A Special Sort of Synergy

Pictured: NewsFour’s Maria Shields O’Kelly meets with Aveen Bannon, Karen Forester, Fiona Doolin, Kritika Ashok and Ellen Gunning at the Fair Play Cafe.

Pictured: NewsFour’s Maria Shields O’Kelly meets with Aveen Bannon, Karen Forester, Fiona Doolin, Kritika Ashok and Ellen Gunning at the Fair Play Cafe.

NewsFour was at the Fair Play Café where a group of local businesswomen spoke about what life is like for female entrepreneurs in today’s Ireland.

“I think we are at a time when it is equally challenging for men and women in business,” said Fiona Doolan, director of Principal Properties; while Kritika Ashok, owner of myartgallery.ie added, “Racism, Ageism, Sexism; if you look hard enough you will find it.”

Ringsend woman, Ellen Gunning’s opinion is, “If everyone who started a business succeeded, there would be very little creativity in the world.”

Gunning has 25 years experience as Director of the Irish Academy of Public Relations, and in spite of having written two books, presenting a radio show and achieving a Masters in Communications from DCU on top of that, she still feels her greatest achievement is yet to come. “We are in the middle of launching 10 new websites for our multi-lingual online communications and media training company, eight of which are live. The octuplets are born, we’re just waiting on the twins. Working in a multi-cultural environment teaches so much about the amazing qualities that add to the sum total of what it is to be human. I learn from my peers every day.”

Gunning describes herself as a self-starter and believes the support she receives is reflective of her own personality. “Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to be tough enough to take responsibility for your own business decisions.”

This opinion is mirrored throughout the group.

Could it be that women’s equality has progressed further than the common perception? A period in history we came to know as the decade of revolution was a continuation of female restraint as Irish women had their immediate future mapped out for them.

In 1960s Ireland my mother had to give up work because she married. It is hard to believe that is what was going on a mere generation ago as I sit over coffee with this dynamic group of ambitious businesswomen.

In more recent times, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2006, Ireland has one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurs in the developed world; women account for just 15 to 18% of Irish entrepreneurs. This represents an enormous pool of untapped potential. Among the additional barriers to women listed were family/work balance, lower self esteem, male views, and cost of childcare.

Dietician Aveen Bannon, who runs the Dublin Nutrition Centre, (www.dnc.ie) enjoyed conversing with Doolan, who has an avid interest in nutrition. As both women are also mothers, they were able to comment on the challenges of child minding while running a business. Bannon stated, “I have three children under the age of 10, and my youngest started preschool this morning. It was the first morning I have had to myself in 10 years.”

Bannon went on to tell us that her choice of attire each day is determined by her schedule. “If I am going to meet a teenage girl I don’t want to be dressed too ‘momsey’. I go more for the ‘cool aunt’ look. She needs not to feel like I’m preaching down at her. It’s important.” The fashion expert in the group agrees.

Karen Forrester, aka Kiki La Femme, runs a Vintage Living Room shop from her house on Haddington Road and the 80s style is one of her favourite trends. In response to the suggestion that the power dressing shoulder pads of the 80s were a ploy to emulate the masculine silhouette, she said, “They balance the shoulders with the hips beautifully, giving you that hourglass figure. Yes, you feel powerful but that’s because you feel great.” She continued, “I’ve had great support from people around me but I think it’s important to hold your own counsel. I take inspiration from my Dad’s business sense and I really admire artists like Nina Katchadourian but the advice I’d give, is to be your own inspiring muse. Combine your natural feminine and masculine sides for creativity and to get things done; together they are good business companions.”

Doolan’s company, Principal Properties, was a newcomer to the market in 2014 and she is no stranger to the corporate world. Her actor/writer husband is also the director of a busy digital media company in which she has played an essential supporting role, but she is now taking her passion for the property industry down from the shelf and is ready to “go for it”. Doolan is an associate of the renowned Sotheby’s in California. “Working in Real Estate in California has given me the opportunity to really make a difference here. In the US, agents are much more involved and carry a higher responsibility in a property transaction compared to Ireland. I follow that ethic through here in all aspects of my business.”

She has tried to emulate the example shown by her parents by striving for the perfect work/life balance. “I don’t feel guilty about work because I make plenty of time for fun together. They are not too young that they won’t understand when work is busy.”

Ashok, on the other hand, is not in a hurry to start a family. “My two websites are my babies and I give them as much time and attention as they need.” She has strong views on how to survive in the business environment. “Show your vulnerability and ask for help, but always let your brand shine through. If you wear red lipstick and heels, continue to: If you have the tomboy look, go with that; just be authentic.”

The thread throughout the morning focussed less on inequality and more on positively moving forward as competitors with an equal foothold on common ground. Gunning spoke about this, saying, “I am more focussed on giving 100%. The only person stopping you from suceeding is yourself.”

These women are too busy striving for excellence in their field to concern their time looking out for sexism and it seems to be the perfect antidote. There is no doubt that inequalities still do exist but it seems that the glass ceiling is growing dusty and therefore more visible.

Childcare is persistently considered to be the working mother’s problem and no administration to date has adequately dealt with the extortionate costs involved. Women like Aveen Bannon, who mentioned childcare as a particular challenge, has succeeded in spite of this, suggesting that the real hero of this story is the strength of character and determination of Irish entrepreneurs today.

As Sheryl Sandberg said, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

By Maria Shields O’Kelly