Thursday 14 November 2019

'Concrete ceiling' blocking path for women in politics, says TD

Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor believes it is not so much a glass ceiling for women in business and political life as "a concrete one".

"We do need to get through it," she said in an interview with the Sunday Independent as, separately, International Women's Day was marked by a soapbox event on O'Connell St in Dublin, addressed by Senator Katherine Zapone, among others. There was also a separate rally and march.

Deputy Mitchell O'Connor said, "I think that it is important that when we break through it – especially women who have reached the top echelons – that we put out a helping hand and drag others up. Sometimes women don't do that. They can be quite unforgiving; once they et to the top themselves they don't care about anyone else. So it is really important that we bring other women up, too."

Ms Mitchell O'Connor added that she feels women suffer more from ageism in Irish society than men.

"Honestly, I think women at a certain age are kind of written off as too old to be employable," she said, adding "especially during the recession, lots of women have said to me that they were let go

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from their jobs and are now trying to get back into employment again. Yet they feel deep inside themselves that they are too old".

She was candid enough to admit that "if I was being really honest I would like to be 10 years younger and be starting off in Dail Eireann. But I'm going to go out there and fly the flag for women. I am in my 50s. I have a life experience with me that probably I hadn't in my 30s. So I am going to bring that and make sure that that is heard in our parliamentary party and in the committees that I sit on."

Asked how far women have still to come in Ireland, Ms Mitchell O'Connor replied: "A long way... I talk about the 'invisible woman' – the woman who is at home, has supported her husband at work, has reared her children, then reaches her mid-40s, her 50s, and feels there is nothing else that she can offer. Of course we need young women and we need young women of child-bearing age in Dail Eireann, but we also need the older woman.

"She has loads of life experience that she can bring into the Dail. She should be heard as well."

Ms Mitchell O'Connor cited Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. "That's what women do – they lean in and they take control; yet they have empathy towards their employees," she said.

"If you have people working with you, I think you should be interested in their lives. You should know if their parents are ill or if their children are ill.

"That's not to say that you expect them not to come to work but I think it is very important that you are empathetic and that you know about people's lives. Society is not an economy. Society is not a factory. It is actually about people. That's what I believe women bring to the table."

Sunday Independent

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