CORK-BASED business and career coach, Laura O’Connell, who is helping to organise an event called ‘Hear from Her’ for the eve of International Women’s Day (IWD), is the perfect embodiment of the theme of this year’s awareness-raising day for women on March 8.
‘Better the Balance, Better the World’ is about structuring a better working world.
Laura, who set up Cork Entrepreneurs Network last year when she became self-employed, says balance in the workplace isn’t just a female issue.
The event takes place on March 7, at the Glandore business centre at City Quarter, the day before IWD. Glandore are delighted this year to have partnered with Laura to bring the event to Cork. Glandore have organised similar events in Dublin in recent years, but this is the first time they are hosting and sponsoring the 'Hear from Her' event in Cork.
With more than 20 years in the corporate world behind her, Laura decided to go out on her own last year. The aim was to achieve more balance in her work and family life.
Laura is a single parent of 15-year-old Ben. She admits it’s very hard to “strike the right balance, commercially and personally, psychologically and emotionally. It’s extremely difficult but with the right support and the right knowledge, it can be achieved if we all help each other.”
However, women tend to carry the burden of childcare.
“As a single mother, I experienced a lot of imbalance, but I try to focus on the positive because it has made me the woman I am. I’m very resilient and independent. I deal with constant obstacles and constant fire-fighting, trying to balance everything. All you can do is keep continuing to put your best foot forward, no matter what the obstacle.”
Laura says that because of her experience, she has “a natural empathy to want to support and help others.”
She continued: “You’ve just got to ask for help. I think Cork is very supportive although it’s very competitive as well.”
When Ben was younger, Laura found combining her career and rearing her son very hard.
“I always had a great child-minder. You work around it. One of the reasons for me going self-employed last year was because I realised that Ben was after hitting 14 . I couldn’t believe how fast those years went. I had been bringing too much work home. I was constantly staying late in the office. I was always striving.
“For me, self-employment is all about balance. I’m delighted to be a taxi service every evening for my son. He’s highly involved in sports. It’s great to be able to support him in that. At least I didn’t leave it too late.”
Ben didn’t really comment on his mother’s very busy years.
“I think it became the norm. It came from my mum who was always very hard-working. Becoming a single mum in my early 20s, I had a stigma attached to me. I hate labels and stigma but I think I had internalised (the stigma.) I was always out there trying to prove something. I’ll be 40 soon and it’s great to be finally authentic and true to myself. I’m proud of my achievements and accomplishments.”
Laura had health issues over the years. Three years ago, she had a virus in the brain.
“It was viral encephalitis. It took a long time to recover, about 12 to 18 months. My face collapsed. My memory went. It was touch and go in hospital. But luckily I’m out the other side now. However, I have to be careful about stress and get enough rest and proper nutrition. My immune system is shattered so unfortunately, if I get a cold or flu, I’m in bed for a week.”
Self-employment doesn’t allow for illness as taking time off work means no pay: “There needs to be a proper eco-system of support for the self-employed.”
MORE ABOUT THE IWD EVENT
At the ‘Hear from Her’ event, speakers include Gillian Keating from Ronan Daly Jermyn. She leads the legal firm’s corporate and commercial departments with the focus on corporate finance, mergers, acquisitions and corporate restructuring. She is an adjunct professor of law at UCC and is co-founder of the ‘I Wish’ social enterprise, encouraging women to consider careers in STEM.
Ciara Crossman will be sharing her experience. The founder and CEO of Wedding Dates is a tech entrepreneur who has a degree in Business Information Systems. With a family background in hotels, she founded Wedding Dates ten years ago.
Another speaker is Sarah Abbott, founder of The People Practice. Sarah focuses on talent strategies to prepare senior leaders for the future. She is known for creating, stimulating and disrupting thinking on the practices and tools of leadership development, HR and talent strategies.
Clare Kelly is also on the panel. It was Clare and her sister Fiona, who in fact started the Hear from her initiative. Clare is the marketing and business development director of Glandore, Ireland’s leading provider of flexible workspace with nine properties across Cork, Dublin and Belfast, including the recently opened Glandore premises in Cork where the event takes place.
The aim of the event is to hear from women, to promote women in business and to learn from each other.
Claire said: “This year’s theme is Better Balance and we will be discussing not only promoting a better balance within the workforce and in the boardroom but also a better work-life balance." Established in 2001 by Michael Kelly, Glandore provide flexible workspace in the form of virtual offices, coworking, private offices and meeting rooms for a range of companies from coworking for early stage indigenous start-ups, landing and expansion space for international scale-ups to project and overflow space for large multinationals. They have provided the first home in Ireland and expansion space for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Capita, SS&C GlobeOp, Maples and Square.
Tickets for Hear from Her are free but must be booked through Eventbrite.