Cowzer, who is also chairwoman of Women for Election, a group campaigning to increase female representation in the Dáil, said she liked this quote from US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.
The Temple Bar panel event, hosted by The Irish Times and sponsored by Ulster Bank, was designed as an opportunity for “mingling, motivation and mentorship” over breakfast.
Joyce Walsh, head of learning and development at Ulster Bank, noted the “glacial progress” in the fight for equality in the workplace.
Girls who outperform boys in school and university often find that “things start to change” when they begin their careers.
Are you being used? Or are you getting support back?”
It wasn’t always enjoyable for her to ruminate on the more challenging moments of her journey, she explained. But events where women come together to share their career stories also have a habit of energising her, she said to much recognition.
Ellen Kavanagh, chief executive and creator of wax brand Waxperts, highlighted the importance of loving what you do. “I know it’s not every girl’s dream to be ripping out people’s hair,” she joked, “but I was good at it.
Her inspirational moment came when she realised the world of waxing, having seen few developments since the 1970s, had become “the ugly duckling of the beauty world” and there was space for her products to disrupt the industry. “It’s an unusual passion, but it is my passion.
Author and actor Claudia Carroll said her experience of auditioning for roles had taught her that “rejection isn’t the worst thing”. In acting, it is a fact that only one person can get the part.
Writing is different, she said, as everyone has their own voice, and the battle is to carve out time to get it done. Her preference is to work early in the morning, “when there isn’t that white noise of social media”.
While acting roles have traditionally tended to dry up for women once they reach the age of 40 – “like a tap being turned off” – Carroll has been encouraged by the number of prominent Hollywood women who have “taken matters into their own hands” and set up production companies. The same thing is starting to happen here, she said.
“Change is coming, but it is coming very slowly.”
The risks and rewards of going out on your own were also exemplified by Oonagh O’Hagan, the managing director and owner of Meaghers Pharmacy.
At the age of 26, she wanted to buy a pharmacy she had previously worked for on Baggot Street, but to do so she had to match an IR£2 million offer from an international chain.
She “gave it socks”, they gave her the money.
While there have been some “really dark days”, especially in the wake of Ireland’s financial crisis, and she said she often feels like she is “winging it”, the biggest risk she took was walking into AIB that Monday morning.
Cowzer looked forward to the day when women running businesses was not seen as something exceptional. “We’re kind of led to believe that you have to be exceptional to be a woman running a business,” she said.