In the wise words of the inspirational Oprah Winfrey, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” A theme which ran prominently throughout the CIPR NI (@CIPR_NI), Women in PR Panel Event, which took place in the ESparkGlobal (@ESparkGlobal) Belfast Hub in Lombard House. With not a man in sight, the room was full of budding PR professionals and women at the top of their professional game. Since my last blog I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the new Student Ambassadors for CIPR NI alongside the brilliant Kathryn Bigger (@KatieB_05). We are already planning events and making connections so watch this space for some exciting news…
I have to begin by introducing you to the incredibly accomplished panel, Gemma-Louise Bond (@GemmaLEBond), Michelle Canning (@micanning) and Susie Brown (@Brownturf). Gemma, also known for her fabulous blog ‘That Belfast Girl’, at just 25, has been able to achieve career goals, someone starting out in the world of PR could only dream of. As the Marketing Assistant at Victoria Square, Gemma is responsible for keeping its brand as iconic as its stunning glass dome. Next up we were introduced to the skilled Michelle Canning, who made a brave career change at 41 into the world of Communications. Now the Communications Manager at Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Michelle has utilised her skills as a Journalist to propel herself into this senior role. Last, but by no means least, was Susie Brown, whose impressive CV speaks for itself. Alongside her busy career as Interim Director of Corporate Development at Tourism NI, Susie also headed the ‘Be Seen Be Heard’ media initiative to improve gender balance on Northern Ireland’s airwaves. The first thing, we, as an audience were asked to do, was introduce ourselves to the rest of the room. Networking, always being at the fore of any PR event. Hearing the positions of the rest of the women from leading PR firms in Northern Ireland was inspiring for me, going in as a novice.
Michelle Canning raised the invaluable point that even rejection in the workplace can be good, using J.K Rowling as the prime example of being turned down time and time again but not giving up. This led the chair of the night, Sara McCracken (@dougalhorse) to ask the panel what they felt were the biggest barriers they have faced in the workplace. Having come up against ageism and unconscious bias, the panel explained how they faced challenges head on to overcome and conquer them. As an advocate for women being heard throughout Northern Ireland, Susie raised the thought provoking statement that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, sparking a conversation change towards self-confidence. How can young women coming up in the world of PR aspire towards anything if they cannot ‘see’ someone else doing just that. The moral of the story being to speak out about what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to big yourself up.
When asked where they wanted to go in the future all three women had very different answers. Gemma has a very clear five-year plan, with the end goal of being the director of a company by the age of 30 (which I have no doubt she will achieve). Michelle doesn’t make plans but achieves what she wants through sheer determination. Susie spots an opportunity and runs with it, making her the definition of a #boss. All three women left us with their final words of wisdom… ‘speak out and influence up’, ‘stand up and be counted’ and ‘be confident in who you are’. I’ve already ordered the board mounts with these inspirational quotes for my future PR office.
Thank you so much to the three forward thinking, self-empowered women who shared their experiences and to CIPR NI for organising such a #girlboss event.
Olivia McAleenan is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @OliviaMcAleenan / LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/olivia-mcaleenan-88774413b /Facebook – Olivia McAleenan / Instagram @oliviamcaleenan