Jacinta Kitt talks to Sue Karran about her work and thoughts on self-awareness.

I was fortunate enough to catch one of Jacinta Kitt’s exuberant presentations at an International Women’s Day event hosted at Johnstown Castle, Wexford. Jacinta presented an energised, high-voltage, non-stop onslaught of lively language and gripping ideas about how women can improve their lives by being more self-aware and taking time to assess their lives. Here we discuss Jacinta’s thoughts on a range of female-related topics.

Can you tell us about your career?

I was a primary school teacher for 15 or 16 years when I became pregnant for the fourth time, and I decided I needed a change. I decided to take a break from school and concentrate on the baby and develop new areas of interest for myself. One of the areas that I was very interested in was workplace bullying. This was in 1990, a time when most people didn’t recognise any aspect of bullying at work. I went back to college and did two Postgraduate Diplomas in Leadership and Management because I thought that was the area I wanted to explore. And then, I concentrated for my Master’s Degree on workplace bullying in schools. There was very little literature on workplace bullying in schools – very few had heard of it! I mentioned to a senior member of the Department of Education that I was interested in workplace bullying, only to be told, ‘we don’t have any problems of that nature in this department’. And I thought I don’t believe it… It’s not that he was telling lies but rather was oblivious to bullying as a problem.

I put out a number of feelers, asking about people’s experiences and got many replies. I took five or six of the people and spoke with them at length to understand the problem, and this is where my interest started in looking at the quality of environments in the workplace that can either promote or prevent bullying. This led me to become passionate about the subject, particularly in relation to the injustice and devastation that bullying causes. I began giving talks in all sorts of organisations including schools, colleges, prisons, the health service, private companies and corporate institutions. Awareness and prevention of bullying was the main focus of my work for some years, but it is a difficult subject and takes its toll even on those talking about it and dealing with cases of it. One can become very absorbed in it. It begins to take hold of you. So, I broadened my horizons to researching and teaching in Trinity on the importance of improving workplace environments and effective leadership, with a focus on preventing workplace bullying.

Do you think that women are more bullied in the workplace than men are?

Believe it or not, there has never really been an extensive study done on this topic, as far as I know, and it really varies from place to place. Now, we would know that there are more documented cases of bullying in the home against women. And you know, bullying would be the broad term, but you would include coercive control and psychological abuse, all of which are bullying behaviours. In workplaces, predominantly staffed by women, bullying, when it occurs, is perpetrated by women against their female colleagues. In general, however, bullying is not a gender issue, but rather a personality issue.

Are you familiar with the Soroptimist organisation?

I’m relatively familiar with the organisation, as I have done quite a bit of work with some of the Clubs around the country. My understanding is the organisation is about helping, supporting, and empowering women to broaden their horizons and become the best version of themselves. I think Soroptimists do great work in their communities. However, I’d like to see a bit more action, to be honest, especially lobbying the government concerning women’s issues.

How do you think women could lead more positive lives?

One of the most essential things is belief in ourselves, appreciating what we have and developing our emotional and social intelligence. We need to take a proactive approach as it’s not something that will happen without work. Women spend a considerable amount of their time caring for others which is great and not something we want to lose, but when you care too much for others without balancing with caring for yourself, you lose a bit of belief in yourself. It’s about recognising our limitations and not pushing ourselves too hard. For me, it’s about very practical things, like being able to say no appropriately – “No, I got to take a little break for a while”. We can only change our relationships with anyone in the workplace or in the home by looking at ourselves and saying – “What can I do differently”. Also, women need to prioritise themselves some of the time and concentrate on things they’d like to do. Always being ‘available’ and saying ‘yes’ is not helpful; it can build resentment and stifle relationships. I’m not suggesting that women become aggressive but assertiveness is a very different and effective way to communicate your opinions and your needs. It’s important that women find the means of making it clear, from time to time, that they need some time for themselves.

Getting to know yourself is the most important thing women can do to make changes and improvements in their lives. Giving ourselves time to recognise our needs and what we want from our life. It can be hard to change, and sometimes we learn things about ourselves that we don’t like, but it’s also liberating. People often only look to themselves when they’ve had a trauma or life event, but people should try to give themselves space to reflect. rather than blindly carrying on with the accepted norm – It’s never too late to learn about yourself!

Finally, what would you say to your younger self?

I’d tell myself that it’s vital to be self-aware from a very early age to get to know yourself. It’s something we should be teaching girls at a much earlier stage. For me, it’s the most critical thing to instil in young girls to enable them to be accomplished and competent women and to recognise the importance of individuality. Individuality is fading fast, and there is such pressure on girls around appearance and sexual expectations, so many pressures. And I am seeing them succumbing to these pressures. We need to empower young girls to say, “no, that’s not the way I want to dress”, “that’s not the way I want to look”, and for that to be okay. The Soroptimists Public Speaking competition that has run for many years is a great initiative to help girls establish their identity and confidence. I think projects like this are very worthwhile.

About Jacinta Kitt:

Jacinta is a Lecturer/Researcher and an Organisational Advisor. She is a former primary teacher. Until recently, she lectured part-time at Trinity College on the M.Ed. Programme. Jacinta also provides professional development training and presentations for schools, colleges and other public and private organisations. Much of this work focuses on the skills and benefits of creating and maintaining a positive/effective work environment. Jacinta has published Behaviours, Relationships and Emotions: The Heart of Leadership in a School.

Available from www.outsidethebox.ie and www.kennys.ie