Growing up with nine siblings isn’t easy, but Jackie says it helped her become a team player and think on her feet. Her mother was a great cook, and Jackie remembers a dinner-time challenge, “Everyone could have one piece of chicken. I took mine, but saved it for last because it was my favorite. Then one day, my brother snatched and ate it! I started eating my chicken first—he could snatch my vegetables if he wanted to.”
Jackie’s mother pushed her children to achieve their best. Moving to the United States from Jamaica wasn’t easy, but she learned to give her best shot, no matter what. Here are her strategies on how to do that.
Leverage your uniqueness
When I first came to this country, my accent was very thick. I was a unit clerk at a hospital, and communication was so hard. It got to a point where I didn’t want to speak over the phone. One day, someone called and asked to speak to the lady with the accent. She said she wanted to speak to me because I had been so helpful before. Today I see my accent as a unique differentiator. I don’t try to hide it.
Deliver news at the right time
Whenever I have to deliver tough feedback, I always ask for permission to speak frankly first. I want them to know they have some control over the situation, so they can say, “I have a deadline, can we talk later?” if they need to. I know when people have approached me with tough news at a bad time it didn’t end well. If they had asked if I was open to receiving feedback at that time, I would have said no.
Approach with compassion
At work when I have a new hire, I ask, “How do you feel you’re doing?” or “Are you proud of the work you’re producing?” Some people admit they’re struggling, so I’ll say, “It’s good that you realize that, here’s what you’re doing great–here’s what you’re not doing so great.” This gives them a chance to own their situation, and it doesn’t put them on the defensive.
Confront with kindness
In corporate America people tend to dance around problems, but I’m known for my candor. Sometimes people are having a bad day—they may not have meant to behave inappropriately, so I give them a few chances. If they keep doing it, I’ll say something like this, “The other day when I was in a meeting with you, you kept cutting me off, and you’ve done this on other occasions—what’s up?”
What advice would you give your younger self knowing what you know now?
My mother told me every time I left the house, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” That’s from a bible verse. I grew up with these words, but I had trouble accepting them—I am learning how to take them in.
How did your mother inspire you?
She always said to me, “If there’s an obstacle, you can go around it, under it, through it, or above it, but you have to get by it.” I would call her about work if I needed support.
How do we get more girls in STEM careers?
We need more women in STEM, especially women of color. We need to get young boys and girls of color interested when they’re young. We want to show them that they can be engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists.