Seminar on Meaningful Work for Female Professionals

Author: Emily Flanagan

Last night Momentum Leadership held an interactive session on the topic of Meaningful Work with speakers Yvonne Holmes and Maeve MacEnri. The night was a huge success, attended by women of all backgrounds and ages who came together, socialised and learned something. Yvonne Holmes, Head of Business Performance & Analytics in AIB and Maeve MacEnri, Director of Human Resources in KBC Bank of Ireland captured the audience’s attention, speaking in depth on their career backgrounds and the importance of meaningful work to them.

Although coming from similar educational backgrounds (both commerce graduates), Yvonne and Maeve have had completely different careers since. Yvonne started off in AIB and although climbing the ladder and changing roles numerous times, she is still working where it all began. Maeve, on the other hand, has worked in a number of companies like Sky, Vodafone and KBC just to name a few. Maeve believes the best way to learn the most about yourself is to work in different industries, being exposed to completely different work environments.

Yvonne Holmes

Yvonne spoke first, talking all about her journey straight out of college up to now, as Máire said to the audience at the end, “it’s like getting your own autobiography- with all the interesting little bits in between.” One of the first things Yvonne mentioned was the importance of the work environment for her, that social interaction is critical for a healthy working environment. She encouraged the women listening to push themselves, stating that we often underestimate themselves and are not as confident when it comes to applying for promotions as men are. She told us that she was out of her depth in one role in AIB and didn’t enjoy it but that she got a huge amount out of it.

“You just have to throw yourself into it, otherwise it’s always going to be incremental learning” she said.

Another thing Yvonne mentioned was the importance of having a sense of fulfillment. She admitted to losing all motivation at one point in her career when she felt like she was just ‘directing traffic’, monitoring other employees and not actually having an input into the work herself. For Yvonne, it is essential to feel like she is adding something of value, and so with the advice and help of senior leaders she did not stay long in this role and quickly moved elsewhere. She highlighted the importance of constructive feedback. Don’t shy away from giving constructive feedback. Be proactive about encouraging people to give you feedback too, while it may not be the nicest thing to hear it will help you hugely in the long run. Yvonne then spoke about the importance of integrity and being respectful. She reminded us that people who you meet on the way up can also be the people you meet on the way down.

Maeve MacEnri gave us a brilliant insight into her HR career through the years and why she feels the work she does is meaningful work.

“An organisation has to be successful. One of the things that deliver that is the people in the organisation.”

She said that she asks herself the important question “What is the organisation trying to achieve?” and from there she can find the best suited people to carry out this objective. She spoke about a man, David Ulrich, whose words have stuck with her throughout her career and echoed the idea of meaningful work day to day, “We are the social conscience and the employee voice.”

Maeve highlighted the fact that it isn’t always plain sailing for people like herself and Yvonne, and told us that they too have had bad days, weeks and months in certain roles were they weren’t 100% happy or fulfilled. An example of this was when she went to Haiti for 3 months. Maeve told us that she was landed into a company with a political nightmare, that it was extremely difficult but now she can look back on it fondly.

She told us that it is, however, important to move when you feel like you are not growing or you do not support the company’s culture anymore. She gave us an example of a company she left and shortly after 700 redundancies took place. One of Maeve’s key pieces of advice is not to prejudge. She advised the women to always go and meet them. Meet the company. Meet the possibilities. Go and find out about a company properly before you really decide. Maeve discussed the importance of having and hitting your goals. She believes it is important to focus on what you are good at and to keep going, to run with it and get better and better, not to always focus on the negative.

Both Yvonne and Maeve agreed that relationships are hugely important in the working world, especially when you are looking to keep learning and improving.

“You have to build relationships and genuine connections with people in your workplace but not just simply for self-interest.” Yvonne said.

She told us that for a relationship to form they have to value your contribution.  Yvonne is a role-model to women in the workforce, a prime example that you can have both: a family and work. At the moment, ⅔ of AIB staff are female and then at managerial position, it is only ⅓, however Yvonne said that this will not be the case forever as AIB is really trying to encourage women to keep moving forward. Maeve had the room laughing with her real life Alice in Wonderland example. She told us that as long as you pick right or left, it doesn’t actually matter which road you go down, as long as you have a plan in place and goals to reach.

“Meaningful work does not mean that you love doing what you are doing all the time. But it means that you know you are doing it for a reason. You know the Why.”- Maeve MacEnri