Connect, network and you’ll grow... so says Network Cork finalist

As the Network Ireland Business Women of the Year finals approach EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with the finalists from Network Cork
Connect, network and you’ll grow... so says Network Cork finalist

Pictured at Hayfield Manor was Carol Brick from HerMoney who won the Established Business category at the Network Cork's Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2021. She now goes forward to the national finals on October 8. Picture: Darragh Kane

CAROL BRICK, HER MONEY

Established Business winner

IF you were to retire next Monday, how much of a pension would you have? That’s the simple answer that we all need to be able to roll off our tongues without thinking, according to financial expert Carol Brick.

However, the reality is that lots of women don’t even have their own pension and rely on their husbands or partners; and of those who have made some provision for retirement, for many it’s all a bit of a ‘mystery.’

“There’s still an awful lot of work to do in this area,” said Carol, who set up HerMoney, a dedicated financial advisory service for professional women in 2016.

Carol had been working with self-employed professional contractors through CWM Wealth Management Ltd since 2008 and noticed that an alarming number of female contractors had gaping holes in their retirement and protection plans, even those who were well paid.

A survey they carried out among 106 self-employed professional women revealed that only 47% had private pension plans in place.

“We found that 45% claimed to have pension policies in place from previous employment contracts, with 52% never having reviewed these policies and with no idea about how they were performing, or even how much they would be worth in retirement,” said Carol.

“These women were just not clued in, not at all savvy in this area. And to make matters worse, we found very real gender pay gaps existed which put them on an uneven footing to start with.

“And of course, we need to remember that women live longer than men, so effectively they have less resources, to cover longer lives.”

HerMoney, she said, ‘flew from day one’, and is the only company of its type in the country which is run by women for women.

“Pensions can be daunting and there can be jargon involved but if you’re discussing options with another female that helps. There can also be sensitive information needed for the medical under-writing process of income protection and life cover and women can feel more comfortable disclosing this sensitive information to another female.”

Carol acknowledges that for lots of women there’s simply not enough hours in the day to address their financial health. As a busy working mother-of-one, she gets that there’s lots of plate spinning involved.

“But engage with an advisor and they will do all the work for you,” she urged.

The best time for anyone to start thinking about a pension is effectively as soon as they start their first full time job.

She advises people to seek out the pension plan on offer in their place of work.

“For example, employers will put 5% into a fund, which you will match, but there’s tax relief on that so think of it as free money. And if there’s nothing on offer at work, you’ll have to do it yourself, but again there’s tax relief. But remember, for every year you put it off, you’re effectively missing out on thousands of euro.”

Next, she urges women to set aside a ‘rainy day fund,’ which is three times their net monthly salary.

“It can be dipped into if necessary rather than taking out a loan, but at least you have it,” she said.

Siphoning away the children’s allowance, for those that can afford it, is another top tip of hers. If it’s done from birth, it will be enough to cover third level education.

Being nominated for the the Network Award has been a wonderful boost for Carol and all her team, given the year that’s in it.

Working mainly from her home in Glanmire, she said she hadn’t seen a client face-to-face in 18 months but that business was booming through their online platforms.

“This is fantastic recognition for my dedicated hard-working team,” she said.

On the day The Echo spoke to Carol, she had already received at least five new online enquiries from professional women aged between 30 and 50 who had absolutely no pension provisions in place.

“Lots of women say they’re allergic to financial matters but it is so important to be in control. You need to be completely clear about your financial journey through life and know exactly what will be in the pot for you at the end, and then there’s no nasty surprises.”

That nasty surprise for many, unfortunately, is poverty in retirement which means serious readjustments to their lifestyles.

“At 64 years of age, for example, you might be earning €90,000 which would afford you a particular lifestyle, and then suddenly, at 66, you find you are earning approximately €12,000 and having to make some serious changes. The state pension should really be just regarded as the icing on the cake. healthy private pension provisions are essential for a comfortable and enjoyable retirement”

Konstantina Stefanidou, Depuy Synthes, Johnson & Johnson, who was named Network Cork Shining Star Employee.
Konstantina Stefanidou, Depuy Synthes, Johnson & Johnson, who was named Network Cork Shining Star Employee.

Konstantina Stefanidou, Depuy Synthes, Johnson & Johnson

Shining Star Employee

 WOMEN have come a long way, but we can, and will go so much further, being self-aware and choosing courage over comfort.

So says Konstantina Stefanidou, who has more reason to know this than others having chosen to work in the typically male dominated sector of engineering.

Konstantina grew up in a small village on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, Greece. After university she moved to England for 10 years and has lived in Ireland permanently since 2017, currently residing in Kinsale.

She started her engineering career in the Aerospace sector, and now works as a senior Engineering Manager with Depuy Synthes, a medical devices company of Johnson &

Johnson.

“In my current role, I am responsible for managing a diverse team and a strategic portfolio across Joints Reconstruction,Trauma & Spine.

“Changing the trajectory of human health, that’s what inspired me to change Industries. Being part of something that help patients getting back to their norm is my motivating force!” 

Leadership is a key part of her role.

“Supporting my team, seeing them grow, delivering breakthrough innovations, and being able to make the most appropriate decisions for the business at the right time, makes my journey rejuvenating.” Her enthusiasm for her work is refreshing.

“I love the creativity of my work. Reflecting on my journey, being a woman in engineering has been transforming. As an engineer, the opportunities are endless. Re-imagining how healthcare, aerospace, automotive etc is delivered is the core trait of becoming an engineer, creating what has never been. I must admit that sometimes it can be challenging, as you may meet various types of unconscious bias & stereotypes, but you can start by recognising & overcoming one step at a time.” 

Though she’s part of a diverse team, which she’s very proud of, she feels there are still certain specialised areas, where work still needs to be done when it comes to gender balance.

“Across all businesses I still think that there is a ceiling glass that women need to break. Women have come a long way, but we can and will go so much further, being self-aware, this will provide the courage and strength to continue this path. 

"It is obvious though that the balance is changing for the better.” 

Konstantina, has found working during the pandemic both challenging and enlightening.

“It was full of unknowns, full of risks, lots of uncertainty. But I started by recognising that in a time of crisis you learn. I paused, educated myself, sought different perspectives, threw away the victims mode, and focused on my team’s health and wellbeing while keeping a future view in mind.” The 35-year-old is a strong Network ambassador: “Being part of the group has profoundly shown me the power of being connected. As a strong advocate of women, leadership and inclusion, I think the mission and vision of Network is important and necessary.” The ‘Shining Star’ nomination means an awful lot to her and she hopes it will help to inspire and empower others.

“I want to inspire people to not undervalue their talent, their contribution, their effort. We normally tend to be overcritical of ourselves, and underestimate our wins, even the biggest ones. This nomination is a testament of the sleepless nights, worries, challenges, resilience, successes and accomplishments. I hope I can demonstrate to our next generation, to have hope, to connect, to network, to grow, to fail and get up stronger.”

 Ingrid Seim, Avenues Consultancy and Coaching.
 Ingrid Seim, Avenues Consultancy and Coaching.

Ingrid Seim

Avenues Consultancy and Coaching

Emerging New Business 

WITH conversations starting about ‘getting back into the office,’ there are lots of women who are seriously starting to panic about how they’re going to make it all work again.

That’s according to Ingrid Seim who runs her own consultancy and coaching business designed to show them they simply don’t have to, that there are many different options when it comes to managing it all.

But in order to see them, they need to be clear about what it is they want, and need. About what the “it” actually looks like.

“Women are starting to worry, for example, about how they’ll do the school run if they’re in the office and how they’ll juggle all that, because for the most part we’re designed to just make it all work – usually at our own expense.” Ingrid is speaking from experience having suffered a serious burn-out herself. In the period from 2014 to 2016 she was juggling a demanding job, travelling between Cork and her native Norway to care for her terminally ill mother, whilst also being a single parent with had three young kids.

“At the time I just kept on going because I thought that’s what women do, that there was no choice but to get on with it,” said Ingrid.

She felt so passionate about helping others before they hit that point of overwhelm, that she retrained to become an accredited psychological coach and earned a master’s degree in Coaching and Positive Psychology from UCC, and launched her business Avenues Consulting and Coaching last year.

With research showing women did much of the ‘heavy lifting’ in households during the pandemic, in many ways her timing couldn’t have been better.

“My motivation is to really help women see that they don’t have to do it all,” said Ingrid.

“And that their own needs and ambitions matter too.” She also wants attitudes in organisations to change so that opting for more flexible solutions in work doesn’t automatically remove you from the decision making table, or rule you out of promotion.

“Getting flexi-time, or talking about your career progression? One shouldn’t be at the expense of the other. It needs to become more acceptable to have a work-life balance,” she said.

However she feels that our own mindsets can often hold us back, without us even realising it.

“How we think matters too. We need to figure out what opportunities we see for ourselves and spend time figuring out what we want to do, and not just think ‘oh, it has to be this way.’ It’s so important to take time to pause and reflect.” Ingrid has also launched SUSTAIN, a female executive group coaching programme with Angela Smiddy, a fellow leadership coach and Network Cork member.

A survey they conducted revealed 55% of Irish women believe they can’t succeed professionally without sacrificing their work-life balance, while 54% avoid going for a promotion because of the potential impact to their work-life balance.

A further 34% of women have considered leaving the workforce altogether and 74% state care responsibilities have increased during the pandemic. Meanwhile, 83% feel guilty about everything they don’t get done.

“I’m passionate about supporting women to aim high professionally, without it being at the expense of their home lives,” she said.

She stresses that politicians need to ‘step-up,’ and that without affordable and available childcare, and more family-friendly policies in general, this is at risk of remaining largely aspirational for many women.

The Network nomination means a lot to Ingrid who said the support she gets from the branch is invaluable.

“The one thing I’ve learned especially is to focus on the vision, but to be flexible on the detail and open to new things and opportunities that come your way. And the more you surround yourself with people who inspire and support you, the more of those there will be.”

Overall Businesswoman of the Year

Dr Tara Shine, Change by Degrees. Picture. John Allen
Dr Tara Shine, Change by Degrees. Picture. John Allen

Tara Shine

Change by Degrees

NO one gets to sit back, because we all have a role to play in the battle against climate change.

That’s according to Dr Tara Shine, co-founder of the social enterprise that inspires people to live and work more sustainably, Change by Degrees, and who is the Network Ireland Cork Businesswoman of the Year.

With a career of 20 years as an environmental scientist, climate change negotiator, former special advisor to the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice group, and currently holding a senior United Nations role to assess progress being made to keep the global temperature rise to below 1.5oC, she’s highly accomplished.

And she’s also a super-skilled communicator which makes it impossible not to grasp her very clear message when it comes to climate change.

She’s adamant that the public must be brought along on the journey so they can see the benefits of addressing climate change, and become overcome by the scary and negative bits. She doesn’t want people to lose hope.

“We need to start realising that taking action is in our own best interest so we can have a safe space to live in. The planet will be just fine without us, but we can’t live without what it gives us and we’d be stupid as a species to disregard all we know, and make it too hot.” 

Along with Madeleine Murray, she runs Changes by Degrees which sees the Kinsale-based pair deliver sustainability strategies for businesses of all sizes, and importantly help employees to engage with them.

Current clients include An Post, Pfizer, Gas Networks Ireland, but, Tara says they’re equally involved with SMEs and micro- businesses.

They are growing their team, with remote workers around the country and in England, but Tara admits they’re still extremely busy. She’s mum to Lauren (13) and Nathan (10) and Madeleine has four boys.

“How do we do it? We just juggle like crazy! My husband Jeremy and I both move at the speed of light, we do everything fast! Sometimes we’re stretched and sometimes we really protect time for the family.” Jeremy is also a marine scientist and works in the MaREI Centre in the Environmental Research Institute at UCC, and Tara says it is a little easier now that their kids are a bit older.

“But we’re completely imperfect. We aspire for balance, even if we’ll probably never got it!” She says she has faith in our leadership, our Government, that they will do what’s needed, but they need to act quickly.

“We need to change where we spend money, how we plan and design things. It is a big challenge, but it’s also a massive opportunity. It could mean there’d be footpaths for my kid to walk to school or that I could swim on every beach in Ireland and know that the water is clean. There’s nothing standing in our way to make this happen, but we can’t change the system until we change people.” Tara is very strong on everyone looking to themselves to influence change, and not just to the Government, or to one or two individuals.

“We all have peers, friends, family, workmates who will listen to us,” she said.

She also said people will also have to be prepared to be curious and conduct research when it comes to investing in things such as computers and washing machines, to make sure they’re energy efficient, and easily repaired.

“We’ll also have to think before running back into the shop and buying more stuff, or going on a cheap weekend way with Ryanair,’ is her advice.

In between everything else she also wrote a book ‘How to Save Your Planet One Object At A Time.’

NEXT WEEK in WoW, October 6: We continue our series profiling the Network Cork finalists. The awards take place in Waterford on October 8.

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