Women in the driving seat as motor industry marks a 'first'
Eddie Cunningham was invited to a rather special first gathering
IT was just that bit different to the usual motoring event.
Women, as opposed to men, did most of the talking. The chat was about more than cars and sales.
It was about careers, traumas, men, challenges, business, media, the weather . . . and cars and money and lots more.
There was a lot of laughter, a mix of serious talk, personal insights and some inspiring stories.
We (few) men took a back seat and listened and, I'd say, learned.
The first Women@SIMI conference hosted by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry was the sort of idea that had you asking why it hadn't been done before.
There is a perception of the industry being male-dominated. I think that is changing and this event certainly helped.
SIMI Treasurer Rowena Dooley told us there are 8,000 women working across a huge spectrum of the industry – nearly one-in-five of the total.
And there will be more, because many of the anticipated jobs coming over the next few years, will be filled by women.
Oh yes, and 46pc of car owners are women, some of whom, we were reminded, haven't had the most edifying of experiences or contacts with the business.
But the key point Rowena made was that the whole gender balance issue doesn't really come into the equation in most small to medium-sized motoring businesses.
"We're all so focused on getting on with the job and, really, people progress based on their skill set and, more importantly, their attitude as opposed to a gender bias one way or another," she said. And that is how it should be.
RTE'S Mary Kennedy was Master of Ceremonies. She gave a master class in interviewing and putting people at ease.
It was great to hear her 'chat' to champion boxer Katie Taylor (and get her picture taken with her), Lynne Cantwell, our most capped female rugby player, and the spirited rally driver Rosemary Smith, (who, in fairness, let Mary get a few words in).
I enjoyed the way Nicola Byrne (CEO and founder of Cloud90, 11890 & Stenics Media) instilled confidence in an off-hand but deadly serious sort of way.
By the way, does she love driving? Around 2,000km (or is it miles) a week, she told us. Aifric Campbell was once MD of the trading floor at Morgan Stanley. I think I heard her recall a 'billion pound deal' at one stage. She is now a novelist. Her story of change and transformation is remarkable.
I noted a few bits of advice from her:
* Don't be modest – ask for more.
* Don't align with the disaffected.
* Hire people who are smarter than you.
And so on.
But, perhaps, her best advice for us all was to understand the meaning of time – quality time with those closest to you.
Often it is not your physical presence that matters so much as the quality of contact and the knowledge you are 'with' them.
Which is why Aifric said we should "use technology to make quality time".
Katie Taylor was heading off to training camp in Germany to prepare for the imminent European Boxing championships.
She told Mary how seriously she takes being a role model, something that has become even more important with "so much aggro out there", she said. "It is important for me to show how I live my life."
She also spoke of the mental demands boxing places on her.
She doesn't suffer so much from the physical effects of a bout because she trains so hard – twice a day six days a week.
"After a bout I can be battered and bruised – but it is much more mental than physical."
Overall, there was a great old buzz of chat at the tables and a sense of something important happening.
I think it is a safe bet to say this will become an annual event.