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5 businesswomen and the journey to success

We want to celebrate women in business and encourage other women to get out there and succeed. We reached out to handful of inspiring Irish women and talked to them about what it means to carve your own path and find success doing something you love.

Like many women across the globe, the Irish female’s ability to put other people’s needs ahead of their own is legendary, so we ask how women can do the right thing by their nearest and dearest, without shelving their own careers, ambitions and even their financial security.

Alison Cowzer

Alison Cowzer - East Coast Bake House
Dragon’s Den investor, co-founder and marketing & innovation director of East Coast Bake House and board member of Women for Election.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received? 
‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’ - Benjamin Franklin
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women in business and if so, how can they push past it?
The glass ceiling has become a bit of a cliché, but I believe there are significant structural issues that restrict women’s route to achieving their full potential, and they need to be resolved. The lack of affordable childcare is still a major impediment for many women throughout their careers.  We need a state-funded, affordable system that will allow both men and women to participate in the workforce and family life.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?
I went back to college in my late 20’s to do an MBA. It wasn’t cheap but it was an investment that really paid off. It definitely enhanced my career prospects and gave me access to some incredible new opportunities. I’d advise anyone with ambitions to invest in developing their skills.
How has running your own business changed your financial awareness?
Running a business requires a blend of strong financial management with an eye for making the most of potential opportunities. Risk is a concept that you need to get comfortable with if you’re looking to grow a business and that can take a bit of getting used to.
What’s the recipe for success?
Every situation is different, but I believe there’s no substitute for a good idea, hard work and a strong dose of good luck!
Finish this sentence for us: "With enough drive and ambition any woman can..."
Succeed! We deserve a seat at the top table.

Cathy O’Connor

Cathy O’Connor - Irish fashion stylist
Fashion stylist, broadcaster, personal shopper and fashion show producer.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?  
As it happens, I can't think of any significant financial advice I've ever received, but as someone who's self-employed, I've learnt a lot about what it takes to navigate my financial world.  I think it's essential to take responsibility for your own financial picture, to be aware of the dreaded tax and VAT deadlines and put money aside to settle up. 

Do you think there’s a glass ceiling and if so how can women push past it?
I'm very fortunate to work in lots of different environments, so I can create my own work culture. I haven't worked in a large corporation for many years, so any limitations are my own, but of course I'm aware of the cultures that exist in companies that can be contrary to progress.

When I hit a hurdle, I try to work around it rather than imagining banging against it will get me the result I'm after.

What do you think are the biggest financial hurdles women face? 
For many of us, paying attention to our finances is not our natural leaning, but it's so important to do just that. As you get older, you need to plan for the future. Time spent considering a pension and your outgoings isn’t exactly a joy, but it's so worth it. It allows you freedom, independence and an easier life, in the long run. 

What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?
My home. I'm very grateful to have my own home. It’s my sanctuary - the border between my world and the outside world. 

What’s the biggest myth about women?
There are so many but here's one: That it’s every woman's greatest and singular desire to be married and have children. 

What are you most proud of?
My personal evolution. I don't think we're brought into this life to come in at one end and go out the other, with a few experiences in between.  I believe we're here to evolve and that exploration can be demanding, rewarding, tough and joyful - but when you're in it, you know you're living!

Jules Coleman

Jules Coleman - Irish business woman founder of Resi

Successful serial entrepreneur, founder and CTO of Resi, previously founded Hassle.com.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
People really underestimate the impact of compound interest. We’re living in a period of historically low interest rates, but it won’t always be that way. If you invested €10,000 today at 5% interest and left it for 35 years it would be worth almost €60,000. Add €200 to the pot each month and you are looking at over €285k at the end of the same time period. Little and often really does add up over longer time periods.
Do you believe there’s a glass ceiling for women? 
I’ve mixed feelings on this one. I truly believe women can achieve anything they set their minds to, but we can’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore the biases and imbalances that exist in many industries and societies.

My personal approach has been to somewhat ignore the expectations of gender stereotypes and focus on getting the work done. I’m sure some people have made assumptions about my ability and potential as a female computer programmer and entrepreneur, but honestly, I feel that reflects poorly on them, rather than me.
What does financial security mean to you?
For me, it’s removing a constant low-level sense of dread. When you’re teetering on the brink of financial insecurity, you know you’re just one calamity away from disaster. An unexpected bill is never pleasant, but knowing it is merely an inconvenience as opposed to financial ruin is a luxury I never want to take for granted.
What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?
Probably my dog. Buying him was the first thing I did post exiting my first business. I grew up with dogs and longed for one for 10 years while living in London, but it never seemed very practical while I was working as a management consultant, or getting my first business off the ground.

A pet is a big financial commitment, but I couldn’t put a price on the happiness he brings to our lives.

What advice would you give to anyone taking a leap of faith in their career?
It’s a bit clichéd, but I do believe you regret the things you never tried, not the things you did.

When I decided to leave my steady corporate job and start Hassle.com, I kept telling myself if the worst-case scenario was that it failed miserably and I went back to my job, at least I’d have a new-found appreciation for the salary that arrived in my bank account each month.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best outcome is my motto.

Helena Ryan and Katie Ryan

Helena and Katie Ryan - Irish business women founder of Well Fest

WellFest co creators, festival enthusiasts and hard-working go-getters.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever received?
If you save a little every month it eventually builds up.  
What do you make of the glass ceiling we hear talked about for women?
We don’t like to think there’s a glass ceiling because we are in industries (pharmacy and law) where there are a lot of empowering and inspiring women leading the way.  That said, we’ve noticed people expect the man in the room to lead the group - even other women are guilty of it. We’d like to see a female leader as normal, not surprising.   
What is the biggest financial hurdle women face?
Unequal pay. We believe that equal pay is fundamental to a fair society and transparency is important to ensure equal pay is being met.
What are you most proud of?
We are most proud of WellFest that we started three years ago and how we found the time, along with our co-founders Fionnualla Cleary & Anthony Kelly, to run WellFest and stick it out when times were tough. We all worked full time while organising WellFest.

The idea of creating a health and fitness festival with the feel of a music festival was ambitious, but it’s developed into an amazing event with a big following. We’re all incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. 
What’s the best investment you ever made?
The best investment we’ve ever made is putting our time into our WellFest. It has taken a few years to really gain a steadfast foothold on the market place and establish our brand, but the investment is paying off.
Finish this sentence for us: "With enough drive and ambition any woman can…"
Achieve anything they put their minds to!

What can we learn from these women?

Everyone we talked to agreed that striking out on your own is challenging, but not impossible. They spoke of self-belief, hard work, investing in themselves and putting time and money aside to secure their financial future.
There was an overwhelming appreciation for what they’d achieved too and the importance of working as part of a team and creating your own work culture in a world that doesn’t always play by the rules, came through strong.

Empowering and reassuring messages for what we hope will become the new blueprint for Ireland’s role models.   

We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who got involved in this blog!

This blog is just one more reminder that Ireland is teaming with talent, drive and ambition, and there’s inspiration to be found in every woman - whether she’s the CEO of the home or the boardroom. They’re all earning their stripes and making a difference.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the participants of the Q&A. There are many factors to consider when investing and there are no guarantees so you should speak to a financial advisor before making any investing decision. 

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