for children that can take lifetimes to come to terms with and recover from.

If you could invite three famous women to a dinner party - who would you choose and in one sentence on each, why?
Amy Huberman, because she's hilarious and has just had another baby so could do with a night out. Kamala Harris to hear how she is going to tackle the huge issues facing the Biden administration. Constance Markievicz, the revolutionary, nationalist, suffragist, socialist, politician who became the first female Irish Cabinet minister in 1919. I'm sure she'd have a lot to say about it, why it took 60 years before Ireland appointed its second female minister and she might be fairly incredulous that over 100 years later we still have not had a female Taoiseach


What piece of advice would you give to your 20 year old self?
Travel lots now! In 10 years time you'll have four kids, a husband and a career you love and then in 2020 there's this teeny thing called Covid that's going to happen....

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LOUISE CANTILLON - Radio presenter at SpinSouthWest and Limerick Leader columnist

Who is, or has been, the most influential female in your life?
Mo Mháthair. A woman of many talents, the hardest working, and most committed person I know. My Mom has always encouraged me and my three sisters to believe in our dreams and to make them a reality. She has an incredible can-do attitude, and always sees the glass as half full! Spéirbhean ceart í.

What single quality or attribute do you think you possess which has gotten you to where you are today?
Positivity! I think it is such an important trait. Positivity allows you to find light and luck in challenging situations. No one enjoys the company of someone who is always complaining! I think that if you are a kind and optimistic person you will attract like-minded people and your life will begin to take shape the way you want it to. Media is a tough industry to navigate, and half the battle is how you choose to deal with the challenges you face!

What in your opinion is the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace?
I hate that in 2021 this is still an issue, but equality! The sad reality that in managerial roles there is a massive discrepancy in the ratio of female CEOs, directors, and managers! Only one in nine CEOs in large enterprises in Ireland in 2019 were women. That is so disappointing -not to mention the gender pay gap!

If you could change one thing in terms of women’s welfare, be it in home or work life, what would that be?
It always upsets me to read/ hear / listen to the reality of period poverty! Access to affordable sanitary products and menstrual education, breaking down the stigma around periods needs to be addressed by the Government. The fact that anyone should struggle to buy period products in Ireland is unacceptable, and yet it is a situation which thousands of women and girls in Ireland face every single day.

If you could invite three famous women to a dinner party - who would you choose and in one sentence on each, why?
The Limerick trailblazer, heroin and original Queen of the Skies Lady Mary Heath - the first person in the world to fly from South Africa to London, two years before Amelia Earhart, I'd imagine she would have some stories to tell!
I think Michelle Obama would be great craic at a dinner party, she is an ICON! ... And, I would have to invite Britney Spears... I mean who doesn't want to ask her how she REALLY is?!

What piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Don't stress out over things you can't control! Stop comparing yourself to others! Don't be afraid to ask for help/ advice/ direction/ the dream job... If you don't ask the answer will always be no!

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JAN O'SULLIVAN - Former Labour TD for Limerick City

Who is, or has been, the most influential female in your life?
A group of women, rather than a single woman, inspired me to become a political activist: In the early 1970’s when the Irish Women’s Liberation movement started campaigning for women’s equality on issues like equal pay for equal work, access to contraception, support for lone parents and many more aspects of life and law in Ireland, I got involved and have been a campaigner ever since.

What single quality or attribute do you think you possess which has gotten you to where you are today?
My determination to get progressive changes that I believe in. I got involved in politics, not because of family tradition, but because that is where changes are made. I have tried to use any position I have held to make things happen. I am a doer rather than a debater and I believe in working with others.

What in your opinion is the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace?
In the workplace, while the battle for equal pay for equal work seems to have been won, jobs held mainly by women are still totally underpaid and undervalued, for example, childcare, caring work in general and cleaning: Covid-19 has shown us how vital these jobs are. We need to get to a basic living wage for everyone as well as equal representation at senior level for women.

If you could change one thing in terms of women’s welfare, be it in home or work life, what would that be?
I would have a proper comprehensive State-funded childcare service so that parents would not have to struggle to fund and to pay for childcare during those years when they are generally also struggling to pay for rent or mortgage.

If you could invite three famous women to a dinner party - who would you choose and why?
Jacinda Ardern, Niamh Briggs and Meryl Streep.
Jacinda because she has done a great job as New Zealand Prime Minister: an example of a young woman who is decisive and strong in the most senior position in her country.

Niamh because she’s a great rugby analyst and I would love to chat to her about how it is to play at international level; Jacinda would get stuck into that conversation too!

Meryl because I love her acting and she has the most expressive face that would be fascinating to look at across the dinner table.

What piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Have confidence in yourself and enjoy what you are doing without spending time worrying about the future. In many ways, I think young woman have a lot more self belief than my generation did but, in other ways, they have to deal with impossible role models, expectations and judgments of social media: trust yourself!

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EMMA LANGFORD - Singer/songwriter

Who is, or has been, the most influential female in your life?
My mom; she's my sounding board and my cheerleader. She handed me my first guitar and always encouraged me to be myself; she's the first feminist I ever met; a perpetual student of just about everything from French to physics to gardening, she shows me that you should never stop learning. I'd be lucky to grow up to be half the woman she is.

What single quality or attribute do you think you possess which has gotten you to where you are today?
Humour. If I didn't have a sense of humour about life, the world, and my industry, I would have given up a long time ago - but I find my ability to not take things too seriously has allowed me to take the highs with the lows, and bounce back when I've needed to. It also has drawn the right people to me, and having the right people around you is everything.

What in your opinion is the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace?
Demonstrating and addressing the socio - economic impact of poor representation and visibility. Gender balance (or lack of) in mainstream broadcasting directly affects women, trans people and non-binary people - there is an issue when the voices of a large percentage of the population are not being heard, and when the issue is then raised and not taken seriously it further perpetuates the suggestion that these are not voices worth hearing.

If you could change one thing in terms of women’s welfare, be it in home or work life, what would that be?
As someone who's childfree I can't speak from personal experience, but from what I can see we need a dramatic cultural overhaul in terms of parental leave and childcare. Fathers need fairer options for paternity leave, and parents in general need better and more affordable access to childcare. We won't have a fair or equal society until family life is respected and accommodated.

If you could invite three famous women to a dinner party - who would you choose and in one sentence on each, why?
Comedian Aisling Bea, actress Natalie Portman and writer, teacher, activist and style icon Sinéad Burke. All three would be unreal craic to sit and chat to, but they're all really intelligent women who care deeply about the world around them and honestly I think if I put them in a room together they could end world hunger, fix this whole Covid thing and figure out how they get the figs inside the Fig Rolls before we even got to dessert.

What piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Stop worrying about what other people think of you - it doesn't matter, and it doesn't make a difference to who you are in the marrow of your bones. Even when it's not the easy option, always, always, always, choose the course that is honest and kind.

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CELIA HOLMAN LEE - Model agent

Who is, or has been, the most influential female in your life, and why?
I would say my mother because she gave me my strength and my work ethic. After that it would be women in the fashion industry who I have worked with, Michelina Stacpoole, the late Pat Crowley, a top Irish designer, the late Pauline Dalton of Pauline's Hats and all the women involved with the fashion houses here in Limerick and beyond who have gone into second generations. I commend them all.

What single quality or attribute do you think you possess which has gotten you to where you are today?
Something I read recently which I feel sums me up is “working hard for something you don't care about is called stress. Working hard for something you love is called passion” and that's what I've had working in this industry for the past 50 odd years.

What in your opinion is the biggest challenge faced by women in the workplace?
I feel work-life imbalance has become more prominent in recent times. Differentiating personal life from career life can be difficult for women nowadays.

If you could change one thing in terms of women’s welfare, be it in home or work life, what would that be?
I think there needs to be more support for women working outside the home in terms of childcare supports etc. I raised two children while running a business but I was very fortunate to have a very supportive husband. I'm conscious that not every woman has that support and are maybe not taking the promotion they should or going back to college as they might wish because the supports aren't there for them. In many cases then both parents are working long hours and paying huge childcare fees. If there is one positive thing that has come from this pandemic it's that many people have now had the opportunity to work from home and for many of them it is suiting their lifestyle and they are getting more time with their children.

If you could invite three famous women to a dinner party - who would you choose and in one sentence on each, why?
Michelle Obama because she's such an inspirational and strong woman. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, as she takes no prisoners and says it as it is, and she also has great style. And, lastly, Joan Collins. I could listen to her talking about her life for hours and about her decades in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s.

What piece of advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
If I could give advice to my 20-year-old self I would tell her to take every opportunity given and don't be afraid to take risks. I took them most of the time as you'll only ever regret the chances you didn't take.

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