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Leading Irish Female Executives – Their views on Motivation, Leadership and Change

 

Each year, March 8th marks International Women’s Day. It is a time for us to recognise and celebrate the successes and accomplishments of women across all aspects of society, both nationally and internationally.

This year Voltedge would like to celebrate 7 Irish female executives, each of whom have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their area of expertise. We asked them to share with us some insights on their experiences and how they draw inspiration from the environment around them, role models they had during their careers, the best advice they received, and what they see as the biggest challenge facing leaders today.

 

Claire McHugh, CEO and Co-Founder of Axonista since 2010

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Claire: The world is full of things to draw inspiration from – usually other people’s stories, anything from film, music, books to personal relationships and being part of a community. I think, if you surround yourself with good people and challenge yourself to continually try new things, you will find no shortage of inspiration.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Claire: Several. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the business owners of every company I’ve worked at, and learned tons from them about how to run a business. When you run your own business, you find there are no shortage of amazing people willing to give their time freely to support you on your journey. I think Dublin is especially good for this because of the very supportive start up community here. This tight knit community, coupled with Dublin’s small size, leads to lots of serendipitous moments that enables you to meet new mentors, and bump into old ones, all the time.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Claire: There isn’t one single piece of advice that sticks out. There are moments when a piece of advice really resonates, or can show you a different perspective on something that you hadn’t previously considered. When people go out of their way to help you at no benefit to themselves – those are the really helpful and memorable moments for me.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Claire: Leading by example, and remembering to set an example worth following. At a time when so many political leaders are doing a shockingly bad job, I think it’s all the more important for business leaders to show that inclusiveness, diversity and collaboration are the real way to achieve greatness.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Claire: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K. Rowling.

For me this embodies the principle that you must not let fear of failure prevent you from making bold and difficult choices. Fear can only be conquered by facing it, by going outside our comfort zone – and it’s really by challenging yourself in this way that you learn the most, about yourself, about others, about life. For me, in business and in life, some of the most exciting times are when facing fears!

 

Elizabeth Barry, Executive Board Director and Head of Corporate Affairs with Airbus Financial Services UC for 22 years

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Elizabeth: My inspiration comes from trying to have a clear path for my teams to follow so that their work lives give them both direction and an element of satisfaction. I teach that every challenge or change leads to something better but that a new ‘positive’ can only come about with an actively positive mindset, or input, from those who want it.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Elizabeth: If I had a mentor, it would actually be an ‘anti-mentor’. Some years ago, I had time to observe at length a very senior and respected member of Irish society with whom I worked, and who was a consummate bully. I decided that if I ever had an opportunity to set up and run an organisation, which I did, I would ensure an ethos of understanding and positive co-operation would emanate from the top. This has been my personal challenge ever since and not always possible!

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Elizabeth: Always ask for advice! It’s free and often incredibly useful. You will inherently know if it will work for you when you hear it. However, always ask it from another organisation and not internally.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Elizabeth: Finding staff who are as committed to their careers as they are to their ‘work/life balance’. It’s often a misunderstood issue and it’s a modern one. If staff enjoy work and a home life, hearing them trying to throw in something else like learning Mandarin while out at the gym and entertaining 20 for dinner at the weekend may just be what it sounds – too much. It is often less stressful to do just two things well and enjoy it.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Elizabeth:  My staff so often hear me saying ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ that I must really believe it. I firmly believe that there is always an upside – it may just not be so immediately obvious!

 

Fiona Heaney, Creative Director, Designer and Co-Owner of Fee G since 2003

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Fiona: Everywhere! Travel, nature, people. I am a visual person and get inspired all the time. However, it is important to take time out for yourself, to be energised and be able to be inspired.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Fiona: When I graduated, I got a job with a Director of a fashion company, Tom Mc Donald, who was at the end of his career. He was able to give me great advice and nuggets of information to help me on my journey. He was open and honest and willing to help me.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Fiona: Trust your instinct and always deliver your very best.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Fiona: I’m a Creative Business person and must constantly be creative & deliver new product & styles every season. This is relentless, with fashion being instantly available from catwalks to store and visibility on social media making it even faster workplace.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Fiona: I have to go with this one, as it’s in my office for 10+ years: “Good clothes open all doors” Thomas Fuller

 

Jennifer Cashman, Partner and the Head of the Employment Practice Group in Ronan Daly Jermyn since 2005

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Jennifer: Professionally, I draw inspiration from my clients’ businesses and the challenges they face on a daily basis – I have a keen desire to get to know their business and help them to achieve their commercial objectives and that inspires me to use the law in a commercially focused way to help them. Personally, my family and particularly my children, and their endless energy and enthusiasm for life, inspires me every day to try and be the best parent and role model that I can be.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Jennifer: I have had lots of role models and mentors along the way and too many to mention.  My parents have always had an unwavering belief in my ability to make it to a senior role in law and their work ethic and integrity have always been a great inspiration to me.  Frank Daly, a founding partner of Ronan Daly Jermyn, was a great role model in my early career in terms of his commercial and practical approach to the law and his energy and enthusiasm for the growth and development of our Firm.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Jennifer: Clients assume you know the law – what they also want from their lawyer is knowledge of their business and sector so that you can use your legal knowledge in a proactive and commercially focused way.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Jennifer: Change and more change!  Business leaders must be very adaptable to change and must keep up with technology trends in particular.  The business and commercial environment in which we all work is constantly evolving and there is much uncertainty in the global market.  This brings threats but also brings much opportunity so business leaders need to surround themselves with a strong, engaged team who can assist in spotting opportunities and meeting new challenges on a daily basis.  Keeping that team engaged is vital.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Jennifer: To thine own self be true!

 

Laura Shesgreen, Chief Financial Officer for Boxever Ltd. since 2015

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Laura: I tend to get inspiration by taking some time out. Sometimes it is as simple as going for a long walk.  The key for me is just having uninterrupted time which allows me time to think.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Laura: Yes, I have always had a role model who served as mentor at each stage of my career. I think having a mentor is super important as you chart a career as they can really help you navigate learnings and challenge you to reach further than you possible believe you can. I owe a big thank you to a lot of people who have helped me along the way.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Laura: Take every opportunity, even if it is unclear at the time where it will lead to – if it is something you believe you can commit to and enjoy –  go for it.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Laura: Leaders today are faced with many challenges ranging from the accelerated pace of change, constantly disruptive innovations, dispersed workforces and increasing regulatory & compliance demands.  If I was to pick out the biggest challenge that I believe leaders face I think it always comes back to people and ensuring they are building the right teams that can effectively deal with all of these complexities.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Laura: Clear Head, Full Heart, Can’t Lose.  I like this quote because I believe – Outcomes are made – they do not just happen.  Even if you fail, you have just found another way of not doing something.

 

Noelle O’Connell, Executive Director of European Movement Ireland for the last 6 years since 2011

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Noelle:  As a passionate sports fan, successes and accomplishments of our sportspeople never ceases to motivate me. In addition to being inspired from family and friends, colleagues – engagements and interactions with people you I’ve encountered in the many different walks of life have always inspired me and form the tapestry of who I am.  Having been fortunate to have worked in many different sectors and countries during my career, this has certainly proved to be the case.  In my current role, at a European, national level and with the challenges posed by Brexit, it’s fair to say, no two days have ever been the same.  Working for a bigger cause has kept me challenged, motivated and always on my toes.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Noelle: Growing up, the dedication and work ethic of my parents would have been my first marker.  In the political world, Mary Robinson’s election as President of Ireland stands out for me.   Starting out in my own career, after college, having a mentor was not something that I had the foresight to nurture or proactively seek to acquire, regrettably.  Working in different sectors, perhaps in the non-multinational sector, there may be less opportunities to have a mentor etc.  that experience is now why I always try to encourage my team to actively seek out a mentor / role model externally etc. in addition to aspiring myself to serve as a good role model and example by empowering through sharing learnings, advice and experience. I’m fortunate myself to have some outstanding mentors and various ad hoc ‘Sounding boards,’ whom I can ask for advice or guidance.  I would encourage people not to be shy or reticent in asking for advice or guidance – it shouldn’t be perceived as a sign of weakness but rather to approach the process from a position of strength.  It’s taking me some time to practise what I preach in this regard but I’m getting there.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Noelle: Have integrity and be authentic – Be true to yourself, your values and your beliefs.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Noelle:  There are many challenges facing leaders every day; be it from the accelerated pace of change in terms of the world of work set against the backdrop of increasingly interconnected and more challenging geo political environment.  Being authentic, whilst delivering on the core business objectives in an increasingly complex, multifaceted and multiconnected world.  It’s not enough to work in silos or be a technical specialist in just one area.  Leaders nowadays have to be multi-skilled, all rounded and be able to motivate your people.  Without good talent and a shared commitment to fulfilling the organisation’s or business’ mission, it is harder to deliver on the organisation’s goals and objectives necessary to grow and develop the business.  For many leaders, I would venture, the challenge of striving for work life balance and learning to trigger the ‘off switch,’ and saying ‘no,’ probably exists across all sectors and businesses.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Noelle: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night…  Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.’  Dylan Thomas, – Leaving Cert poetry inspiration.   Carpe diem!

 

Olive Casey, HR Director for Amgen in Ireland and the Netherlands for the last 3 years

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Olive: In my current role I draw inspiration from being part of a company that makes medicine for grievous illness.  Knowing that everything we do is focused on serving patients’ needs is a uniting factor that pulls all of us together and drives us to do the best job we can.  Some of our own employees have been patients taking our drugs to battle against life threatening illness.  That inspires all of us to continuously try to improve.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Olive: I worked under a senior leader in the US who had a long and successful career.  He taught me that at the end of your career it is not just what you have achieved that will matter to you, but how you achieved it.  Leaders’ success today depends as much on their behaviours as it does on their results.  The “how” has become as important as the “what”.  I was lucky enough to have learnt this at an early stage in my career.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Olive: To believe in myself!

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Olive: There is a lot of competition for talent in the market and employees have high expectations of their managers.  Leaders today are expected to be skilled in coaching staff and developing talent, in addition to having a strong functional expertise.  And many leaders feel unequipped to carry out this aspect of their role.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Olive: A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination – Nelson Mandela.

 

Today is an opportunity for Voltedge to celebrate these outstanding Irish female leaders and to extend our very best wishes to them for continued success in their careers, fulfilment and happiness in life and to thank them for their contribution to society.

If you have any enquiries regarding this article or any other topic we have covered, please call us our office 01 525 2914 or email us on info@voltedge.ie, we’d love to hear from you.

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