The 1% Podcast

Sonya Lennon


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    Sonya Lennon

    Designing Workplace Equality


Today we celebrate International Women’s Day 2022 with our latest 1% Podcast guest, founder, entrepreneur, social entrepreneur, broadcaster and fashion designer Sonya Lennon. Sonya has just been named in the top 100 women in Ireland who are changing the world in 2022.

While Sonya has a wonderfully eclectic career, in this conversation we focus on the initiatives she is involved in around women in the workplace and in leadership roles, as well as equality in general in the workplace.

Sonya has dedicated much of her time and energy to helping Irish women (re)enter the workforce with confidence via WorkEqual, the non-profit she founded in 2011.

Upon realising that to achieve sustainable, positive change, the right conversations have to happen at boardroom level, Sonya went on to co-found LIFT Ireland in 2018. LIFT is a social enterprise aimed at increasing the level of positive leadership in Ireland which has an impressively large and rapidly growing membership base.

Hopefully we can use this fascinating and solution-based conversation as a lens to view the state of equality in the workplace as we celebrate this important day.


Show Summary


05:38 Studying for a Masters in Business Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

  • Sonya studied the Masters with long-time collaborator Brendan Courtney
  • Sonya loves conducting research
  • It’s essential that the course content is practical and applicable to the real world


09:11 The pandemic’s impact on fashion and retail

  • There was a loss of confidence in fashion as a concept from stakeholders during the pandemic
  • “Our job is to sell confidence”
  • There has been a retraction of budget but an explosion in demand


11:11 On having a portfolio career

  • Sonya started off as a commercial stylist on music videos, movies and TV commercials
  • Sonya has always been driven by a strong work philosophy and a decision-making process with the work she takes on
  • Through building her network over time, Sonya was able to launch Dress For Success, a non-profit organization
  • “Every entity needs a founder, but it needs at least ten times as many followers to make it a reality”


20:56 What inspired Sonya to work for herself

  • During her upbringing, her father took on various business ventures and her mother was very independent with generating her own income
  • “You play your own game as an entrepreneur”


23:53 Instilling equality and empowerment in commercial environments

  • They are not mutually exclusive
  • Her vision for Lennoncourtney is that the female clothing makers and the consumers are just as important as each other


26:40 Is Ireland a welcoming place for female entrepreneurs?

  • Ireland is a small place for investments but a breeding ground for startups
  • It’s still a male-dominated world


28:33 How Sonya has been treated as a woman in business

  • “It’s almost harder for a woman to excel in a structured, corporate environment”
  • You have a lot more choices as an entrepreneur
  • “If women created workplaces 100 year ago, every workplace would have a childcare facility, and men and women would share that equally”
  • The imbalance between men and women will always continue if we don’t share childcare meaningfully
  • Gender norms limit the potential for growth for all genders
  • Studies have shown that women experienced more burnout at the workplace than men during the pandemic
  • Sustainability begins with the individual
  • The case about the New Zealand care workers ending pay segregation


36:52 Where to start embedding deep cultural values of equality in the workplace

  • Have fearless conversations and discussions about where inequality lies within your workplace
  • Leadership requires being vulnerable and open


40:36 LIFT Ireland’s initiative

  • Stands for ‘Leading Ireland’s Future Together’.t’s an eight-part, group learning programme
  • LIFT’s leadership learning process is based on eight key leadership values: Listening, Positive Attitude, Respect, Competence, Dedication & Determination, Empathy & Understanding, Accountability, and Honesty & Integrity


45:43 Recognising emotional support in the workplace

  • Businesses in general are becoming more aware about the emotional impact of doing business
  • We need a process in place to help track and recognise the amount of emotional support employees are doing


52:15 ‘The broken rung’ – the first step up to manager is still unequal

  • Many organisations often block the progressional piece through external hiring, therefore overlooking the women that are already in their organisations
  • It’s important to analyse hidden procedural impediments to understand what is actually happening


54:33 What the future looks like for female leaders

  • The progress we need to make is very dependent on men
  • We need to bring men into the conversation


Links Mentioned:

Photo by The Times