Home Features When the door opens, go in—lessons from leaders on International Women’s Day

When the door opens, go in—lessons from leaders on International Women’s Day

Work. Life.|Claire O’Connell|The Royal Irish Academy|€7.95

Lessons from Leaders—some pearls of wisdom for International Women’s Day

Work. Life. Lessons from Leaders (The Royal Irish Academy) is a collection of short snippets of hard-earned wisdom and insights from people—mostly women—who have achieved great things in their careers, compiled by researcher Claire O’Connell.

We’ve collected some of our favourite pearls of wisdom from some of Ireland’s most remarkable people, to mark International Women’s Day.

The traits of leadership have traditionally been defined by men. We now need to have the confidence to redefine leadership in a less combative and adversarial style.

Frances Fitzgerald

When the Door Opens, Go In

In 1977, at the age of 24, Mary Harney became the youngest ever member of Seanad Éireann. At this time, women were very much in the minority in the Oireachtas—the women’s room in Leinster House was tucked under the stairs, with a sink, a couch and a desk. Harney was aware that her youth was conspicuous. 

When first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1981, she was advised that as a young deputy she would do well if she kept her mouth shut. Instead, she seized opportunities and spoke up. Since then, she forged a long and distinguished career in politics and held several ministerial positions.

Her many other accomplishments include being one of the founding members, and subsequently leader, of the Progressive Democrats party and becoming Ireland’s first female tánaiste.

Find what you like to do; tackle the jobs others avoid

Prior to becoming Executive Vice President and CEO of Salesforce UK and Ireland, Zahra Bahrololoumi was Senior Managing Director and lead of Accenture Technology for the UK and Ireland. 

She did not have a technical background when she started at Accenture and instead developed her understanding of technology by learning from others. She built her reputation by proactively resolving issues that others were reluctant to deal with.

Over time, this led to Bahrololoumi being offered more difficult challenges and, in turn, more senior leadership roles.

Seize opportunities; success is the best revenge!

Professor Louise Richardson describes herself as hanging on by her fingernails as a young woman juggling a career in academic leadership with the needs of her young family. As a junior academic in Harvard, she occasionally found herself stashing her toddler under the table at weekly departmental meetings that took place after the campus childcare facility closed for the day.

Louise’s advice is to amass as many experiences as you can; to be forward about building your network, and not to wallow in difficulties or in the face of insults. Instead, seize opportunities to get ahead: success is the best revenge! Louise is the first female vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

Get into the room where it happens

Geraldine Byrne Nason is Ambassador of Ireland to the United States of America and prior to that was the permanent representative of Ireland to the United Nations in New York. She led Ireland’s successful bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021–2 and previously served as second secretary-general in the Department of An Taoiseach, becoming the highest-ranking female public servant in Ireland. 

Byrne Nason suggests that climbing the ranks can sometimes involve volunteering for the less glamorous tasks. She advises that grasping opportunities, such as note taking in the room where important discussions are held, can give you an insider’s view into how processes work and decisions are made. The opportunities that arise can be invaluable.

Stop saying you are just lucky: start saying you are good

One of the best pieces of advice that Professor Silvia Giordani received as a young chemistry student in Italy was to acknowledge that it wasn’t luck but her own talent, abilities and hard work that resulted in her success. 

Initially she was shocked at this idea, but over time she realised that this mindset builds your confidence and allows you to be grateful for the people and circumstances that have supported you, but also to recognise that your own talent and abilities are a large part of your success.

Today, Silvia is professor of nanomaterials and head of the School of Chemical Sciences at Dublin City University.