With 1,200 members across 15 branches nationwide – including many in rural Ireland – Network Ireland is a progressive organisation supporting the professional and personal development of women.
Irish Country Living talks to two members about their experience, as well as 2020 National President, Louisa Meehan, about what’s involved. For further information, visit www.networkireland.ie
Mindset and confidence coach
Before joining Network Ireland, Anna Healy admits she was allergic to the concept of “networking”.
“I just had previous experiences where it just felt awful,” she says. “Sometimes I would have felt lost in the group and I would have gone home feeling very frustrated.”
But fortunately, her experience of joining the West Cork branch of Network Ireland has proven the exact opposite.
Anna, who grew up on a farm in Kerry, but now lives in Courtmacsherry, originally trained as a social care worker, going on to work with EmployAbility: an employment support service for people with a health condition, injury, illness or disability.
Three years ago, however, she struck out on her own as a mind-set and confidence coach working with people who want to make “positive changes in their life, career or business”. She has also delivered wellness training to Macra and IFA groups and in January, will launch an online resilience-building programme for farmers and their families.
“The whole idea of Brexit coming down the line and COVID-19 on top of that,” she says. “People’s reserves are getting worn out and it’s hard to stay steady and to stay the course.”
Indeed, it was the attraction of peer support that first attracted her to Network Ireland as a self-employed mother-of-two in rural Ireland; though determined to make the most of it from the start, she joined the committee and set herself the goal of chatting to at least one other new person at each meeting.
“If you grab your cup of coffee and you stand in the corner, you’re not going to meet anybody and you are going to come home feeling deflated,” she says.
“But if you just take one step out of that corner, if you stand by the coffee table, if you just take a seat beside somebody who is sitting on their own, all you have to do is say hello, there’s a huge chance that you will meet one person and for me (that’s) what I thought was really important.”
As a result, Anna has met many like-minded women who have become “firm friends” and proven hugely supportive; particularly during COVID-19, when they held weekly meetings by Zoom. She also credits the group for building her confidence through opportunities like the women in business awards and public speaking; but believes that as with any group, you get out what you put in.
“There are loads of perks, but you’ve got to put your hand up,” says Anna, whose advice to anybody new to a networking group is to start small, but be consistent and contribute. Don’t be a wall flower, walk in, walk out and say nothing happened,” she says. “You have to push yourself a little bit even to meet one person.”
Biddy’s Good Luck Horse Shoes
Anne Healy turned her hobby into her business after taking early retirement; with no shortage of support from Network Ireland.
Anne, who lives just outside Kilkenny city, had worked with AXA Insurance for 37 years when the opportunity arose to take an early retirement package in January 2019. By then, she had already started Biddy’s Good Luck Horse Shoes, decorating old horse shoes as gifts; inspired by the horse shoe she received for luck on her wedding day 30 years previously, as well as by her sons’ passion for horses, from pony club to pentathlon level.
“It’s a labour of love,” says Anne, who creates bespoke horse shoes for special occasions like weddings, anniversaries, a new home, or new baby. But just three months after leaving her old job- and colleagues- Anne decided to join the Kilkenny branch of Network Ireland.
“I suppose you suddenly become a little isolated for want of a better word,” she says of the transition from employee to self-employed. “I had a dream; but I needed guidance and the direction of where to go.”
She admits she was “terrified” the first time she walked into a meeting, but that her fellow members not only welcomed her, but offered opportunities early on; for instance, inviting her to make a horse shoe as a gift for one of their guest speakers and also to pitch her business, which in turn led to featuring at a local craft fair.
“It increased my confidence,” says Anne, who in 2020 won the “emerging new business” category in Kilkenny and went on to represent her branch at All Ireland level. Anne has also availed of mentoring through the network, which prompted her to apply for the online trading voucher to upgrade her website. However, she believes the biggest bonus has been the support structure she has found.
“They’re my work colleagues to put it one way, they’re my mentors; they’re the people that pull you up on a bad day and they’ll sing with you on a good day,” says Anne. CL
Network Ireland president, Louisa Meehan, talks to Maria Moynihan about the benefits of joining the organisation
Louisa Meehan is Network Ireland president for 2020, and also runs HR and mediation company, Woodview HRM, in Wicklow. She explains that membership is open to professional women throughout Ireland – whether they run their own business or are employees – who are looking to find “their tribe”.
“Often times in our work, we can feel quite isolated, that we don’t always necessarily have people to rely on or people that we can relate to,” she says.
“They come along and they meet like-minded people who understand then, who ‘get’ them, who have fun together, who learn together, who collaborate and it is absolutely a supportive and encouraging group of women who are strong, powerful and are really, truly there for each other.”
Annual membership is €195, which allows members to not only attend events through their local branch, but also at any branch nationwide; or online given current COVID-19 restrictions.
Another popular service is one-to-one mentoring, where members volunteer to share their expertise with others.
“There’s leadership, there’s HR, there’s marketing, social media, accounts, financial planning; absolutely anything,” says Louisa.
Network Ireland also runs national events, including their women in business awards, which this year recognised success during COVID-19; for instance, a new category was introduced for “online transformation”.
“We had more entrants this year than we have ever had before,” says Louisa. “While it has been a challenging year, there have been huge positives and people have done so much work that they wanted to celebrate that.”
For those who wish to join, Louisa recommends contacting their local branch, especially before attending their first meeting if they are a bit nervous.
“Everybody understands that feeling of, ‘Why am I here, how is this going to work, am I going to make friends or is it going to connect?’” she says. “We were all that person.”
Ultimately though, she says that to make the most of membership, it’s important to give it time; and contribute.
“But you get back 10 times what you put in,” she concludes.
1. Women In Business Network: The Women in Business Network is run by many of the local enterprise offices around the country for female entrepreneurs and provides structured support networks, access to expert speakers, regular events, awards etc. Visit www.localenterprise.ie
2. Women Inspire Network: Founded by Samantha Kelly, this network offers support to women in business and a safe environment to ask questions and avail of emotional and practical support, from online coffee mornings to recent “webinars” on topics including blogging for business growth. Visit www.womensinspirenetwork.com
3. Women In Business NI: Women In Business NI aims to equip women with the skills they need to start and grow their own business or develop their careers, rising into senior manager and leadership positions. Programmes include “Back to business” to support mothers returning from maternity leave, digital performance and marketing, and empowering women in leadership. Visit www.womeninbusinessni.com