Ask any successful business woman what holds other women back and the answer is
pretty much the same: lack of confidence, lack of courage, lack of self-belief or variations
on that theme. Norah Casey talks to her sister Carissa about bravery, what it is and, more
importantly, how it can be developed. Photography by Barry McCall.
One of my earliest memories is of my sister Norah FOCUS ON CONFIDENCE NOT BRAVADO
marching up to a group of older boys lounging If the aim is to develop more confidence then it’s important to be
on the swings in the playground and refusing to clear about what confidence actually is.
let me and my pal play on them. At the sight of
her, shoulders back, head high, they scarpered. “Confidence is not manic-eyed raving about your brilliant new
Okay, an eight-year-old counted as an ‘older boy’ business idea, which is going to be bigger than the iPhone,” says
in those days and Norah probably had a year or two on them. But Norah.
despite there being only one of her and several of them, she didn’t
think twice about taking them on. “Most experienced business people can see right through that
kind of bravado and no one is going to invest in you either as a
Are some people just born with more courage? business owner or as an employee if you don’t know what you’re
“No,” says Norah emphatically. “I think a lot of it has to do talking about. So research, research, research. Don’t rely on your
with how we were treated as children. In a lot of Irish families natural charm or your ability to talk non-stop to get you through
– although this isn’t just an Irish thing – it’s the sons who are an important interview or business decision. And certainly don’t
pushed to become doctors and solicitors and what not. At least discount yourself if you find it challenging to talk about an area
that was the way traditionally and boys were generally praised you’re clueless about. That’s not a bad quality!”
for putting themselves forward for things. Whereas for girls in LISTEN TO YOUR NERVES
the past there were all these negative messages about not being As Norah is quick to point out, nervousness isn’t necessarily a bad
a ‘notice box’ or an attention seeker. It takes time to chip away thing. A sense of anxiety can be a powerful motivator and a good
at those negative ideas and I really believe it’s up to all women protection system.
to work at it. For themselves and for their daughters. And it’s
important to realise that ingrained habit of pushing boys and “I think nerves can be telling you something important. If
holding young girls back can be as damaging for boys. I’ve met you’re due to make a big presentation or speak at an important
a lot of unhappy men who feel they were pushed by their fathers meeting and you have a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, it
into something they didn’t want to be.” might just be that there’s a part of you that doesn’t feel prepared.
Confidence, or lack of it, positively or negatively affects pretty Listen to that. It all comes down to making sure you’ve done your
much all of our working life, whether it’s going for a promotion, a homework. If you’ve properly researched your area and are clear
new job, pitching a business idea, looking for funding, or walking what points you want to make, then okay, there might still be
into a boardroom for the first time. some nervousness but you’ll be able to reassure yourself that you
“Take two people both with a good business idea. They’ve know what you’re talking about,” she says.
done their homework and now they’re looking for funding. It’s
the one who exudes confidence and charisma who’s going to “Get into the habit early in your career of researching every
be successful. And we see that same scenario in lots of different area of importance to your work. Use that research to make
situations. Confidence and courage are two of the most important informed business decisions.
qualities that women need to develop,” says Norah.
So how can women develop more confidence? “For example when I first took over the magazine company,
By following some very simple steps, according to Norah. U Magazine was a monthly, floundering with little or no revenue
coming in. I had an idea of revamping it to appeal more to
younger women, reduce the cover price and made it fortnightly.
But I didn’t make the decision based purely on my gut feeling. I
put a massive amount of research into it and went over the figures
endlessly. When the new look magazine hit the so much as a smidgen of self-doubt. But then
shelves, yeah I felt nervous. But all that hard something goes wrong; we don’t get the contract
work paid off. The circulation shot up to 54,000 we were expecting to win, or our new boss
which had never previously been achieved by an doesn’t think we’re so great. Our sense of
Irish magazine.” confidence starts to fracture and, if the knocks
keep coming, it shatters completely.
FEEL THE FEAR AND ACT ANYWAY
There are times when no matter how well “I think the recession was a huge challenge for
prepared we are, anxiety grips us. a lot of people. For example, a very good friend
of mine went from being ‘a big noise’ to being
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling out of work, literally overnight. A lot of ‘big
afraid. Everyone I know feels it at sometime or noises’ base their sense of self worth on being a
other. I think the worse case I had was when I ‘big noise’ so it can be a catastrophic experience.
went back into broadcasting after my husband That’s tough. I know myself how hard it can
Richard died. I was asked to present the Vincent be to get through the day when you’re feeling
Browne Show and I accepted without thinking miserable; I felt it myself when I was struggling to
too much about it. When I arrived at the studio I come to terms with my husband Richard’s death.
had to excuse myself and go the ladies to throw
up. I was really freaking out, thinking ‘what “We can talk about the importance of ‘what
the hell am I doing?’. When I went to the studio doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but it’s not
I felt panic-stricken, especially when we were always as easy as that when you’re in the thick of
about to go live on air. But the thing is I’d done it. My advice (and I took this on board myself )
my homework – I’d spent the previous few days is to focus on doing the stuff that makes you
reading up on all the issues of the day – and I feel good – walking, baking, knitting, whatever
had plenty of experience in broadcasting. So works for you. Some people have managed to
despite the red rash creeping over my neck and build businesses around doing what they love.
the pounding in my chest I opened my mouth and But the important thing when you’re really down
got on with it. After a moment or two I started to is to find ways to build yourself back up whether
forget about the anxiety and focus entirely on the or not it’s going to turn into a business. If you
job at hand. I loved it. In fact I felt disappointed connect with those good feelings about yourself
when the credits started to roll. again, you’ll find your way through the tough
“The moral of the story is that nerves are part FIND AND BUILD SUPPORTERS
and parcel of putting yourself out there and the “I think if I were to pull out just one piece
best way to handle them is just to get used to the of advice on building confidence it would be
fact that they’re going to arise from time to time finding and connecting with other women who
and they’re no big deal.” will support you, in good times and bad. It’s
the reason I created the Irish Tatler Business
CONSTANT LEARNING Directory. I want other women – and men – to
“When I was in my 20s I moved out of nursing see the wealth of talent in this country. If there’s
and into the Royal College of Nursing in London a woman in this directory who inspires you,
in an advocacy role for student nurses. I found who has achieved great things in an area you
myself sitting in news studios about to talk about want to progress in, reach out. Most successful
some important issue and feeling terrified. So women are more than happy to spend some time
I went and did a TV production course where mentoring another woman in their profession. Of
I learned all about the way TV studios work. course we’re all very busy so be sure to use that
It gave me a lot more confidence when I found time wisely. Like I said earlier, research, research,
myself in front of a camera.” research! n
“Then I moved onto a nursing magazine and I OPENING PAGES:
trained as a news reporter. After that I took on a Norah wears a ‘Hanky’
business role with the magazine and I went off to Relaxed top, e205 by
the Ashridge School of Management to study. Diane Von Furstenberg at
Brown Thomas. Trousers
“I really believe we need to get away from are her own. Above she
this idea that we study at school and college and wears Umit Kutluk, to
that’s the end of it. It most certainly isn’t. We order (27 Merrion Square;
need to keep learning our entire lives, sometimes umitkutluk.ie). Right she
formally and always informally, by listening wears her own clothing.
and asking questions. The more you understand STYLING BY
about an area the more confident you’ll feel. Mary Catherine Smith
“A friend of mine did a Masters of Business Becky Keane and makeup
Administration and she told me that the biggest by Danielle Dignam, both
benefit was the boost to her confidence. She for Dylan Bradshaw
found herself arguing her point at high level (dylanbradshaw.com).
meetings whereas before she would have sat there
silently, disagreeing with what was being said but
not saying anything.”
PERSEVERANCE IN THE FACE OF
Most of us can bounce happily from one
successful project to the next without feeling
“Nerves are part
and parcel of putting
yourself out there.”
5.30am...Wake up time. I am writing another book, on the programme for the Irish Tatler Business Academy
which is taking place at the Convention Centre on April
this one on business, and I love the early morning quiet 30th 2015. We have wonderful speakers and the theme
when my head is clear and the email isn’t pinging. My target is “Transformers” – women who shape and stretch the
is 1,000 words before the day proper begins (3,000 on landscape. Our challenge however is to put the right mix
Sundays). Today is a good day and I finally clicked save at of women together to create the magic that we all strive for
1,500 (not always the case, I assure you). where the participants are inspired and motivated to follow
in their footsteps. The table is covered in various scenarios
7am....Wake-up time for the teenager – well the first call as we play around with different sessions for workshops
and conversational style plenary sessions. After a quick run
at least. By 7.15am I hear the shower running and it’s safe to through the forthcoming cover images for FOOD&WINE
put the eggs on! I have a phone interview for The Sunday and Woman’s Way I race out the door to get to an interview
Independent on the #FeelYourSelfie campaign for Breast for the Matt Cooper show.
Cancer Ireland so I do that on speakerphone while cooking
scrambled eggs – my interviewer is a working mother so 5pm...I am at home on a landline and ready to pre-record
she knows the score! After a race round the house looking
for his keys, phone, cycle helmet and maths book he is the interview which is on sexual harrassment – a controversy
finally off on the bike at 8.15am. A quick call to Ann Rose has erupted over an Irish-born doctor in Australia who
– one of the great women from the Traveller community I suggested that female interns would be better turning a blind
worked with for the RTE series – we have finally heard news eye to sexual advances if they wanted to further their career
that her “collars & cuffs” range are going into The Loft at (actually she went a bit further than that!). It’s a topic I am
Powerscourt Town Centre and we need to get organised for familiar with but Eleanor in my office has done sterling work
the April 1st start date. So after lots of chat about buttons, in pulling together a briefing note for me so that I can pull it
material and display stands I grab my coat and head out. up moments before the interview!
9am...I am speaking at a corporate event in Dublin for 5.15pm...Time to put something in the oven for the
an insurance company. I am first up on stage – the warm-up hungry schoolboy. It’s raining and cold and no day for a
act. I gather my notes and because I know it will be a busy bike! I have that moment of guilt which most mothers
day I walk the 30 minutes to the Intercontinental. I have get when I worry that I should have gone to pick him up
new music downloaded, earphones in - the best therapy of but can’t figure out how I could have done that…so roast
the day. I go over my talk in my head again and again. The chicken eases the pangs of remorse and I promise myself to
theme is “The Power of You” – based on the book I launched find more space for him the next day.
last October: Spark! People always think that getting up to
speak without notes is a natural gift. If only they knew how After a hug and a quick catch-up with Dara I am
prepared you have to be to get it right. showered, changed and ready for a great event I have agreed
to MC this evening for a charity I am very close to – AsIAm
11am...The speech went well, lots of audience interaction is run by a wonderful young man called Adam Harris.
Adam has Asperger syndrome and I first met him when I
and the organisers are happy – great energy in the room. I interviewed him for Newstalk – he was doing his leaving
always feel more alive when I am speaking so with a spring cert and had started a support website for young people on
in my step I head off to RTÉ for a meeting about a new the autism spectrum. Dara is coming too – he was at the
programme idea I am developing. launch I did with Adam a year ago and loved meeting him.
12 noon...RTÉ is like a second home for me by now 6.30pm...We arrive at Smock Alley ready for the
and I get side-tracked into offices to catch up with old AsIAm 1 Year Celebration and the launch of the new
friends and colleagues. Having spent most of my life in “AsYouCan” campaign. We’re joined by some great
meetings where I am the boss it’s fantastic to sit back and supporters including Darren Ryan, CEO of Social
get direction from others. I am on a fast learning curve Entrepreneurs, and lots of young people with Asperger’s
about television programming so the feedback is invaluable who are making a difference: bloggers, mothers and fathers,
and the team help to shape my ideas into something and a talented 18-year-old plays for us in the background.
more workable. The “AsYouCan” campaign is to encourage all sectors of
society to become more Autism spectrum friendly and
1.30pm...I am at Cinnamon Ranelagh (my office!) for Adam is a powerful advocate.
a coffee with someone who needs help with their business 8.30pm...I am off stage and after saying heartfelt
strategy. I rarely get time to do this but Daren Knight
has an intriguing business. He is a former Royal Marines thanks to Adam and the team myself and Dara head home.
Commando marksman, weapons and tactics Instructor It’s been a great day but the best has yet to come.
with global experience in counter-terrorism operations
particularly maritime security (think pirates and ships). 9.30pm...We’re on the sofa – me with a glass of my
A fascinating business model and one I knew little of before.
We worked through the strategy, challenges, opportunities favourite wine, Dara with a hot chocolate, and we’re settling
and I left knowing a lot more than when I sat down. down to watch House of Cards. Dara is a new convert so
Hopefully the same is true for Daren. we started at the beginning again a few days ago so he
could catch up with the new season. I know it will take a
3pm...I am due into Harmonia for a meeting with my herculean amount of self-discipline and persuasive powers
to turn it off at 11pm, but for now we are lost in the world of
brother Ciaran (CEO of the business) and the events team Frank Underwood!