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The women who changed our world

Some of NI's best-known women talk to Leona O'Neill about their own challenges and the role models who influence them

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Family business: Julie Hastings and her mother Lady Joy Hastings who attended the unveiling of the Percy French statue outside the Slieve Donard Hotel yesterday

Family business: Julie Hastings and her mother Lady Joy Hastings who attended the unveiling of the Percy French statue outside the Slieve Donard Hotel yesterday

Anne Donaghy

Anne Donaghy

Former Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton

Former Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton

Getty Images

Family business: Julie Hastings and her mother Lady Joy Hastings who attended the unveiling of the Percy French statue outside the Slieve Donard Hotel yesterday

Hastings Hotels marketing director Julie Hastings (58) has been part of the hugely successful family business for 30 years. She says it hasn't always been easy juggling business and motherhood, but she has always been driven by the desire to do her best.

"I have been in my job for 30 years. During that time, I have had three children. And during that time, I have also had difficult days.

It's usually the woman who has to leave work and go and pick up the children, for whatever reason. I worked full-time and I had three children and it kept me extremely busy.

But the reason that I wanted to do that was because I worked in the family firm. And when you work for yourself, or for your family, you have that added loyalty; you really want to do your best and push yourself hard.

I might have been tempted to go part-time when I had children, or stay out of work when they arrived, but I didn't.

I went back to work pretty quickly, because I just enjoy the job that I do.

There is a saying 'Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life' and I definitely feel like that.

I have two sisters - Alison and Aileen - who are also directors of the family business. My mum, Lady Joy Hastings, was not involved in the business, but she would say that she was from the sidelines.

She took a different journey than me, in that she had four children - my two sisters, myself and my brother - and stayed at home looking after us.

I suppose a slight challenge for me was that I had the children and perhaps some people thought that I should stay at home and look after them, but the times they were a-changin' and women were going out to work and leaving their children in the care of childminders.

I was very lucky that I got a lovely childminder, whom I was very comfortable leaving my children with when I wanted to go back to work.

That allowed me to go back full-time. I started in 1988 and I have worked full-time since then.I suppose a woman in history who really inspires me is Florence Nightingale. Goodness knows, we could be doing with more people like her at the moment.

Mantras that I live by would be 'Don't sweat the small stuff' and 'Act now and seek forgiveness later' - that hasn't got me into trouble yet.

My dad (Sir William Hastings) always told me, 'It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice'. That's something that I live by every day."

Former Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton (31) says she has been inspired by some of the world's most fascinating women.The Londonderry woman, who now lives in London and runs the hugely successful cosmetic chain Dr Leah Clinics, says women should always follow their dreams.

"I love being a woman. I am a real woman's woman and I embrace my femininity. I have never felt that being a woman, or a woman in business, has held me back.

I think it's important for women to realise you don't need to have masculine traits of ruthlessness, or aggression, to succeed in your career. To use a line I used from my Apprentice audition tape, 'You can disarm with charm'.

The mantra I live by is 'Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don't be concerned about whether people are watching you, or criticising you'.

This quote is one by Eleanor Roosevelt and it is something I live by and something which a lot of women should try to do.

I got a lot of criticism when I first won the Apprentice - from the Press and a lot of older male plastic surgeons, in particular - for my decision to leave full-time NHS work and start a cosmetic business and I had to develop a thick skin, stand by my decision and make it work.

I would advise other women to follow their dreams and have confidence in their ability to achieve them, even if they face opposition and criticism.

What drives me is that I can empower women through allowing them to take control of their ageing process and restore their confidence in their appearance.

I absolutely love making women feel their best self and I am truly privileged to have a career that enables me to do it every day."

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council chief executive Anne Donaghy (49) says women have to be resilient. The Dungannon-born mother-of-two says courage and belief in yourself are important traits to have as a woman in 2020.

"I feel very privileged to have two extremely special jobs - bringing up my two children and being chief executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council - and I absolutely love what I do.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, my advice to women is you have to have resilience, passion for what you do, courage and belief. I'm also a big believer in gut instinct, which I use every day. With experience, that gut instinct improves.

I love being a woman - I love clothes and make-up - and it's important women celebrate their femininity. A woman can look feminine and still be a strong leader and a strong mother. In my work and home life, organisation and planning are vital for me and having proper support networks around you in both is so important.

It is also vital that you keep learning. I am learning every single day - every day is a school day. You must keep evolving and changing and when you are a successful leader, change is inevitable. What drives me is proving to myself I can make a difference - and I am my own biggest critic.

I relish the flexibility and adaptability of my job and it is so special to be so involved in decisions which improve the lives of so many people. Being part of shaping and growing Northern Ireland, be that the economy, health, or education, is very fufilling.

I love what I do professionally; work doesn't always feel like work. My mantra is that, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. You have to take joy from what you do if you are to be truly successful."

New mum Grainne McGarvey (39), managing director of Pulse PR NI, lives with her husband Daniel and son Gabriel in Belfast. She says self-employment has given her freedom.

"I believe it's still a man's world, but this hasn't stopped me getting out there and making a difference. I set up my business when I was approaching 30, because I felt that working for someone limits your possibilities.

Self-employment has its ups and down, but what it really does give you is freedom; freedom to work your own hours, travel when you want and get involved in projects you actually want to do.

I manage PR and marketing campaigns for a range of businesses, but have regularly commentated on TV and radio, hosted events, been in tourist pictures to promote Ireland and even taken a stab at lecturing.

I keep going because I want to look back when I'm older and think 'Didn't I have a great life?'

I find people complain about their circumstances, but don't do anything about it. We're only here once, so if you don't like your life, change it. What's the worst that can happen?

I've a six-month-old son and have just incorporated him into my daily life. Getting him out and about has made him more sociable and it means I still feel like myself and can run a business, but just with my little buddy in tow.

My advice to other women is to know your strengths and play to them, be kind and don't screw over other women and get a good support network. It doesn't have to be all females. Some of my best friends are men. It's good to get a balanced perspective."

Kellie Armstrong (49) is an Alliance Party MLA for the Strangford constituency. The mum-of-one, who lives on the Ards Penisuala with her husband Barry and daughter Sophia, says she is amazed at how life has changed for women since her mother's and grandmothers' days.

"Women stand on the shoulders of our amazing mammies and grannies, who struggled with twin tubs, towel nappies and didn't have mobiles.

I'm in awe of how life has changed for women, but aware it's not all for the better. Social media trolls, everyday sexism and working mum guilt can sap our energy.

Then I look at my daughter and nieces. They remind me that women are incredible. That's why we have to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements. We must work to be the women the next generation will look up to.

As a woman in politics, it's an interesting life. I have encountered very few barriers to being in public life. Even so, I recognise the issues that prevent other women from taking the leap into public life.

That's why I work with women's groups on issues such as childcare, confidence-building, raising awareness of opportunities and encouraging people to be able to recognise their own skills.

The job interview for an MLA is unusual. It's probably the only job that you get after a public vote. I'm glad I took the jump into full-time politics, as I have the opportunity to make a difference for women and the whole of society."

Belfast Telegraph