Interview with Erin Davis, Change Agent and Connector

Interview with Erin Davis, Change Agent and Connector

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Erin Davis is Director of Global Talent Engagement at Stantec, an international design and consulting company headquartered in Canada. Erin connects with individuals, teams, and the community to talk about why inclusion and diversity are key differentiators for business success. Erin is a founding member of Works for Women, a group dedicated to making Alberta a better place for women to work. She also co-founded The Confidence Retreat, which brought a group of successful women together to talk about career strategy and help them outside their comfort zones. 

We discussed: 
- What it takes to negotiate successfully for our careers
- How to engage in conversations that win allies in the workplace
- What large leading companies like Stantec are doing to close the gender gap
...and so much more

Learn more about Works for women 
Learn more about The Confidence Retreat here:

Full Episode Transcript

Jamie:  Hello! Welcome to episode 25 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host, Jamie Lee. I work as a coach for women on the rise and today I am really thrilled to have a special guest with me.

Her name is Erin Davis and Erin works as Director of Global Talent Engagement at Stantec. She’s based in Canada.

And Erin is whom I would call a powerhouse.

She is really impressive and she is super dedicated to helping raise the status of women.

What Erin does is she connects with individuals, teams in the community to talk about why inclusion and diversity is a key differentiator for business success. I love that.

Erin is also a founding member of Works for Women which is a group committed to making Alberta, in Canada, a better place for women to work.

And she also co-founded the Confidence Retreat which brought a group of successful women together to talk about career strategy and help them outside their comfort zones.

Oooo, it’s good stuff.

When she told me about the Confidence Retreat earlier this year, I was like, “Wow, I wanna go!” I love that you are going to get pushed out of your comfort zone at the Confidence Retreat because that’s where magic happens.

I first met Erin at the Catalyst Conference on International Women’s Day last year. I spoke on a panel about women and negotiation in the workplace and Erin reached out to me via email after the talk and it’s so rare that people take action like that when they see a speaker they like, when they see a leader that they admire. A lot of people say Oh, that’s great, I would love to be in touch with that person, but not take action.

Erin, however, she reached out to me, she wrote me an email, and actually, I led a negotiation workshop for Stantec in the New York office last Fall thanks to Erin.

So she is a connector, she is somebody who takes action, she is an advocate for women and she is amazing. She is a powerhouse.

So without further ado, I hope you enjoy this interview with Erin Davis.

Jamie: Hello!

Erin: Hi, Jamie.

Jamie: Hi, Erin. How are you?

Erin: I’m well, how are you?

Jamie: I’m doing excellent. Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview.

Erin: It’s my pleasure.

Jamie: Awesome. So, I’d love to hear, because we talk about negotiation and leadership and we met through a talk on that very topic last year at the Catalyst Conference. So, I’m curious to hear from you. I’d love to hear about a negotiation in your life or career that had the biggest impact on you and I’m curious to learn how did you engage, what did you ask for, and what did you learn?

Erin: So, this is a really interesting question for me and I sort of self-reflected on how I would answer it because I think I’m able to answer it better on behalf of the organization that I work for and the work that I do specifically around diversity and inclusion and help empower women to do their best work.

And certainly, it forced me to really think about my own career path and potentially how I actually took my own advice to heart and looked at negotiation.

So, I actually went back and looked at the definition of negotiation because often my brain goes to negotiation of salary, but that’s not something that necessarily happens every day. So I tried to think back on some examples of negotiation throughout the last year and some of my work practices, and I think for me, I’ve always thought about negotiation as reaching some sort of agreement, but really, trying to better understand where the other person’s mind is at to get us to a better resolution.

And I think part of my personality is always knowing where I want to end up and knowing the pathway isn’t always clear and so, figuring out how to maneuver that way. And so, I think a big negotiation for me, even though I didn’t necessarily think about it this way until I thought about this question is landing in the role that I’m currently in.

I lead part of the HR strategy for a really large organization and I don’t really have a background in HR and so I really had to work hard at letting people know why I would be really great at this role and really I guess “negotiating” with the right people in the right positions of, I would say, influence to let them know that I would be a qualified candidate for this role that I’m now in.

Jamie: Excellent. I love that you looked up the word “negotiation.” It’s something that I tend to do often, even though, well because I teach it. I’m like, okay, so what is it?

Erin: No, it’s a really good point because I think sometimes we hear a word so often and the best example for me that comes up quite often is the word “feminist” and when people bring that up for certain people it holds, like, a really positive connotation, and for others, it holds, like deep-rooted, like, pain almost.

So even with negotiation, it doesn’t have to be thought of in a negative way but I think quite often it is thought of like, okay, well I need to win this and I’m moving into like, what’s my game plan for this and I ultimately think in my work we need to be able to have open conversations and dialogue and I have to believe that through those conversations we can get to a better result.

Jamie: Absolutely. Right. So, my definition is negotiation is simply a conversation with the intention of reaching agreement and it’s beautiful when you do reach agreement, and sometimes you don’t. That’s a totally okay outcome.

I’d love to hear more about how you were able to understand what was going on in the minds of your negotiation counterpart.

Erin: Oh, that’s a really good question! I would actually go back to what we were just talking about and say that it is through conversation.

I would say that a lot of my pathway has been forged in my career around understanding what I’m passionate about and letting that lead a lot of the work that I do and it’s maybe a bit counterintuitive to how I’ve grown up in my career and trying to reach that next level and I don’t think about it that way anymore.

So, through that “negotiation” and understanding what was in the minds of those that I was talking to, it was just an open dialogue and really understanding what they were looking to find and understanding how I could potentially fit in there.

And then my personality is also like, well, how can I help shape this and make it better? Because I always want to leave room for opportunity with whatever role that I take on.

Jamie: Yeah. Now, I’m gonna use a word that sometimes has people roll their eyes, but what I hear from what you just told me is that you live with your heart.

Erin: Yes! And that is sometimes a very difficult word and I reflect on it often with the organization that I work for because the kind of default description is always, well, we’re a bunch of engineers and we certainly actually are not a bunch of engineers.

We definitely have a lot of technical minds and that doesn’t mean that we’re without emotions. We may choose to not tap into them all the time, but the one common thread amongst everyone is that we are all human and we all have a heart and that is part of what makes us human and so I am a very strong believer in understanding and leading with your heart and not only your head and it’s a balance between the two, certainly.

Jamie: Right, right. Because when you spoke about how passionate you are about working in this field of diversity and inclusion, you weren’t sitting there calculating okay, how do I get what I want?

You were really leading with what you stand for with your core personal values, and then you let that inform the conversation, be open to hearing the other side, be flexible in the moment. So, I think that worked out really beautifully because you brought your heart.

Erin: I think that’s my biggest advice whenever I have a conversation with someone about, you know, how have you navigated your career? And when you get to a place of leading with your heart, it helps you carve out the pathway that you need to go on and then you’re not trying to fit yourself into boxes which is a really, I guess, a different way to think about things but certainly has been very powerful for me thus far.

Jamie: Yeah. Sorry for all the sirens, actually, I’m in New York City and it’s very typical to hear a lot of noise. Yeah, So, that said, what top three pieces of advice do you have for other women? And in this topic of negotiation and especially for women in the workplace, we have to address the gender wage gap and the gender blowback.

So from your vantage point, since you have both the position and the experience, I’m really curious to hear what advice you would share.

Erin: Yeah, I guess I can share advice from a couple different points of view. I would certainly say from within my role and what we’re trying to do within our organization is understand the data that exists when it comes to the gender wage gap.

We’re a publicly traded company, so on an annual basis, we release a sustainability report that actually shows data that men are making more money than women but we are now putting together a team to actually look and understand why does that gap exist?

And I would say that part of my belief in the numbers is that we just don’t have as many women at the tops of organizations and so there’s some work that organizations need to do in this equation to help make the system work better for women. And so I think that that’s something that’s gonna be out there that women are gonna have to work with.

So my piece of advice for them is: have as many conversations as you can, whether or not it’s with your peers or your networks or previous bosses or your current boss because the more information we can gather, the better we are able to negotiate what we want. And so I think that’s a big thing, a lesson I’ve learned, and through my conversations with other women is we don’t always necessarily talk to each other about these topics and so I think that we need to because with a joint force moving forward and saying that this is what we want out of our jobs and out of our careers will have a positive impact from the grassroots level in helping organizations understand how they need to change some of their policies and practices.

And then the last piece of advice that I would give is really thinking from a personal perspective, and like we just talked about with leading with our hearts. I think that that’s a thing that women need to do and don’t necessarily try to fit yourself into a box and really take the time to understand what you are really good at, who you are, and lead with that because that will help carve your path. I think that big organizations need to understand that that’s how the workforce is starting to move and people are really getting tied to their purpose and they want to lead with that and so if we want these high potential people and individuals to come and work at our organizations, we need to create that structure internally that supports their wants.

Because we don’t want them coming into the organization, we don’t want women coming into the organization excited to do the work, but then seeing all of these barriers that exist for them moving up in the organization and potentially seeing this data that says, well, does my male colleague who does the same work make more money than I do? Well, how is that fair and why would I want to work at an organization where that exists? Certainly, we’re addressing that, but there’s things that the individual can do on a day-to-day basis to create change as well.

Jamie: Yeah. It’s one of the tenets of negotiation, which is: know what you want and why. In other words, find yourself.

Erin: Mm-hmm.

Jamie: Yeah. I think that’s very important and it’s really wonderful to hear that your organization is taking steps, proactive steps to address, to shed light on a problem so that we can all take part in fixing it.

Yeah, so I’d love to hear more about your work. Last time we chatted, we briefly discussed your work around unconscious bias in the workplace. So, tell us more.

Erin: Yeah, so that actually is one of the central tenets of our work with looking at the wage gap is also pairing the world of unconscious bias and raising awareness in providing training related to where do our unconscious biases sit? How are they showing up and causing us to make certain decisions within our work that could result in a barrier to the advancement of women or the advancement of other underrepresented groups within our organization?

So, certainly from a holistic perspective for diversity and inclusion, or I’m trying to change my language and say inclusion and diversity because we definitely want to lead with inclusion and building those diverse teams so that every individual can feel that they are a part and can play a role in that team.

So, the unconscious bias training is saying are there things that are pre-programmed in our brains? And we’re not saying that it’s wrong, it’s based on the experiences that we’ve had throughout our lives and how that’s showing up for us and could we rethink how we do things?

And certainly, that shows up in so many different ways in a large organization and so step one is awareness.

Let’s talk about it. Let’s have some uncomfortable conversations

An example of that would be at certain levels of the organization do we just go out and strategically hire someone into the organization because we see them doing a really great job in whatever role that they’re playing and we want them in the organization?  

And so we go and hand-pick someone to bring into the organization instead of going out and saying we’re going to actually post this role and see who else may apply because if you’re not in that circle, you’re not in that network to know the hiring manager, then it’s a lost opportunity for you to say that, actually, I would be really great at this role.

And so we are addressing it from the point of view of who are we actually going to look at bringing into the organization? So from an attraction perspective, who do we actually want to retain in the organization? So what are the sort of unspoken rules that happen within our organization that are showing certain people having the ability to advance and maybe others not necessarily having the ability to advance?

And certainly that comes through promotions as well and who are we promoting and who are we not promoting? And so there’s so many different angles that we can look at from the unconscious bias perspective, but we’re starting with raising that awareness and saying, let’s stop and pause, and it’s actually quite simple. Let’s just stop and take a pause when we’re thinking about some of these big decisions that are impacting others in the organization.

Jamie: That’s really fascinating. So, what it sounds like is the organization doing introspection.

Erin: Yeah, and it’s actually pretty leading edge, I would say, in the work that we do. We are an engineering and design consultancy firm and I think that, historically, we’ve seen a lot of male domination in what we would call the STEM fields, so science, technology, engineering, and math.

And so there’s a really big push, even outside of our world, to say we want more women and actually more minority groups and that’s certainly a term that we use a lot here in Canada. But underrepresented groups, we want them coming in, and we want their points of view and we want their thoughts at the table and the research is out there. We all know that building diverse teams leads to greater innovation but if we aren’t purposeful about creating that situation to have those diverse teams, it’s not gonna happen by accident.

Jamie: Right. And our brains are hardwired to look for safety and comfort and people who look, act, and talk like us.

Erin: Absolutely.

Jamie: Yeah.

Erin: And you know, I think the hardest part in this work is often the best way to raise that awareness for someone is to find their personal story. And for them to figure out the A-ha! of Oh my goodness, I never realized, I hadn’t thought about it in that way before. Because, yes, you’re a hundred percent right, we, I shouldn’t use the term lazy, but we are kind of programmed to do things the way we’ve always done them. And so that will be our default, so it takes up a little bit of extra energy to think a little bit differently.

But let me tell you, what’s on the other side is really fantastic and so that’s why we want to have these conversations and we want to start the dialogue and we want to start the dialogue and we want to lead with how can we be the best organization out there.

Jamie: Yeah. And it starts with personal stories, connecting with people as people, humans. Yeah. This is great work. I’d also love to hear more about Works for Women.

Erin: Yes, absolutely. So maybe I’ll tell a little bit of the history of Works for Women and maybe that’ll give a bit more insight into what I was talking about earlier with leading with your passion and finding your passion and letting that move forward.

About two years ago, I was taking an executive leadership course and asking a lot of questions as I normally do and really got to know someone within the program here at the University of Alberta and through that conversation we kind of got onto the same topic that I do with many women and said, “Why don’t we see more women in leadership?” And we got to the point of saying well, what can we do about it? What can the two of us come together as a team and do to create change in what ended up being our province of Alberta, so both within Edmonton and Calgary, those are the two major hubs in our [audio dropped]?

How can we help women and men as advocates for this show some movement in terms of the number of women that we see in leadership roles and so it really actually took about a year for us to truly refine what our intention was, but our intention is to give women, the tools, but also the network to have conversations and lead with change in their own lives.

And so we want to, through Works for Women, activate change within the individual. So, who are you and how can you create change? Because if we wait for the “system” to change, there’s lots of statistics out there that say it’s gonna take a really long time.

And so I’m a true believer that there is power within change that the individual can create and sometimes it’s the simplest things or maybe always it’s the simplest things that actually create the biggest awareness and the biggest change.  

And certainly we’re trying to connect on social media and connect through avenues like that because our world, I think, has, I don’t want to say become smaller, but basically what I’m trying to say is the connectivity that we now have in this global world that we now live in means that, yes, we now have tried to serve Albertans in what we’re doing, but something that anyone could go to our website and download one of our monthly challenges and say actually, I want to learn more about mentorship and sponsorship and how is that showing up in my day-to-day and how can I go out and seek, potentially, a mentor, or how can I go out and create a situation where I truly educate my organization or my team on what sponsorship truly is?

Jamie: Yeah, that’s wonderful. I love that you’re trying to change lives. That is the objective. I shouldn’t say you’re trying, you are changing lives because people are coming in contact with your resources, information, challenges.

Can we actually have a quick chat about the most recent one?

I just re-read it and I love that you ask people to think through what would be so good that you would think it’s almost criminal? I love that question.

And I’d love to share my vision which, like you, with Works for Women, I’d love to create change in the lives of my clients and the people that I come in contact with and I’d love to create a million dollar coaching practice where I create exponential results for my coaching clients and I’d love to work with just a handful of really powerful women. Now that feels like so good that it would be criminal.

Erin: Well, and it’s so, it goes back to this, like, we need to put ourselves out there more and we need to have these conversations and there’s so much power in thinking it for stage 1, stage 2 is saying it out loud.

So there’s power in what you just said and now you are reprogramming your own mind to say, yeah, that is, I am so good at what I do and I want to work with these really powerful women.

Jamie: Yeah. Thank you! Thank you for putting it in the present tense context. I thought that that’s really important. You’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Erin: We’re all working on it.

Jamie: So, what about you?

Erin: Yeah, that’s a really good question because I would say I continue to work on it every single day and I continue to refine it. And I think I take a little bit of, take the example of Works for Women and it took us a really long, it took us a year to really refine what we want to do and I’d say we’re like 90% there, I think we could do a little bit more tweaking and we’re bringing more people onto the team, which is gonna be super awesome to get more perspectives.

But I think for me, we kind of already talked about it, like, I’m a connector and I love to connect people and I’m a change agent and I want to create the change. I cannot wait for it to happen. I have to be part of whatever the change is and I know, too, that it’s gonna show up in different ways in my own life.

Whether or not it’s change through the job that I have and the organization I work for, change with some of the other projects that I work on and we all know one solution won’t fix what we’re trying to fix. It will be the collective effort of all the people who believe that women need to rise and we want to have women empowered to do their best work, that that collective effort will move the dial.

Jamie: Yeah and I just want to say, people who are listening to this podcast, they are getting a really powerful example of what is possible through you.

Erin: Well, thank you for that. And that makes me, I’m like smiling and blushing now because how can one person’s story empower you to do even better work, right? And that’s where it comes back to this, we’ve been talking about having the conversation throughout our talk today and it’s so important and I think sometimes as women we get really stuck in our heads sometimes and so to have a conversation, whether or not it’s about a formal negotiation for salary or it’s just negotiation of what you want to do at work.

Because I’ve worked in organizations long enough to know that yeah, there’s defined roles, but you can lead with creating whatever you want to create if you have the right advocates and allies who can help you create that. I think anything is possible and you have to be able to lead with that and to have a colleague or a network of individuals who can help you realize that is gonna be really, really powerful as well.

Jamie: Can I ask a follow-up question to that? Because you are setting a really powerful example of what is possible within a really large STEM organization. It’s a field that a lot of women are not represented in, right? So, what do you think has been really crucial to your success in getting allies and influencers to align with your vision inside the corporation?

Erin: Well, that is one thing that I have so many examples of, is through conversation and getting to know people and figuring out where their passion is and helping them succeed and then they take on that mandate of how does our organization truly believe and invest in this idea of inclusion and diversity and having them move it forward.

So we have, I’m actually, like, losing track of the numbers because it’s growing so well, is employee resource groups. So, the first employee resource group that was ever started was Women at Stantec and so within that employee resource group was an opportunity for women to come together and encourage each other, engage in conversation and empower each other. And their journey has led to having men as allies as part of that conversation and so they had to get comfortable with what they wanted to talk about and then they sort of invited everyone in.

And laying that groundwork then created the opportunity for individuals that are part of the LGBTQ community to put their hands up and say, we actually want to have an employee resource group. We want to kind of talk about what our experience is at the organization and they led and put these teams together and we call them Pride at Stantec and those are now growing and so there’s no way our small team can run all of these employee resource groups and in actual reality they’re called employee resource groups because they’re employee-led but it’s empowering the individuals who are leading those chapters, we call them chapters, to feel that they are doing impactful work and they just take it over.

And so that’s how you create allies. You have a conversation with them and you figure out where their little spark is and you just help grow it.

Jamie: I just want to draw out some distinctions in the stories that you shared. One of the things that I coach people to do, almost always in every negotiation workshop, is to think through the benefit, the potential that you’re presenting your counterpart with. What is the ultimate outcome, the end benefit?

And I think you articulated that so beautifully right now because you had the conversation, because you listened to their heart, to their passions, what they really care about, you were able to impact the change that is bigger than yourself with these employee resource groups, so I just want to acknowledge that was really beautifully articulated.

Erin: Well thank you, yeah, and it’s been working out really well and yeah, it’s a really simple thing where we say the end goal is building a culture of inclusion. We haven’t talked about culture at all. I could go on for another half an hour about culture, but this is ultimately what I believe we’re trying to do, is create this environment that people want to come to work and do their best work.

Jamie: Yeah. Would you share with us the Confidence Retreat?

Erin: Yes, absolutely. So, I’m happy to report we just released the dates for Confidence Retreat 2.0 that will be happening next January, but this again came from an idea with a friend of mine sitting down and talking about a retreat or a conference or something. We just wanted to sort of get away from our day jobs and get away for a weekend and engage with other really amazing women to talk about our careers and how can we sort of amplify what we’re doing.

And I would say most of our participants are sort of at a place in their careers where they think they’ve figured out what they want and their lives are really busy and we get kind of caught up in it all and so this idea of going away for a weekend is a retreat to say we’re putting our phones away, we’re coming to a safe space, we can have any conversations we want to have over the weekend and really sort of focusing the conversation around how can we continue to grow our careers but understanding how that fits into our life as well.

And so you know, that conversation started last, I think, January or February and we put it out to the world and said this is what we’re thinking of and a bunch of people said that sounds fantastic, and so we brought 40 amazing women to the Jasper Park Lodge in the mountains here in Alberta which is a beautiful, beautiful spot. If anyone hasn’t been there, I encourage you to go, it’s just amazing.

And we came together and we talked about each other and we talked about resiliency and how we can each show up in the work that we do and, listen, at the end of the day, it was an opportunity to get to know some really amazing people and their stories help empower our own stories and so we had amazing feedback and people want to come back,  so we’re starting to plan the next one that’s gonna happen next January, January 17th-20th, 2019 and it’s really exciting to say that out loud.

Jamie: Yeah! It sounds like a great opportunity for women who, like you said, high-performing, successful women who want to level up in this intimate, beautiful setting.

It sounds so glamorous to me! Even though I’m not a fan of cold. I imagine it’s very, very cold up there in January but if you don’t mind the cold and if you love being in this beautiful location with 40 other amazing women, it sounds like an amazing opportunity.

So, where can people learn more about Works for Women as well as the Confidence Retreat?

Erin: Absolutely. So, for Works for Women you can find us at and when you go on our website you can sign up for our monthly challenges to get more information on a regular basis.

And then, for the Confidence Retreat, it has been pretty intimate and you can actually find us on Instagram at @thecretreat and information on there with our email address, you can always email us if you are interested in finding out when we actually release the date for registration and we would love to see people come from all over the world to do experience the Confidence Retreat.

And certainly we are inside for most of it, so we actually had pretty beautiful weather and we all came in our comfortable and cozy clothes to share a weekend together, so it was really, really beautiful and you can see some of the photos from this past year’s retreat on our Instagram account.

Jamie: Alright, I’ll link it in the podcast episode notes.

Erin: Perfect, thank you!

Jamie: Yeah. So, I just have one last question for you. It’s random, what is your favorite color and why?

Erin: So, I love this question and my default answer has always been blue because I think blue is just a beautiful color but recently I can’t even remember how this sort of came up, but you know what? I love rose gold and so maybe that’s not a standard answer, but I love rose gold, it makes me happy, it makes me smile when I see anything in rose gold and that’s always my sort of default choice if it is in the color spectrum to choose from in whatever I’m buying, so yeah, rose gold!

Jamie: Excellent, it’s like a combination of two really nice, really beautiful colors, rose and gold.

Erin: Yes, yes!

Jamie: Erin, this has been such a pleasure and a privilege. I love learning and hearing from you every single time. It’s really inspiring and I feel that your work is making a big impact in the world and so thank you for that.

Erin: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jamie: Alright, well, have a [audio dropped]

Erin: Thanks, Jamie, take care.

Jamie: Bye!

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