What a Woman Podcast Celebrating the Strength of Women
By Cathriona Murphy
If there is one thing we have in abundance here in Kerry, it is a wealth of strong inspirational Female role models. Often going unnoticed, remaining quietly humble in the backdrop of a county that traditionally celebrated strong male athletes, the roles are slowly starting to shift! With an exciting new podcast from Sarah Benner and Caroline Lyons, the “What a Woman Podcast” celebrates strong, independent women with stories that will inspire a generation and beyond. I caught up with Sarah and Caroline recently to find out more.
Can you give our readers some background info on yourselves please?
Caroline; I’m originally from London and I moved to Tralee in July 2021 with my husband and our three young daughters aged six, nine and eleven when his job was relocated to Ireland. Before then, I’d spent twenty years working in Finance, most recently heading up the investment research for a wealth management firm in Surrey. When I left that role and moved to Ireland, I saw it as an opportunity for a change of career and to pursue something more creative that I was passionate about.
Sarah; I am from Tralee. I went to college in Limerick where I studied Property Valuation. I worked in the Property Sector in Cork for over 10 years, when the recession hit I travelled to Australia and when I returned I started working in Sales and Marketing with a fantastic healthcare company where I have been for the last 12 years. I am happily married to a lovely Tralee man and we have a very busy house with three very outgoing, beautiful children!
Where did the idea of the podcast come from, what inspired you both to do it?
Caroline; I absolutely love podcasts because I love the intimacy of the conversations and the fact you can listen to some of the most interesting and brightest people from anywhere in the world. I liked the idea of starting my own podcast and in my previous job, I spent years interviewing some of the top investors in the UK, so I love asking questions. Initially, I started a podcast on sea swimming, as this became a hobby and mild obsession when I first moved to Tralee and then I met Sarah and interviewed her Aunt Madeleine. It was a really inspiring and uplifting conversation and after Sarah and I hit it off, we began talking about more women like Madeleine that have been trailblazers and broken down barriers for other women and we decided to work on a podcast together focused on women with great stories that could inspire others.
Sarah; I love listening to podcasts and it was Caroline who got me into them. I do a lot of travel with my job and sometimes the journeys can be long so I find podcasts great company. Then, Caroline interviewed my aunt Madeline for a podcast she had set up. When I was listening to it, I thought the interview was really engaging. I saw a niche in the market for conversations with interesting women, that have a story to tell.
I work part time and my children are at school so I felt I was at a stage where I was looking for a change and some inspiration.
I have a young daughter and I was becoming more aware of current role models on social media and felt that the women on the podcast, should be her role models, inspiring, ambitious, resilient, strong. It is a much more pressurised world for young girls and I think it is important that they have the right role models to look up to. With the podcast we want to give these women the opportunity to speak, share their journeys and inspire us!
Once you had the theme decided on and your heart set on it, what process did you go through to set it up, did you face any challenges?
Caroline; We did throw ourselves into the deep end but I once heard someone say you should start before you’re ready because that’s how things get off the ground, so we just had to go for it. We already had a podcast format and I had to quickly get familiar with a better recording device as up until then, I’d been recording on my phone in the car. The social media is a job in itself and has been a steep learning curve as neither Sarah or I were that active on it before but we’ve brought a great girl on board to help us because it’s the best way to promote the podcast. The biggest challenge was probably coming up with an original name as there are so many podcasts out there but we feel we landed on one that reflects that we want to celebrate women.
Sarah; Neither myself nor Caroline are very present on social media. In this day and age it is imperative to have a strong social media presence so it’s been a steep learning curve. We have recently employed a fabulous girl, to look after that so that has been a huge help.
How has the response and reactions been locally and with family too?
Caroline; It’s been a really positive response so far and lots of local people and friends have said fair play for giving something new a go and putting ourselves out there and hopefully we might inspire others to take on a new challenge, as I believe it’s never too late in your life to do that. Friends and family have been really impressed by the line-up of guests and we ourselves have been delighted to have such a variety of interesting women with different backgrounds to take part.
Sarah; The response has been fantastic! I have received great encouragement and feedback from friends. My Mother and Aunts, have been so encouraging and never hesitant to critique the work! My daughter has also taken a huge interest in the podcast which ultimately was the goal!
When it came to choosing guests, what qualities are you looking for within each of them and do you have a wish list of who you would like to speak with?
Caroline; All of the guests we’ve had so far have been more than I would have wished for in a first series and that has been down to Sarah doing a brilliant job of bringing them on board. We wanted to find women from different backgrounds but where they’ve had experiences that have broken down barriers for other women or where they have gone beyond what they thought was possible for themselves. For example, Jacqui Hurley being the first female broadcaster on Sunday Sport; or Louise Galvin returning to elite sport after having a baby and Elaine Burrows overcoming her fear of wearing a swimming costume after having children and going on to swim channels. We also wanted to find great role models for our young daughters, as there is so much pressure on them, especially on social media and we want to open their eyes to what is possible in the real world. One of the guests on our wish list was Joanne O’ Riordan, a journalist and activist who is only one of seven people in the world living with a rare physical disability known as Total Amelia and she will be joining us on Season Two out in April, so we’re extremely excited to share that conversation.
Sarah; When I am looking for a guest, firstly, we want them to have an interesting story, provide inspiration with a ‘can-do’ mentality and ideally be open about their story. All the women on the podcast have been on our wish list. I have always been blown away by Joanne o Riordan, who we are thrilled to be interviewing next week and another upcoming guest I am really excited about meeting is crime correspondent Nicola Tallant! They really are the calibre of guest we are looking for.
When hosting a podcast you often have to cover some difficult material, how have you learned to navigate that and guide your guests through it?
Caroline; We do take the responsibility of covering difficult subjects seriously, so its important to do lots of research beforehand to understand the material and what the guest is comfortable discussing. We will often brief the guest with questions ahead of the interview and we try make it a relaxed, safe space so that guests feel at ease during the conversation. The most important thing is to be a good, empathetic listener and take the cue from the guest if we need to move on from something.
Sarah; We have had plenty of correspondence before we meet the guests, so far we are still very much learning and hopefully we will fine tune our skills with each passing series. To be fair, Caroline is very experienced, she has a lovely way of making the guests feel at ease during the interview. It is working very well so far and we are only going to get better. I would be very much a people person so hopefully together we are a good team.
What response have you gotten from potential guests when you tell them it’s all about inspirational, strong women? Has this been a barrier at any time so far? (I ask this for example, elaine is extremely humble and often doesn’t recognise her story as inspirational but I am in awe of her!)
Caroline; So far, all of the guests have been excited by the concept of a podcast that celebrates Irish women that have empowering stories and they like the fact we want to have real conversations, not just something superficial. I still think as women, we can find it hard to celebrate our own achievements, so there is definitely an element of some potential guests feeling flattered and questioning if their story is comparable to someone else’s but we want this podcast to encourage women to have more confidence in themselves to tell their story as that helps to empower the listeners too.
Sarah; The opposite! The response has been amazing, I think women are delighted to celebrate and inspire others. These women have faced plenty of challenges and have had to push themselves in the face of adversity. They are managing families, careers, disabilities, illness and sometimes grief. They are very happy to discuss their stories of challenges, determination and success.
Given the history in Ireland of Female oppression, how does it feel for you both to give this voice and this platform to so many?
Caroline; We’re very proud to be working on a project that can celebrate women and show how far we’ve come but that can also highlight what we still have the potential to achieve. Although we have come a long way in this country in terms of greater equality for women, there is still a long way to go in other parts of the world which is why it’s so important to continue giving a voice to women and anyone from a minority that suffers from discrimination.
Sarah; We feel it’s necessary to be celebrating women, our achievements and the achievement of the unsung heroes on whose shoulders we stand. It is about time the female of the species gets its due recognition!
With everything there is highs and then there are lows. What has been each of your most memorable, enjoyable moments and the ones that were a bit more difficult?
Caroline; It’s been a privilege to sit down with all the guests and hear their story, so the interviews have been really enjoyable. We recently spoke to some of the pupils at Presentation Secondary School, Tralee, for International Women’s Day and it was lovely to be a part of that event and talk to the girls about the women we’ve interviewed, like Carol Brick, founder of HerMoney, who is a former pupil, to show them what is possible for their futures and not to worry about setbacks along the way. The more stressful times have been when the technology fails during an interview which has led to some heart pounding moments but I’m learning to keep calm and learn from each experience because it’s only through mistakes that you can improve.
Sarah; The highs are definitely being in the company of these women, we take great lessons from their stories.
Finally, What are your goals for the future of the podcast?
Caroline; We hope to continue to grow the audience as ultimately what gives me the most satisfaction is hearing from people that they really enjoyed an episode and they took something helpful from it. In time, we hope to use any platform we have to continue to break down barriers for women or for minority groups to help make a positive difference out in the wider community.
Sarah; Ideally, we hope to continue to interview many inspirational women, increase our listenership and ideally broaden our discussions. We would love to get a female brand to do a collaboration with. We are currently in talks with a few brands which we are very excited about.