WiT: Amanda Cardinale on Digital, Design and Customer Experience

For Salt’s latest Women in Tech interview, we caught up with Amanda Cardinale, Founder of Workwhile and Gallery Elkaar, to talk diversity and advice on creating an inclusive workplace.

The #SaltSessions Women in Tech #WiT interview series speaks with thought leaders from around the world to get their opinion and advice on how they have grown their career in tech, and overcome challenges and adversity during their career.

What is your current role and the most exciting part of your work?

I’ve spent my career at the intersection of digital and creative, riding the wave of digital disruption through media. In my current role as an entrepreneur, I’m most excited by tackling the challenge of transforming traditional experiences into digital experiences. With Workwhile, I built a company that successfully challenges the traditional creative agency model with a virtual model, which has increased creative output and reduced costs for the likes of The Athlete’s Foot and Booking.com. Back in my corporate career at Discovery Communications, I was responsible for an international team who developed and launched the company’s first digital streaming service. Looking ahead to my next entrepreneurial venture, Gallery Elkaar, I’m excited to offer collectors a digital experience to interact with artists and buy international art.

What has been your most career defining moment that you are proud of?

Someone recently said to me, “You love being uncomfortable.” The reality is, it’s the feeling of being comfortable that I don’t like. This proactive mindset led me through my successful corporate career to my career-defining moment — the opportunity to start my own business.

Looking back, it was an insane idea to start a relationship-based business in a country where I knew no one, had no industry track record and didn’t speak the language! But in three years, I built Workwhile into a steady, profitable business, and worked alongside talented creatives to transform identities and experiences for major brands. I became a leader in the Amsterdam creative community through the Workwhile Design Talks with a loyal following of over 500 people. I built a meaningful and fruitful customer experience on both the supply and demand side, bringing client and creative closer together. And I learned Dutch. It’s been an incredible ride.

What do you think we should be doing more of to encourage more girls to consider a career in tech?

For me, technology and design share something fundamental: both are practices in creating solutions. In my work, I sit between a technical world where digital is used as an enabler, and a manual world where craftsmanship is fundamental to design. I think it’s important for girls to see this intersection of technology and design as they explore interests and careers. For example, learning to code can help creatives become better designers and think in a solution-oriented way. Art and design can be quite technical, too!

What challenges have you faced in the workplace, especially your experience in male-dominated environments?

I’ve worked in traditional and non-traditional companies, dying industries and thriving industries, in countries and cultures all around the world; but nothing prepared me for the challenge of working in a truly male-dominated start-up. I refused to participate in (or find amusing) the toxic “bro” culture. In the end, it was impossible to make my voice heard or to be effective in my work. It was a really low moment when I had to accept that defeat and start over. However, it was an experience I’m glad I had, because when I encountered that kind of culture again, I had the confidence to expose it and stamp it out.

What is the biggest deterrent in your opinion to women succeeding in the workplace?

The fundamental burden of family responsibilities leads to a struggle for equal success, but it’s the way organisations measure employee performance that put women at a disadvantage. Research published by Harvard Business Review shows that more women than men take accommodations offered by employers, such as flexible hours, going part-time or maternity leave. Men, by contrast, do so at a much lower rate. But the metrics in which people’s performances are judged remains the same. Thus, those who work long and traditional hours, remain in the workplace full-time and don’t take family leave have more data points for companies to measure their performances. So, what’s the solution? Organisations can do two things to support women succeeding in the workplace:
1) Encourage all people to take employment accommodations, and
2) Measure performance in a more holistic and balanced way.

Who has been your biggest advocate/mentor in your career and why?

Having moved around the world for all of my professional life, I’ve not held a steady mentor or advocate, but have been lucky to have a few. That said, the biggest influence of a mentor is undoubtedly my first real boss, Theresa Park. Among the many things I learned from her; she taught me to take risks outside my wheelhouse, to embrace speaking with authority and directness especially when you’re the only woman in the room, and to be loyal and generous to the people with whom you work.

In a management position, how have you found it best to promote and nurture women’s careers?

Women are just one part of an all too large population who are undersupported in the workplace. Whether it’s promoting the careers of women, people of colour or people from different backgrounds, I’ve found it most effective to nurture their voice. I’ve had the privilege to support women through my daily work and through activities such as founding the Discovery Women’s Network in the UK and the Workwhile Design Talks in Amsterdam. Through these experiences, I’ve found that the most effective way of promoting and nurturing women, or any under-represented group — is by ensuring they are given a chance to be heard and a seat at the table to contribute to change.

How has COVID-19 affected the way you work?

I moved to Aotearoa just before COVID-19, so to be fair, I think the move changed the way I work more than COVID-19 did! COVID-19 has made me more keenly aware of the vital role of delivering strong, efficient digital customer experiences, underpinned by something that doesn’t come naturally in the digital world: humanity and empathy. I’m really keen to apply my digital background and love for creating experiences here in New Zealand to transform traditional companies into digital ones, with consistent, meaningful and beautiful customer experiences.

What changes do you foresee in the workplace in the next 12 months?

I see an enormous opportunity for the workplace in New Zealand over the next year (and beyond): to open our digital borders while our physical borders remain closed. I believe we must embrace this moment to expand the digital border of the workplace to engage with talent and experience from outside our geographical borders. There’s so much to learn from and be inspired by out there, and I think we all feel now that the world needs more — not less — global cooperation.

Who is your modern-day hero?

I personally think we in New Zealand have a pretty kick-ass woman at the helm, but Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is a constant reminder to me of how to be completely badass in the most understated and qualified way possible.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

I create experiences for a living, so my stress relief comes in creating the perfect experience for myself: a solitary early morning run before the world wakes up. I have my ritual: sneak out of the house in the dark, lace up and look at the stars, then head for the streets where it’s quiet, full of possibilities. The experience of getting outside in the predawn morning sets the tone for my day, and it’s also the time I find clarity and inspiration.

Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?

Don’t leave your fate in the hands of others. It’s your career and your life: make your own opportunities and make them happen for yourself.

What job did you dream of when you were a kid — your Plan A career path?

I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I dreamt of being the youngest published novelist (didn’t happen), wrote constantly (anyone else out there remembers WordPerfect?), posed for my author portrait (taken by my dad), and bound my books by hand (which my mum still has).

Fun fact about you?

I had a very brief stint on a reality TV show on MTV in the early 2000s. My college roommate was filming a series that finished with her first week at college and I got reluctantly dragged into the final episode. My appearance was edited to cast me as the snarky, smart-ass roommate. There may have been some truth in that depiction…

 
About Amanda

Amanda creates experiences. Her career spans several industries and 13 countries with a common thread: using digital as an enabler to start new lines of business and transform customer experience. After a successful corporate career across book publishing, media and digital product development, Amanda found the opportunity to start her own business. Over the last three years she founded and scaled Workwhile, a virtual design agency, into an international brand, challenging and winning against traditional agencies to deliver inspired and meaningful experiences for innovative brands.

American-born, Amanda’s career has been mostly abroad, with Amsterdam the place she feels most at home. She now lives in Auckland, where she is launching her next entrepreneurial venture: Gallery Elkaar, a virtual art gallery bringing art from around the world to Aotearoa.
 


Looking for some more inspirational reads?

Check out more from our Women in Tech interview series and Females in FinTech interviews .

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