5 takeaways from the Dress for Success International Women’s Day ‘Choose to Challenge’ webinar

Irish News | Tue 9 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
Dress for Success Dublin, International Women's Day webinar

Dress for Success Dublin broadcast a webinar yesterday to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Dress for Success Dublin is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the economic independence of women in Ireland, helping to provide job search supports and career development services to women seeking to (re)enter the workforce.

The group broadcast a webinar yesterday to celebrate International Women’s Day. The webinar comprised of a moderated panel discussion featuring speakers Tracey Carney, Managing Director, Business & Finance Media Group, Jenny Egan, Team Ireland, Sprint International Canoeist, Aoife Davey, Senior Marketing Director, One4all and Allison Keating, Chartered Psychologist, Owner of bWell Clinic, Author and Columnist.

The panel discussion was hosted by Sonya Lennon, Founder of Dress for Success Dublin and designer, businesswoman and multi-award winning social entrepreneur. Sonya has campaigned for equality in the workplace for women by addressing the Gender Pay & Opportunity Gap. She instigated the first ever #WorkEqual conference in 2019, to define and agree key policy measures that could accelerate the pace of workplace equality for women in Ireland.

The theme for this webinar was ‘Choose to Challenge’. The panelists explored areas including challenging norms from a personal and professional perspective as well as actionable tips.

Here are five key takeaways from the webinar.


Team Ireland pushes for women to believe they can help in all areas of sport

Jenny Egan, Team Ireland and Sprint International Canoeist, has been competing in sport internationally since she was 8 years old. During the webinar, she spoke extensively about training with both men and boys, and having to adapt to this male-dominated environment. She said that her work with Team Ireland emphasises active participation and visibility, which gives women the confidence to believe they can help in all areas of sports. This encompasses more female players, coaches, referees, CEOs, and more. 


If you cannot see it, you cannot be it

Tracey Carney, Managing Director, Business & Finance Media Group, spoke about an early experience that broadened her horizons. A physics teacher in her school was the first person to challenge her, encouraging her to attend a women in engineering day. Ms Carney attended, and built a radio. “I’d never seen a woman engineer,” she said. “In one day, my entire perception of what was open to me entirely changed … If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

In one day, my entire perception of what was open to me entirely changed … If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

Moderator Sonya Lennon, Founder of Dress for Success Dublin,  reiterated Ms Carney’s point: “Parents and teachers are such an influential force in showing what’s available to you.” Panellists spoke of early examples of engendering. Ms Egan discussed hearing a mother say, ‘I don’t mind my daughter stopping sport, but I don’t want my son to stop playing sport.’ “Parents are the first role models for children,” she continued. “Kids are like sponges. Anything they hear, they absorb.”


The importance of mental well-being

Allison Keating is a Chartered Psychologist, Owner of bWell Clinic, Author and Columnist. During the webinar, she spoke about extensively about mental health. “Exhaustion – listening to you all, I can identify and resonate with it all,” she said. “As mother, business owner, psychologist … I see incredibly competent women who are scared to show that they are normal human beings. I love this idea of how we challenge … How do we challenge with compassion?”

Ms Keating praised workers and companies who have challenged boundaries to assure mental well-being. “Companies have genuinely tried to help people throughout the pandemic,” she said. “Everybody has been affected differently. There is the burden of addressing boundaries, mental health days. Actually having the courage to say ‘mental health day’, not sick day.”

Ms Keating also encourages workers to challenge ‘toxic presenteeism.’ “The boss needs to stop sending emails after a certain time,” she said.


The value of vulnerability

Aoife Davey, Senior Marketing Director, One4all, promoted vulnerability during the webinar: “To be able to be vulnerable, to know you’re not the only one going through this.” Ms Davey said that you do not need to be a ‘power house,’ in facing challenges. 

“One of the biggest challenges I faced and most recent was returning from maternity,” she said. “I came to motherhood at age 39, and nothing prepared me for what it was like when coming back – juggling two very different worlds, feeling that neither of them you’re doing very well. It gave me insight into other women we’ve managed.”

Ms Davey found a support network through her work colleagues. “What businesses need to do is think about that,” she continued. “For the woman to be able to be vulnerable.”


Resolve imbalances in the workplace where you can

Ms Carney was asked about the gender lens with regards to participants in the Business & Finance Awards. Ms Carney spoke about how this is her second year with the company, and how she noticed a deficit in female management and on boards. She helped introduce the Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Award to promote diversity in business and worked with Frances Ruane to introduce new weighted criteria, including head count numbers, and an overview of executives in the company. Companies filling in the forms to submit had to address their diversity quotas in stark black and white.

Ms Lennon called this approach a ‘baked-in shift,’ “forcing the hands of companies to realise that it is a real issue and we have to address it.”