Happy International Women’s Day! According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 report by LeanIn.Org, 76% of companies have articulated a business case for gender diversity. However, only 13% have taken the critical next step of calculating the positive impact on the business.

Change starts with treating gender diversity like the business priority it is.

International Women’s Day 2020’s campaign theme is #EachforEqual

An equal world is an enabled world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.

Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual.

At McNulty, we’ve worked with amazing women across the world, from sport to business to performance arts.

This week we caught up with Niamh O’Connor, who started her career as an original Riverdance star, and is now leading the costume design team on Dancing With The Stars, to celebrate her incredible career journey.

Hi Niamh.  Thank you for talking to us today. Before we get into detail, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re up to now that you’re not on the stage….

So basically, I danced in Riverdance for years—6000 shows, toured and was directed by John McColgan. And then when I retired, I decided to start a family, and at the same time, John and Moya [Doherty] were producing a new show called Heartbeat of Home, which is another high-octane Irish dance show.

Unfortunately, the costume designer had to pull out while the show was nearing its end. John and Moya knew I had a flair for fashion as I had studied interior design and have always been into fashion and art and design, so they asked me to take over, with another lady, Monica Ennis who had been working for Riverdance for years.

Wow, what an opportunity. How did you handle that?

I was a bit overwhelmed when they asked me because the show was opening in six weeks and I’d never done a big full scale production like that. I kind of said “Oh no, I don’t think I– you know, I’m quite busy” as I was working in the office as production coordinator at the time.

And then Moya called me up to her office and asked me to come in… And she just looked me straight in the eye and she said, “Why wouldn’t you take this opportunity and run with this?”

So you took the opportunity?

I did! We did the show and I had an incredible team around me to help. I totally enjoyed the experience and was very grateful that Moya had the belief in me to do it. So that was how I basically got into working with costume and fashion and with Monica.

And after that, then I worked in a number of projects with Monica with the Irish National Opera, so we became kind of a little team. So when she was asked to do Dancing with the Stars, she asked me to come on board with her.

Was moving from stage to TV a big change?

Yes—it was another massive project for me because I’d never worked in TV, which is completely different than theatre and the environment I was always used to.

It’s a huge challenge; every week I source 20+ costumes, so you finish the show on Sunday and you briefly think “Oh, I can relax.”… but you can’t, because Monday is new show! Another 20 costumes to source!

You work very closely with the director, which is fantastic, but you’re given the visuals, you’re given the song, you’re given the dance and the team of dancers, then you’ve to fit all those things, and get the look that the creative team want. So it’s a very high pressure job for 12 weeks. It’s intense. It’s stressful. But it’s like a dream come true. I just wish that I had more than a week to kind of complete all the looks!

Wow!  What an exciting journey and transition of skills. Over the course of your journey, who would you say your biggest female influence has been?

I look up to Moya so much because she was the woman that inspired me and gave me that little nudge to believe in myself and make a career within the fashion and design industry.

And in light of International Women’s Day, how is gender equality expressed in your work?

I think always in this company, I’ve been so fortunate and it’s been very equal. John McColgan, the director, had once said that the women were saying in the office “you need to get some men in here John”! There are so many women working with John, I think, because of his love for his own mother, which he has expressed in so many articles and his respect for women and their strong work ethic that he saw in his mum.

And of course, Moya Doherty being the producer and the head of the company here, she is just phenomenal lady. I think she set an example for all of us. She at 36 had the bravery to start Riverdance, sacrifice everything financially, put everything on the line, because she believed in us, which was a huge thing in Ireland at 1995. And also being the chair of RTE. So she’s running two massive companies, and at the same time being a mum of two young boys, and being a wife, so I mean, she’s just incredible.

And you’re a mother to two young children too. How do you juggle it all?

With having the children and Padraic [Moyles, Niamh’s husband and Director of Riverdance] working in the same kind of industry, we don’t have the usual regular 9-5 lifestyle, so we want to make sure that our kids are not losing out, so I was at home a lot for the first two years and based on their needs as I had them only 17 months apart.

And then my daughter was diagnosed with autism at 22 months. So that was another road that you have to go down and which was an extremely emotional time for us both. But I think how we survived was because we’re a team – we’re just so strong together, and our families gave us all the support that we needed.

Myself and Padraic would always talk, for example, Padraic will say “I have to do these hours this week” and I’ll say “OK, well I’ll do my fittings at this time and I get all this done in time.” So it’s all about communication, sitting down and working at those hours within our schedules with each other, and then giving the time that the children need.

It sounds like you’re doing a great job!

Well, as I said, it’s through communication. And we have had to make sacrifices for ourselves, but, any spare time we have, it’s for our children—they come first because that’s who need us right now

And just to wrap up, if you had the chance, what would you tell your younger self?

Just have belief in yourself. I was very shy when I was younger, and when I was in school I just didn’t know where I was going to fit in. I feel like in the ’90s there weren’t the same kind of courses or variety of paths to go down. But I knew I just didn’t want to follow the standard path of accountancy, nursing or teaching, etc. Whereas now there are more artistic courses available.

So I wish I just had more belief in myself and to believe that there is a path out there for everyone, and that there is a career right there for everyone, and that you will find it.

When I got the call for the audition for Riverdance I just knew that minute, that I was in the place that I was supposed to be. Once I got there, I was so comfortable and happy—that I was just knew I was where I belong.

Thank you so much Niamh! Best of luck with everything.

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”

– Sheryl Sandberg

Do you want to make sure Diversity & Inclusion is on the agenda in your workplace?

Do you want to empower your female colleagues to communicate with impact and unlock their full potential?

Give Kate, our Head of Learning & Development, a call today on 087 184 0624, or email on kate@mcnultyperformance.com to discuss McNulty’s 1:1 Executive Coaching offerings, Communicating with Impact workshops and Diversity & Inclusion sessions.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual