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The Working Mom l Olive Fogarty

Welcome to our brand new interview series, The Working Mom. We're looking forward to chatting with women from all kinds of different working backgrounds, to hear about how they balance their careers and their family lives.

Thinking about a career change? Wanting to work more flexibly around your children and family? We hope that The Working Mom series will inspire you and empower you to make active change in your own career. You can look forward to hearing from several inspiring women over the next few months.

First up, eumom Director, Olive Fogarty. Olive Fogarty has 25 years experience in the marketing industry, most of it in senior management and leadership roles, building businesses and brands. Her breadth of experience ranges from managing large client accounts to leading big organisational projects. We caught up with Olive to find out how she manages it all.

1. Tell me a bit about your background?

I started off studying business in College of Commerce in Rathmines, which was primarily geared towards accountancy, but I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t the course for me! I loved all the other aspects of it, so I completed the degree, and then I did an advertising course as a post-grad and from there I started working in my first ad agency, which was a small design company. I worked there, doing a bit of everything, for about a year, and then I got a job in Arks, which is probably one of the seminal Irish advertising agencies, which produced so many famous ads. It was an amazing agency, a proper training ground. I worked there for about three years, and then I was approached by Bank of Ireland, who were setting up a specialist in-house marketing communications team, so I moved there and worked within a team of five, working with internal “clients” from across the bank. We did a very famous camping in the 90’s, which was called ‘100 Steps to Better Banking’. It was an incredibly successful campaign.

From there I progressed into an offshore bank, which was a start-up in the IFSC. It had markets in the UK, Spain, and Italy. I was quite interested in that because it involved quite a bit of travel. It was really good, I really enjoyed it, but it probably wasn’t as glamorous as I thought it was going to be. At that stage then, I was approached by Ogilvy, to come into Ogilvy One, in a senior client service role, so I made the jump back to an agency. Initially I was Client Services Director and then after a year or so, I was made Managing Director. Over the next 5-6 years we built that business up into the biggest below-the-line agency in Ireland. It was a phenomenally successful agency both creatively and commercially. I ran that until about 2009 when I stepped back from the day to day MD role and became the chair of that business. With my kids starting primary school, I decided to “retire” from Ogilvy and focus on family for a while. This allowed me to become involved in a couple of different consultancies and non-exec director roles. This variety led to a various projects, one of which was eumom. And from there I was approached to join the board of eumom, and become a director, and here we are today!

2. Did having children change how you felt about your career?

I have to say, when I had my kids in 2007 and 2009, Ogilvy were incredibly supportive. Very good on flexibility, so there was no issue with that. By the time Oscar came around in 2009, the economy had dipped fairly significantly, so it was a different world. There was a lot of pressure in the economy, and then having the added pressure of having to get out of the office at a certain time every day to collect the kids, or not being able to go to every evening event, it just really fuelled that sense that I wasn’t able to give it everything I had to. It’s very hard to strip out the kids from the recession because they came at the same time, so I used to joke with my husband that we never knew why our social lives went down the pan – because we had kids, or because we had no money! It did affect my sense of being able to do my job fully, and also I felt like I wasn’t giving the kids much time, and something had to give.

3. What changes did you make to make your career work for you?

I knew something had to change. In 2012, my eldest daughter was starting school and I decided to take a step off altogether. To be around a bit more at home. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do career-wise, but I thought OK, I’ll just take a few months and see, to get the kids started. I retained a very good relationship with Ogilvy and still did some work with them, working a couple of days a week, very much around my own time, working mostly from home. I was predominantly at home and fitting in projects around that. And it was during that time period that I moved into consultancy and ultimately, eumom. It’s four years since I made that change, and I’m now probably 50/50 in terms of working at home and being office based. I’m still at school every day at half past two, and my husband and I share the drop off in the mornings. I’m working longer hours and doing more work but I’ve got into a pretty good groove, where I feel like I have a good routine that I know works. I know my limits, I know how many projects I can take on at a time, and I know when too many is too many.

4. As a career woman, how did you feel when making those changes?

I left my job which was a huge part of my identity. While I still had some work going on, it wasn’t at the same level. It wasn’t as intense. Suddenly, I was this mom at the school gate. It was literally like moving to a new town! My whole life was different. How I was perceived, how I was defined was suddenly very different. And I had to get used to that. I gave up work to help the kids get started in school, but actually I really benefited too in that I would made loads of new friends myself, which is really nice. I also realised after a while that I didn’t want to just do that. I did like work and I did enjoy it and it wasn’t just for the money, it was about me having something to give. And I knew if I could get the mix right, I’d probably be a better mom, wife, and human being.

5. Did you receive support from your employer at the time?

They were great. I couldn’t fault them as an employer. But you still have your own guilt about it. Sometimes, working from home, I felt like I was missing out, or letting my team down. Especially back at that time, when things were tough, and I felt that if I wasn’t up the front leading my team, I wasn’t doing my job properly. It was harder to build relationships; you needed to be seen around. But we are now leaning towards a more flexible working world in general, which is great. Leadership is no longer a one-person job, the traditional model of one person up the front driving the bus is no more, many people can drive the bus. So working flexibly nowadays is much easier and encouraged.

6. How did your partner support you through this time?

My husband Séamas, would probably say, that me changing and working the way I do now, has been the making of me. I wanted to do something new, and that it gave me something to get stuck into again, that really motivated me. Which I think would be a really fair assessment.

7. Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Working flexibly and often remotely requires a gear shift, especially in how you see your own value or potential contribution. It’s important that you don’t let the environment in which you work affect how you perceive yourself. You can be sitting in a fancy office, with a big desk, in your power suit, or you can be sitting in your kitchen or in your home office, and the work you do is just as important. You can’t let it diminish how you perceive your own skill set, you have to remind yourself that your output, your skills, your strategic ability and your talent is what’s important, not where your desk is located. I found that hard to adjust to at first. You also need to know when is your “on” time and when is your “off” time. It’s so important to switch off and not let the laptop sit open on the kitchen table for the entire day.

8. Considering your happiness levels before making these changes - how have they been affected?

I would say I’m much happier because I’m able to do both. I can be around for the kids, which is important to me. Not every moment is a Kodak moment, but I’m present and feel like we get lots of nice time together. I feel very lucky. I really enjoy the way I work, because it’s very varied. I really enjoy working on different things and being able to bring lots of different things to lots of different tables.

9. How do you rate your work/life balance?

Most of the time it’s pretty good! Like everything, it goes through periods where things go out of balance, where one requires more time, but that’s just life.

10. Can you give us three bits of advice for working mothers?

  1. Realise that you are a really good role model for your children. Whatever you’re doing in your job; contributing at that level, while balancing your family life, however you do that, is a really good example to set.

  2. As a working mom, you can really feel squeezed on your time. And when you do get a spare five minutes, you can feel under pressure to bake a tart or something! But actually, I would say to pick something you like doing. Allow yourself time every week to do it. If you take that time, you will feel better, you’ll feel healthier, and everyone around you will benefit.

  3. Don’t let having kids knock your confidence. Sometimes it can be difficult to juggle it. You have to remember there are millions of women doing this. You are more than capable.

Would you like to be featured on The Working Mom? Send an email to sinead@eumom.ie and tell us a little bit about your career, how you manage to balance your work and life balance, and let us know if you've made any drastic changes to facilitate your family and career.

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About the Author

Editor of eumom.ie, Mairéad Cahalan is a creator of content, a lover of music, red wine and coffee, and a part-time wedding singer! Find her on Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud and LinkedIn.

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