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Proud to be supporting the celebration for International Women in Engineering

Join us on 20 June at the University of Bath where Catherine will be speaking about Assertiveness at Transforming the Future - an event to celebrate 100 years of the International Women in Engineering Society. This session will break the myth that being assertive in the workplace is an ‘aggressive’ trait.

Is 'assertive' a dirty word in your organisation?

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Oh she’s ‘Assertive!’ – When have you heard that phrase? I’ve heard it many times in my career and I can tell you that it didn’t really mean that ‘she’ was assertive at all, it meant that ‘she’ was aggressive.

In the 1980’s women were sent on ‘Assertiveness’ courses and some of us were power-dressing! Just that word alone makes me shiver. Power for who? For us? Or to enable us to have power in a male dominated world. However, what we were being taught was to, yes, stand up for ourselves and state our needs, but not to listen or take on board anyone else’s point of view. We were taught to be loud, to change our tone of voice, to make ourselves look bigger (Oh those shoulder pads!), in other words to match the dominant males we were going to make listen to us.

It’s still happening – I’ve been doing some research recently on the different, specific skills, if any, female leaders need to be successful at work. One of our clients told me – “I have heard some managers comment that some female leaders are aggressive, when perhaps they mean ‘assertive’ and the males are perceived as a strong leader when they behave in the same way”.

I would like to start a campaign that takes away the ‘dirty word’ association from Assertive and people use it to mean what it was meant to:

 ‘Someone who is assertive states their needs and opinions clearly, so that people take notice’.

It’s International Women’s day today! ‘Balance for Better’ and we are working with clients who are trying to re-dress, (not power-dress!) the balance, to enable women to reach their potential in their chosen fields.

We’re still talking about ‘assertiveness’ but in its true sense. It’s a ‘balance’ in stating your needs and also listening to understand.

Proud to be a fully employee owned company

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For our clients it means business as normal. But for the team at Interaction Learning and Development, it means a lot more. On 4 February 2019, after a four-year journey, the Bristol-based company will be debt-free and fully owned by its employees.

 It marks an exciting new stage in Interaction’s 20-year history. Here’s how we reached this point:

1995: Interaction was founded

2007: Interaction’s founders started passing over day-to-day management of the business.

2013: A management buyout was mooted but quickly put aside in favour of an Employee Ownership approach.

2014: We engaged Baxendale to facilitate and advise on the process and transition.

2015: Ownership was passed to the employees using a hybrid model, with the majority of shares held in a trust, and a small percentage owned directly by those employed before 2007.

2016: The first profit-share was paid and continued each year until…

2019: 4 February - the final debt payment was made, marking an exciting new chapter.

This means we join the growing body of employee-owned organisations including the likes of John Lewis, Aardman Animations and Alistair Sawdays.

For us, employee ownership is a natural step. Our culture is one which puts people first and we strongly believe in creating an enjoyable, motivating and fulfilling place to work.  This in turn feeds into the quality of our work and the strong, productive relationships we build with our clients.

Can showing vulnerability make you more resilient?

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Let's start 2019 with a story (I love a good story!):

In my role, I lead a number of different programmes and they typically begin with an introduction where I headline the process and how the next few days of the module/s are going to work.

This can be addressing an audience size of anything from 14 to 120 participants and is an opportunity to really set the tone for how well the entire programme will be received. It is a widely held belief that it is this introduction that can make or break a module - no pressure!

The first time I was asked to do this (admittedly a few years ago), I was feeling seriously daunted by the whole process. I was introducing a three-day workshop to a large group of engineering graduates who had recently begun their careers with a major construction company.

The messages reverberating around my head were "You're going to let the team down!" "You're not good enough!" and my favourite "You're 40, what are you going to tell this room of 20 somethings?"

Needless to say, I clenched my fists and survived...

Later in the day I was with my assigned small group of six graduates and we were doing a feedback activity where I asked them to write down on a post it something that they thought someone else in the room needed to hear.

One of them gave me this:

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And I still have the original post it after all these years!

In typical Facilitator fashion, I'm going to ask you a series of questions:

  • When was the last time that you felt vulnerable at work?

  • How did it feel?

  • What were the messages that you told yourself?

  • How did you cope with those feelings and messages?

  • Did you talk to anyone about it?

  • If you did, who and why?

  • If you didn't, what stopped you?

The post it note that I had been given had 'unhooked' shame from vulnerability for me!

I had unconsciously exposed my vulnerability to what I perceived as potential ridicule and the author of that post it's empathy had allowed them to see that and support me. Between us, we had created an environment where we felt able to be vulnerable, not only in words, but in actions.

It's a widely held belief from a number of sources (Robertson and Cooper, Clarke and Nicholson, Steve Radcliffe - to name a few) that one of the key tools that can allow us to become more resilient is establishing and engaging with a strong support network.

Put simply, the ability to talk to someone about what is happening for you and have them genuinely listen to what you have to say.

So, how can you establish this support network?

You need two things:

  1. the ability to be vulnerable, and

  2. the ability to 'be with' vulnerability (to demonstrate empathy)

Namely, being truly open with someone and also being able to be with someone when they are being open, without either rushing to fix it (being 'rescuer' or 'problem solver'), or wallowing as well.

Let me leave you with three questions to consider:

  • When did you last feel vulnerable? How did you cope and how could you manage that behaviour differently?

  • What behaviours are you role modelling? Do you first look to shame others?

  • Are you listening, or solving first?

Calling all London based graduate managers!

Just to let you know that the ISE (previously the AGR) is running a Development Forum in London next Thursday afternoon (22 Nov). As part of this we're running a session with Claire Noble from Cadent around 'Valuing the old, embracing the new'.


We'll share the story of how a 200 year old start-up company went about adopting, adapting and changing its graduate programme to meet the individual development and organisational needs.  Importantly we'll share how we and they worked in partnership to make the right decisions and what has been learnt along the way.

Find more information and tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ise-development-special-interest-group-tickets-50866920328

Hope to see you there!