Laura Maher, president of Network Kildare, reflects on a year at work like no other before

Challenges facing women in the workplace

Laura Coates

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Laura Coates

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editor@leinsterleader.ie

Laura Maher, president of Network Kildare, reflects on a year at work like no other before

Laura Maher

Laura Maher is one busy woman. The general manager at Reilly’s SuperValu Sallins, a Dublin native, moved to Kildare in 2003 and joined SuperValu four years later. She previously worked for Superquinn for a decade. Married with children and grandchildren, she is also finishing a business management degree at TU Dublin and is the events manager of the Sallins Business Association.

For Laura, as for many others involved in retail, the world changed utterly 12 months ago with the advent of the Covid-19 crisis.

“We had to change the way we practice business overnight,” she said. “A busy day for online shopping would have previously been 10 to 15 deliveries — overnight that jumped to 70. We had to buy a van, employ drivers, train people up to do an online shop, it was really challenging.”

Coupled with this was the necessity to make sure employees were safe during the pandemic, both physically and emotionally. “The team of people working in the store was just amazing, people stepped up to the plate,” said Laura.

Has the retail landscape changed forever? Laura sees that people are “getting a little bit braver and they’re coming back to the stores.

“Most of our customers have been shopping with us from day one. Here they have someone to talk to,” she said, adding that such an atmosphere is consciously cultivated in the store.

The Sallins woman has developed two stand-alone businesses within the supermarket. Waterways Catering (www.waterwayscatering.ie) provides catering, staff and facilities for special occasions; while All Occasions Hampers (www.alloccasionshampers. com) brings together luxury Irish food items for bespoke hampers.

Laura pays tribute to Fergus Reilly, proprietor of the SuperValu in Sallins, as being very supportive of women in business. He has backed her and, importantly, facilitated her in her role as Network Ireland Kildare Branch president this year. She adds that she herself loves supporting women in their career paths, both in Network Kildare and in her own workplace.

Network Kildare’s regular events have moved online. In a new initiative this year, a couple of members are picked to spotlight their business at each session; and there are new online networking initiatives as well as a raft of interesting speakers slated to Zoom in remotely (see above for details of this Friday’s event).

The organisation’s membership is made up of women in business, the professions and the arts.

When asked what female-specific issue or issues her members have encountered in their working lives, under Covid-19, over the past year, Laura responds immediately: ‘childcare’.

Many women, she said, are overwhelmed and stressed out between trying to maintain their professional lives; and homeschool and mind their children at the same time. “I’ve seen so many women making themselves very upset at the whole thing,” she said.

“Children will catch up. We are in unprecedented times. As long as the children are safe and happy, we can just do what we can.”

While the pandemic may change the face of work for good — by, for example, offering some families flexible working arrangements or more opportunities to work from home — Laura believes that the until the childcare issue is sorted by government, it remains the biggest block to women’s full participation in business. “It all comes down to childcare. There’s not enough of it, there’s the price of it. In other countries, organisations have in-built creches and kindergartens — why can we not have that here?”