Category Archives: D&I in business

The luxury of overconfidence when you have privilege

Chart showing the comparison between UK men's and women's confidence about beating several animals in a fight unarmed. The highest confidence is for beating a rat with 77% men vs 57% women, and the lowest is for a Gorilla, 2% men vs 1% women.
Chart from YouGov UK.  

(5 min read)

As a woman in tech, every day I’m reminded that my problem is a lack of confidence. I’m constantly showered with newsletters, offers of webinars and coaching, as well as articles telling me that confidence is a fix-all from the gender pay gap to solving the shortage of women in CXO roles.

All that in spite that there is no correlation between confidence and effective leadership! When I mention this fact, most people look puzzled. I don’t know why. It’s not like we have a “confid-ometer” that enables us to correlate our leaders’ confidence to the success of their initiatives.

What’s more, I’m adamant that our economic, political, and social problems are often rooted in overconfident leaders. If in doubt, only look at how the overconfidence of some political leaders has resulted in disastrous outcomes on the flight against the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish they could have been much less confident and more humble to follow the advice of others that actually know better.

Still, people are resistant. It’s so easy to attribute to self-doubt the lack of CEOs that are disabled, non-White, or self-identify as women…

Early this year, Caroline Perez Criado’s newsletter came to help me! She shared the results of a survey by YouGov on Which animals could Britons beat in a fight?

Guess what? The results show that 28% men vs 9% women think they could beat “unarmed” an eagle in a fight. Gets better, 12% of men vs 2% of women think they could beat a King Cobra, again, unarmed! By the way, in the same article there is also a reference to the US study and how compares with the UK. Priceless!

We can continue to assume that because some people think they can beat a cobra, they can actually beat it. Or, we can confront the myth that confidence is a predictor of effective leadership.

What should we care?

I’ve been coaching and mentoring for years university students, direct reports, peers, clients… And confidence is a topic that comes often. “If I were more confident… ” People talk about it as it was an unreachable superpower such as being invisible or capable to fly.

Confidence is simply about how we feel about a decision. If we feel good, we tell ourselves that we’re confident. When we feel bad or unsure, we lack confidence. So far, so good.

The problem is that we assume that this particular feeling is a good predictor of success. And it’s not. This delusion has even a name!

The Dunning-Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills”.

A chart of confidence vs competence with the title “Dunning-Kruger effect”. The curve starts a zero confidence and competence. Then, it increases rapidly in confidence and very little in competence to drop very quickly in confidence as competence increases. Then, the curve continues to increase slowly in confidence and compentence until it reaches a plateau. The plateau is lower in confidence than the peak reached previously.
Confidence vs competence: The Dunning-Krugger effect (Patricia Gestoso).

Moreover, we reverence so much confidence that we have made it a key prerequisite to be considered for any meaningful progression in our careers. I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard hiring manager justify their choice of candidate because the person “looked” confident, even if the other candidate had a superior CV.

What if Instead of pushing people to do power poses to boost their confidence, we demanded our overconfident leaders to demonstrate with data and facts the bases of their confidence in their strategy?

What if hiring managers asked candidates to share the evidence supporting their level of confidence rather than assumed it correlates with their competence?

Let’s stop fixing women and underrepresented groups’ confidence. Our problem is not confidence but overconfidence.

Before I go

For reflection

In this 4-min article, Mary Fashik – a queer disabled woman of color – and Corie Walsh – a White disabled woman with wealth privilege – share the regular erasure, oppression, and disrespect they experience as disabled women. They also discuss how the pandemic was a missed opportunity for the world to learn some of the lessons the disabled community has long known like “collective care is the way forward”.

A boost of energy

On International Women’s Day, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a posthumous apology for the “historical injustice” of witch hunts. From 1563 to 1736, an estimated 4,000 people in Scotland were accused of witchcraft, of which about 80% were women. “These women were targeted because they were vulnerable, some of them owned land that others – usually men – wanted access to, or they were unmarried or widowed, or they looked or spoke or acted differently.”[reference] Two-thirds of those accused were executed.

For comparison, during the worldwide famous trials of Salem, 200 people were accused and 14 women and 5 men were hanged.

News from me

I’m writing a book and I need your help!

As some of you know, my DEI work was prompted by my dismay at realizing in 2015 that fantastic women that had started with me had either quit tech tired of fighting over and over the same battles or given unappealing jobs when they came back from maternity leave – I don’t have children myself.

Unfortunately, little has changed. Seven years later, still, more than 40% of women that start in tech leave the sector.

So, this year I decided to write a book about how women succeed in tech worldwide. There are great books written about this topic focused on US corporations. I also believe we can learn a lot by casting a wider net. My first step? Asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years.

[ASK] I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.

What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).

Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form.

Thanks for your support!


Inclusion is a practice, not a certificate!

13 Books to think differently about technology, business, and inclusion

People in a bookstore reading books sat in either comfortable seats or a bean bag chair.
Image from Pixabay by LubosHouska.

In 2021 I read 38 books. Following from my CuriousMindsDiversePeople Challenge, I kept track of the diversity of authors and topics. For example, 25 of the authors self-identified as women, 14 were non-US authors, 4 discussed disability and 11 LBTQ+ topics.

Below are my personal highlights from 13 of them that made me think differently about data, artificial intelligence, design, sustainability, feminism, pleasure, and God. I’m listing them in the order I read them.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem. If you are a feminist and somehow feel guilty that all the books on the topic depress you, I thoroughly recommend this book as audio, since Steinem herself narrates most of it. It’s a collage of articles written at different points in her life about walking the talk on feminism and women’s rights and the importance of challenging both the small and the big oppressions. All that is delivered with wit. A huge bonus!

The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success by Carol Sanford. In 2020, I learned about the concept of regenerative as an “upgrade” to sustainability. This book provides food for thought and examples about how to make businesses adopt practices that benefit their employees, users, communities, and the planet. However, I missed a more critical view of some of the study cases, especially for big tech companies, which is the area I’m more familiar with. For example, Facebook and Google are portrayed as the paradigm of regenerative businesses, without any mention of their questionable practices as employers and business models. Still, the book provided valuable insights for my talk Regenerative Business: Embedding ethics and inclusion in workplaces, products, and services at the Cambridge Agile Exchange last February (recording here).

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The revenge of the lehenga or When tokenistic diversity in products damages the business reputation

Paws of different colours - blue, green, red, yellow – on a wood background. Among them, there is a black pawn.
Image from Pixabay by MetsikGarden.

(4 min read)

When business leaders learn that I’m an inclusion strategist, most of them tell me about their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the workplace: gender pay gap report, employee resource groups, diversity audits…

Then, I ask them what are they doing about the diversity of their customers. Yes, you can come up with 4-6 versions of the “ideal” customer and hope for the best but the reality is that humans are much more complex and their situation and environment are dynamic, not static. How are they authentically including that diversity of experiences in their products, services, marketing, and sales?

The HBO TV series “And Just Like That…,” a reboot of “Sex and the City,” is a good reminder of what happens when you play the “diversity” card in your products whilst patronizing your customers.

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Four ways we ignore children when discussing digital inclusion

Two teenage girls portrayed against a wall with multiple surveillance cameras pointing at them. The girls look at the cameras back. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

(5 min read)

Children are an afterthought in our digital inclusion plans.

We talk about the importance of embedding diversity, inclusion, and ethics in technology as a prerequisite for a digital future that works for everybody. The conversation is framed in the context of identities – gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, culture. However, we have forgotten children. I’m talking about children’s data privacy and their vulnerability to tech tools, especially those powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

In this article, I share four areas where we’re letting children down and how the power of framing data as money can help us to proactively include them.

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How are you losing business today by skipping diversity and inclusion in business operations and how to fix it

Photo of a wooden staircase in a bamboo forest by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.

(10 min read)

I’ve been beating the drum of the business value of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in tech since 2015. Many moons later, still every time I engage in this discussion with business leaders, they invariably default to either the diversity of their workforce or the McKinsey reports correlating the gender and ethnic makeup of their leadership teams to increased financial returns such as higher earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT).

In my experience, it’s hard to use correlation to convince the skeptics or to support D&I champions. On the flip side, through my professional and personal path, I’ve witnessed innumerable instances where D&I has played a crucial role in the success and failure of initiatives and organizations.

How did I come to witness all that evidence? I’ve been a unicorn all my life. I became an emigrant before I was a year old and I’ve had the opportunity to live in 6 countries and 3 continents. As a woman, my professional path is “atypical” by Anglo-Western standards. I studied engineering and computational chemistry, which are considered typically male occupations. Beyond academia, I’ve worked for chemical and tech companies. I don’t have children. I still remember talking to colleagues in December 2015 about the need to put in place a strategy to retain women in tech as half of the young women who go into tech drop out by the age of 35 [source]. To my surprise, often my puzzled interlocutors would ask me if “diversity and inclusion was an American thing”.

Fortunately, nowadays there is much more awareness about diversity and inclusion in business, including the tech sector. Also, there are some companies that are getting tangible value out of understanding the value of developing solutions for underserved populations. As I’ve written in the past, people with disabilities and their families constitute a market the size of China ($8 trillion/year). Closer to home, the UK’s 12 million people with disabilities have a spending power of £120 billion as per AbilityNet, a British charity focused on the digital inclusion of people with disabilities.  

But how to go beyond preaching to the converted? Moreover, how to engage with organizations that don’t have the budget for a Head of D&I?

What business leaders want to know about the value of D&I

Early June this year, I launched a survey asking business owners, managing directors, CXOs, and board members their top question about the business value of diversity and inclusion. In return for answering the survey, I offered respondents to email them my answer to their question.

I categorized the 50 answers I received into four buckets. Even in such a small sample, still we can trace a roadmap for how organizations approach D&I at workplaces

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