AMA Highlights: Creating inclusive cultures through behavioural change

gender equality


Amanda Davie, Executive Coach & Director of Equal Talent, joined us in Venturi’s Voice Slack community on April 26 to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA).


Amanda specialises in helping STEM organisations create behavioural change and high-performing teams through organisational-wide group coaching. Discussion during the AMA was broadly focused around the theme of how to create inclusive work cultures and promote greater gender equality. Below are some of the event highlights.


To access the full transcript and take part in upcoming AMAs, join Venturi’s Voice Slack.    



Question from @Nick Winwright


I’m keen to understand your view on the biggest barriers to creating gender equality in Technology departments and whether an Agile way (methodology) of working is a supporter or barrier to this?


Gender equality in tech depts is an extreme challenge. Particularly if we’re talking about coders/developers. Less so with services professionals e.g. scrum masters, client managers, etc. I’m going to quote some stats now, just to highlight how big a challenge it is, and what it feels like for women in these tech depts (and then I’ll come on to attempting to answer your question, if you’ll bear with me).


Firstly, some generic, non-tech, women in the workplace numbers (and bear in mind MOST companies now have tech teams/depts, and with the fourth industrial revolution we’re moving more towards having a majority workforce who have tech skills).


  • Women’s unemployment is at a 24-year high
  • 75% of UK companies pay men more than women
  • 1 in 10 women have experienced sexual harassment at work
  • 17.3% of FTSE 100 directorships and 13.2% of FTSE 250 directorships are held by women
  • Only 1 in 25 C-suite leaders is a woman of colour
  • Women occupy only 38% of managerial positions
  • 11% of working mums are either dismissed, made redundant, or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job
  • 1 in 5 working mums have experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders


Now here are the women in tech stats:


  • 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector are held by women
  • 40% report being “the only” woman in the room (vs. 7% for men)
  • 45% of women in tech have been sexually harassed in work (55%of women in senior leadership, 48% of lesbian women)


In other words, it feels even lonelier as a tech woman, you have even less of a sense of belonging, simply because there are not people like you (gender) around you. There aren’t the senior female role models, so women think “what’s the point?” I’m not going to progress to management and leadership, because there are no women (well, 5%) at the top in this company / dept.


But there is a much ‘murkier’, mental health flip side to the gender equality debate for men. The costs of which are just as great and negatively life-impacting:


  • Pressure to bear the primary financial responsibility for the household
  • More distant relationships with partner/spouse
  • More distant relationships with children
  • Pressure to acquire status and compete with men
  • Poor psychological and physical well being


Gender equality is a win-win (for men and women). EVERYONE needs to have a sense of belonging and safety (psychological safety i.e. no fear of recrimination because of who you are). These are fundamental human needs. And therefore these are the conditions every organisational culture should be working towards. Inclusivity and equity.



Question from @JamesDeeney


Investing in company-wide training sessions certainly seems like a quick and easy fix to the diversity problem. But several studies now call into question the efficacy of standard Unconscious Bias Training in terms of its ability to actually change behaviour. Isn’t there a risk that such programs will be increasingly used as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for many organisations? And in your experience, which types of interventions seem to be most effective in reliably producing behavioural change?


Hi James! What a great question, thank you! Yes, you’re right, lots of studies have now concluded that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. I think there are a few reasons for this:


1. Training as a professional development intervention is directive. That’s to say it’s an “I tell, you do” model. It rarely involves psychological and behavioural change methods, like other interventions, like coaching, do. Also, again, sticking with training: a one-off (or two or three) scheduled training session doesn’t bring about individual or collective change. For this you need time, motivation, and accountability for professionals to go away and practice that change.


2. For people to change they need to raise their levels of self-awareness – that’s the first step on the journey. Often this awareness doesn’t come about until there is a triggering event e.g. being accused of being sexist or racists, to use a pertinent example.  From this activating event comes awareness because the consequences of their behaviour come to the fore. Consequences have everything to do with affecting behavioural change. We all have to get to a place of understanding (awareness) what the consequences are of our behaviour. And organisations, leaders and managers have to be clear (because, as Brene Brown says, to be clear is to be kind) as to what these consequences are, e.g. written warnings/performance management/losing your job/losing your ability to motivate and influence others to achieve what you need to in your job.


Clearly, I am biased, James, but coaching is the best intervention for behavioural change including reversing deeply entrenched behaviours. However, each intervention has to be relevant and timely to the individual. So this might mean 1:1 coaching for people who need to ‘peel back the onion’ and reflect/revisit a lifetime of beliefs that need to be challenged, reversed / changed. 1:1 coaching, if transformational and effective, feels more more akin to counselling or therapy. So individuals have to be courageous in being willing to go on this journey.



Question from @Sam Davis


Hi Amanda. I thought it was really interesting you were an early pioneer in the online advertising space. I can imagine SEO was a bit like the wild west in the beginning years! What attracted you in the first place and how did you get started?


Hi Sam, ha ha, yes! We often used the wild-west analogy back in the late 90s / early 2000s, in SEO. Lots of entrepreneurs digging for gold, and selling a very ‘unregulated’ range of tactics and solutions! Lots of innovation and hugely competitive! I was curious about SEO, and search in broader terms, because from an Internet user perspective it was so ingenious.


We take Google for granted now of course, but back then Altavista, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo – they all had different algorithms – and manual indexing – and it was an exciting cat and mouse game for brands and businesses to try to make it to the top of the search results. Hard work, risk taking and a very steep learning curve!


But I wasn’t a practitioner of SEO – not clever enough with techie stuff! I was a ‘front of house’ agency person, an account director, who could build trust with, and sell the clever stuff my team delivered, to clients. I was also learning how to manage teams of technically brilliant people who were, back then, quite different in their talents, strengths and sometimes in their personalities, to what media agency land had been used to. I loved nurturing them and helping them realise their full potential.


It was very challenging but hugely exciting and the global SEO community was tiny back then, so we all knew each other / convened in conference halls all over the world. I’m extremely grateful to my bosses at the time for ‘gifting’ me the opportunity to lead the agency’s SEO offering. And then of course along came Google and we all made A LOT of money for our clients (and for our businesses). Heady days!



Question from @Margaret Davidson


I’m interested in how we improve the reputation of tech as a good place for women to work. There is a huge bank out there of smart, motivated women who could easily be upskilled, but tech is often still seen as an unwelcoming boys club. How do we change that perception (and, often, reality)?


this is a great question and a tough one to answer. All the research shows that this is about girls, more than it is about women. What I mean by that is that girls as young as 8 decide that they don’t want a career in tech. Here are some stats:


  • 3% of girls say a career in technology is their first choice
  • 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in tech


So any “outreach” / CSR work that companies can do with schools is essential. The tech /women in tech pipeline starts so young. As they grow older it’s harder and harder to encourage them to reverse these limiting beliefs.


My business partner, Catherine Smith, experienced a ‘gap’/opportunity recently when her talented, well educated, 16-yr daughter, who wants a career in tech, wasn’t being shown any career opportunities by employers. Not enough are talking to secondary schools, colleges and universities. Milkrounds as they were called in my day.


There is, however, some great work being done by lots of organisations up and down the country. For example, companies offering women outside of tech a career change into tech; companies like Digital Mums upskilling women at that lifestage when they’re looking for a change, something more meaningful, more flexible, work they can do on a computer, from home, etc.


Aha, the “unwelcoming boys club”. Or, in the digital agency where I worked from 2004 – 2008 this was called “The Gentlemen’s Pie Club” – they went for lunch together, played golf, skied together. It was as bold as brass in their Outlook diaries too, for everyone to see! I am sure at the time they didn’t even realise how exclusive and alienating this came across. But the girls were enraged!



Question from @Squashie


Hey Amanda, in your opinion, what are the most common mistakes managers make that damage trust?


Common mistakes in damaging trust. Great question! And so common, isn’t it? Here are the conditions for building trust…


1. Empathy. Starting with empathic listening. Listening with your whole being (body as well as mind), so being physically present, calm, quiet. No interrupting!


2. Having unconditional positive regard. Leave your judgment and cynicism at the door. Watch your body language too. It betrays best intentions sometimes.


3. Confidentiality, confidentiality, confidentiality. Agree it together out loud – it doesn’t go without saying, sadly. And stick to it.


4. Curiosity. Be interested. And use it to explore solutions. If the other person wants your practical help (sometimes they just want to be heard. So few people feel truly heard in business, which is really sad).


5. Humility. As a manager or leader you have to put the needs of your people, and of the business, ahead of your own personal agenda. This is A TOUGHIE!!! But essential. And, sadly, rare.



Question from @Nick Winwright


How do we encourage more female applicants for developer roles? Until we can hire more it is difficult to remove the ‘only woman in the room’ feeling isn’t it?


There is a stat with regards to CV filtering / selection that stays with me:


That if the recruiting employer is male, he is far more likely to put forward a female CV-candidate for interview if his wife works.


This is a massive challenge in still very traditional and privileged sectors like law, where the majority of partners are still male, went to public school and their wives don’t/have never worked. However, I hear from a lot of dads of daughters that their beliefs and behaviours are changing as a result of having daughters. That they don’t want their daughters to be ‘the only’ or to face the uphill struggles that their Dads have seen their female peers face.


To your point “Until we can hire more it is difficult to remove the ‘only woman in the room’ feeling isn’t it?” – yes, it’s difficult but we, as colleagues, can help give voice to this feeling. To supportively encourage it. To acknowledge it. Let’s start these hard conversations in our teams. Let’s stop dancing around the elephant in the room/team.



Question from @Sam Davis


Do you think there tends to be an inherent gap among the genders regarding emotional intelligence?


The research tells us that there is no particular male or female EQ profile – what you need to bear in mind is that, depending on the different thinkers in this field, EQ comprises a range of competencies/skills/traits. Every individual ‘scores’ differently across this diverse range of competencies/skills/traits. However, EQ is as a result of both nature and nurture. And when it comes to the skill of empathy, women typically score higher due to their higher levels of oxytocin (the care/nurturing neurochemical).


But men experience an additional influx of oxytocin when they become dads. So parenting/caring is typically linked to higher levels of EQ.


EQ also varies from culture to culture. If you look at some of the other competencies, there are some gender skews. Self-awareness, for example, tends to be a higher scorer for women; self-confidence and self-reliance tend to be higher scores in men.


What I find very challenging, as a ‘seller’ of EQ skills development, is that it’s very hard to get men to engage / come along to EQ skills development events//workshops. Women seem to be either more interested in, or more comfortable with, or more ‘sold’ on it being a professional development requirement area.