On being assertive at work

Jacqueline Gold has learned how to stand her ground and build her confidence, her way

On being assertive at work

I’ve not always been assertive. I was only 21 when I started my career and didn’t have the confidence that comes with age. I remember showing up for a TV interview rocking my power suit – shoulder pads and all – with my hair pinned to the top of my head and glasses perched on the bridge of my nose authoritatively. It was my approximation of what a strong businesswoman looked like but when my friend told me later on she thought I looked just like a politician, I realised I needed to start being myself and drawing on my inner courage.

Throughout my career, I’ve encountered many situations where I’ve needed to stand my ground. For instance, when the Dublin Corporation was trying to bully me into not opening a store in the Irish capital or the countless boardroom meetings in the early days where women were in a minority. On one particularly fraught occasion, an executive turned round to me and said ‘your quietness is unnerving’. It was a strange comment but I took it as a compliment. I’d found a way to put my views across and command the room without having to bang my chest or thump my fists on the table.

There have been countless meetings and panel debates where people – including women – have been domineering rather than supportive. Too many women believe they have to emulate men to hold their own in the workplace. But if you disagree with somebody – even if they’re the most powerful person in the room – you shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Be brave. In my boardroom, I want people to – respectfully – disagree with each other so there’s a variety of opinions.

Something that’s helped me has been emailing myself a list of all the things I’ve achieved, from the minuscule to the significant. Whenever I thought I might come across a tricky situation or person, I’d pull it out and remind myself of what I’ve achieved.

It’s also important to step back and take the emotion out of the equation if things are getting heated. Emotion can be stifling. When I hear of people saying that it’s OK to cry in the office, my first thought is ‘you must be working in the wrong environment if your job is making you cry’. As a leader, I make sure that bad behaviour is never tolerated and while there’s always healthy debate, we never act aggressively with each other.

Of course these days I rarely come across situations where people try to shout me down – I’ve earned my stripes and bullies generally pick on people who seem more vulnerable. If this happens to you, rise above it, stay true to yourself and remember just how amazing you are.

Jacqueline Gold
Jacqueline Gold

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