Inspirational Woman: Jessica Gardiner | Founder, The Assistant Room

Jessica Gardiner
Jessica Gardiner

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I grew up in Leigh on-Sea, Essex with my parents and two sisters. I was born into a family where my dad was ex-army transitioning to owning his own steel fabrication business and my mum was a Senior Executive Assistant at Morgan Grenfell which is now known as Deutschebank. I grew up in a household with leaders and a C-Suite Director so I was always exposed to the realities of running your own business. By the time I reached 23 I was supporting a CEO in Mayfair, I wanted of a bit of a challenge, so I reached out to a famous influencer, who I had admired for many years, I had no expectation of a response but within 48 hours we had organised a glass of wine and agreed on the spot that we would work together.  While I was working with her, I saw the impact she had as a digital creator of authentic content that looked gorgeous and had a beautiful aesthetic with a contemporary and modern feel. It was at this point I saw a gap in the market in the global PA industry to create something similar for Personal and Executive Assistants. Therefore, I created a platform where me and my team would produce a wide range of bespoke support resources for individuals to access anywhere any time. Creating dramatic improvements in employee engagement, retention, productivity and profitability through The Assistant Room membership, events, podcast and now online tools. I have now expanded into recruitment, this was a natural development as so many people were coming to me asking for recommendations on where to find a fantastic PA, as a result we now also have The Assistant Room Recruitment.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, actually I didn’t and here’s why. The business support industry is extremely misunderstood without much authentic representation or outside support that other working communities receive. The demand of the role and the responsibility that you hold when working so closely with management and C-Suite Directors contributes towards fast burn out and emotional exhaustion. The phrase ‘just a PA’ is commonplace in the eyes of Directors/colleagues and that their contribution is overlooked.

When I set The Assistant Room up I did so as I felt I had hit the glass ceiling by the time I was 25. Working as an PA can feel like you’re giving all your drive to someone else’s success but constantly hitting your head against a wall as your own career success is not a focus of the business. Not your exec, not HR, not your team, no one, because ‘you are just a PA’. “49% of assistants are considered as key decision-makers or influencers within their business.” However, they aren’t given the opportunities to express this. Therefore, I wanted to create a safe space online to write and talk about the burning issues within the industry including but not limited to the above. I wanted it to be a place that I had always looked for and needed as PA but never found – an engaging, contemporary online lifestyle platform that tackled every aspect of the role with relatable advice and guidance.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Main challenges have stemmed from overcoming industry perception and educating Executives and businesses on the value their existing PAs and EAs can offer. It’s utterly ridiculous that those connected most closely to and who enable the leaders to work effectively are rarely included in training opportunities, are not given the ability to add additional value in accordance to their strengths and skillset and who are largely forgotten about as a community. “73% of assistants are not offered any training or development in their current role.”  To overcome this issue, I created The Assistant Room membership, an easy to use platform that’s cost effective and ready to implement with immediate effect. Fast forward 18 months we have successfully partnered with almost 30 small to large corporates who support their assistant’s access to the membership and who are now seeing huge changes in employee engagement.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In 2021 the business experienced a 287% increase in turnover in comparison to the previous year. Also, another huge achievement was an average of 12% month on month growth of new members signed up to The Assistant Room membership from across the world. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

There is an over 100% success rate in those we exclusively headhunt for top tier EA and PA roles with more than one EA on a shortlist often being hired due to the way we connect people – it’s not just about their skillset or their experience, it’s about matching EAs with Execs on their values, their vision, their goals and ambition for the future. 

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Our world is constantly changing and understanding how to navigate those changes in the business world is absolutely crucial to creating a successful career. Having a mentor is usually the product of understanding where the gaps in your skillset are, I personally feel it is extremely important that everyone has a mentor. At The Assistant Room we have a membership which allows members to connect with mentors depending on their need. I work with over 15 Personal and Executives Assistants on a 1:1 basis every month, helping them grow in their professional abilities and learn how to create more success in their working relationship. As a result, this has increased their business enabling them to save on time, money and teach their Executive on how to utilise them properly. 

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

What is the point in having a female superhero as your role model if the highest milestone most young girls will reach is middle management?  Accelerating Gender Equality is the responsibility of two types of people at different ends of the spectrum. Talking about this is no longer good enough, if there is no action following the discussion it becomes meaningless, we need committed champions to represent the future with consistency and conviction. Something more businesses need are more female CEOs, female changemakers who have men looking up to them not at them. Teachers must play their part in providing equal opportunities for young people to develop new skillsets and create a neutral environment where there is no allocation of students to certain activities based on their gender.  At the other end, C-Suite Directors must follow this lead and show how it is possible to achieve a gender-neutral board by following the path you were provided as a young person. A conscious effort needs to be made to allow young people to view equal numbers of men and women in C-Suite positions as the role models they follow at school – a 360 approach is the only way in achieving Gender Equality.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Just do it, take a risk and trust yourself. If it doesn’t work you can go back to work – I did and it meant I had time to refresh and start thinking of my next challenge. Overnight success is not real and as a business owner you have to get very comfortable with uncertainty and ignore the toxic idea of ‘overnight success’ – it doesn’t exist. Stop reading articles about imposter syndrome, which by the way are never targeted towards men, only women…think about that for a moment, and know that everyone has moments of self doubt.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Running a business through a pandemic successfully has forced me to embrace uncertainty and the unknown. I was taught to work towards a mission, which enables you to bend and mould to factors outside of your control but keep you focused. Following this method means everything else should just fall into place and it hasn’t failed me so far. I want to constantly develop new content and material and start making companies realise the importance of ROI to their business support staff.  I want to build the most incredible and effective talent acquisition/headhunting service in existence with full consultancy, to align the correct business support staff with the correct businesses based on not just current experience but their values, purpose, passions and potential.

Find out more about The Assistant Room here.

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