Miriam Donaghue: I broke through glass ceiling – then changed my mind

When I was a young and hungry reporter working in the 'Irish Examiner' I became the paper's first woman to be promoted to a job on the newsdesk. I was going to conquer the newspaper world.

I was 25 years of age, hugely ambitious and very excited at having broken the so-called glass ceiling to fly the flag for women in my profession.

The promotion came just after I became a mother for the first time. My new duties required me to work from 2pm to 10pm or later every day, as well as reading all the papers at home and tuning into radio news shows.

After six months I did something that shocked my colleagues and my bosses – I handed my big promotion back as I was wracked with guilt because I was not seeing enough of my son. It was killing me, in particular, that I was not there for his bedtime. It didn't matter that my husband was very hands-on.

I remember at the time some women colleagues being furious. One accused me of ruining it for other woman going for promotion in the future.

Fast-forward today and I never once regretted what I did. At the time it was the right thing for me, my son, and my family. I didn't view it as a failure.

Today in Ireland there is a lot of talk about women and gender balance and quotas. There seems to be a constant whinge on the airwaves, in print and in social media about lack of female representation across all walks of life, in particular politics, business, and the media. And I am getting rather sick of it.

The suggestion from some quarters last week during the Web Summit that tech panels be boycotted by men unless there is 50-50 female representation annoyed me. Rubbish. Maybe the lack of women on panels had something to do with the simple fact that the sector just does not attract females?

Yes, the facts make dismal reading. A recent 'Wall Street Journal' survey shows that in the US, men make up 66pc of middle management, 86pc of the overall executive and 96pc of CEOs.

In Ireland, the situation is not any better. And there has been huge focus on the lack of women in broadcasting. Women on Air is a not-for-profit group aimed at giving women expert skills and confidence to go on radio and television. It recently published research which shows that only one-third of women are represented on the airwaves.

Representation of females on expert panels was only 22pc, with the most female friendly shows 'Claire Byrne on Saturday' and the 'Late Debate'. Today FM was the worst offender.

The research even broke down representation by age with middle-aged women under-represented.

One very well-known Irish broadcaster recently told me that time and time again requests for women experts to do panels is turned down as it's a weekend and they simply don't want to give up their family time.

As a woman, I have spent my whole career working in a male-dominated world. Women work just as hard as men and are as talented. But we are putting enormous pressure on ourselves. Where we are going wrong is measuring success through numbers and promotions and percentages. Surely success is achieving the right balance in your life and being happy?

We are wasting a lot of energy in continually highlighting that we are allegedly "not there". The barrier is in our heads half of the time. We all face obstacles in our careers, even men believe it or not. But it doesn't always come down to our sex.

In my experience, women who complain about inequality in the workplace are often the same women who want flexible work schedules.

I remember when Maire Geoghegan-Quinn was a minister and announced that she was not going to do any political gigs on a Sunday because she wanted to spend it with her young family. There was consternation.

There is, of course, a need for change. It follows that if women are not adequately represented their interests are not met. In politics we only have 25 women TDS out of a total of 166 (although it improved by three after the last general election). But we can't impose women on life either. The token woman is not good enough.

I certainly don't want to hear an "expert" on a radio programme unless they are actually expert. It is irrelevant to me the sex.

What I say to women is be proud. We ARE there in so many ways. We ARE doing it. We ARE achieving.

Let us have respect and hail women for whom breaking a glass ceiling is not a priority. Women who are content in their jobs but who value the time they have left for their families too.

Hey sisters we can't have it all – the high flying career, the perfect family and perfect life. We have to make choices. But that doesn't mean we are not making a valuable contribution. Let's stop the whingeing and just get on with it.