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Image / Editorial

Businesswoman of the Year: A defiant, dazzling and gracious evening for Irish women


by Edaein OConnell
20th Nov 2018

It had glitz, glam, hairspray and enough sequins to dress the nation on St Stephens night. There was gin on tap and enough red wine keep the body warm until Christmas. There was music that you couldn’t help dance to and the most powerful women in Ireland filled the room. This place of eternal shine and unbridled merriness was the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards.

Defying expectations

“Every woman in that room could have walked in wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and the night would still have been a thundering success.”

The word inspirational has a tendency to be thrown around. It’s placed alongside incidences which sometimes, don’t deserve that title. But this night merits that description.

This was my first ever #BWOTY experience and my expectations beforehand were most certainly not those of emotional Édaein. But I cried, twice. Actually I bawled, and cursed those women for going up on stage and making my tear ducts twitch so readily.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hype, the dresses, the good lighting and the best angles, and forget the real reason why we were there. The style was magnificent and the makeup was glowing but none of that mattered. Every woman in that room could have walked in wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and the night would still have been a thundering success. Because, it is the heart, the fire and the quiet determination of those women that gave that room in the Clayton a heartbeat.

Related: The IMAGE Businesswomen of the Year 2018 are …

The highs and lows

“Jennifer stood on that stage stunning in a sparkling dress, which told the room in so many ways that a cancer diagnosis will not dim your shine and your zest for life and success.”

On a night of highs, we were shown that reality is also a master of lows. Jennifer Taafe, the winner of Digital and Technology Businesswoman of the Year, spoke of what she called her “year of two halves.” The first she said was busy making the biggest deal of her career with her now business partner Wissam Al-Mana to bring iZest marketing to a wider audience not only here in Ireland but now to the middle east. That, she said, was the “proudest moment of her career.”

But from this astonishing success, came a cruel low. Jennifer told the room, full of over 800 people, about her devastating cancer diagnosis, but a diagnosis which she was adamant would not define her. “Life changed for me on the 29th of August when I got nothing short of a devastating cancer diagnosis. I was just not willing to accept the outcome of that diagnosis and I have fought hard and I have had support from everyone in this room”, adding that through the unwavering encouragement and strength of her husband Alan she is “defying the odds every day.”

Life isn’t easy. And though a life may look like the diamond of success, everyone has their own pain and complications. Jennifer stood on that stage stunning in a sparkling dress, which told the room in so many ways that a cancer diagnosis will not dim your shine and your zest for life and success. It will not define you.

Related: Seen and heard at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2018

Age will not define you

“Anne is a woman who has seen first-hand the evolution of women in Ireland over the last thirty years but also the infinite agony”

Liz Waters, CEO of An Cósan won the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award on the night of her 70th birthday. Showing the room that age is just a number, and telling us with conviction that “life doesn’t stop at 40, or 50, or 60, or 70.” An Cósan aims to empower through education and providing pathways for those of all ages to education. Liz spoke of the importance of education, “I am only here today because of the people who have mentored, supported and loved me through a 4o year process of believing that education is the only fast track out of poverty. Educate a lone parent, a woman who parents alone to degree level and she will earn 67% more than her colleagues without a degree and she and her children will exit poverty forever.”

Anne Harris, a journalist and former editor of IMAGE and the Sunday Independent, won the Lifetime Achievement Award and gave a speech where each sentence was quotable enough to make into an Instagram tile. She gave solid and steady advice such as “check your privilege” and “never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.” Anne is a woman who has seen first-hand the evolution of women in Ireland over the last thirty years but also the infinite agony. She comprehends that in a snippet, all could be lost saying “everything in work is impermanent” and that the greatest but hardest lesson she had learned is that “anger dies, love doesn’t, in the professional and the personal, and respect and more respect is the way to bridge that gap.”

Related: Anne Harris to receive Lifetime Achievement Award at IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year

For all women

Women are magnificent creatures. MC on the night Dearbhail McDonald highlighted the journey and the battles we have fought for and won to get to the point we now stand at. There will always be another struggle, another Everest to climb, but as I stood in that room and looked at the women around me, I knew we would prevail.

Last night wasn’t a competition or a declaration of who was the best; it was a celebration. An honouring of the women that raised us, that taught us, that fought for us, that loved us, that made us. And of the women that paved the way for us and will continue to break the mould.

I am proud to work in a company such as IMAGE that gives women in Ireland a platform to showcase and celebrate not only their successes but the losses too. Because it is those that will mould you.

It was a night that was fascinating, defiant, dazzling and gracious.

And, of course, inspiring.

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