Dr Femi Olu-LafeAs the Culture and Inclusion leader at Kinesso, Femi leads the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for Kinesso and its sister IPG agencies, Matterkind and Acxiom.

Her responsibilities include extending the impact of existing DEI efforts, identifying opportunities for new programs, and championing the companies’ focus on ensuring their data and technology products serve all people in a respectful and inclusive manner. Femi’s passion lies in ensuring employees have meaningful ways to engage so they can continue co-creating the diverse and inclusive culture that is core to each company’s values and culture.

Prior to joining Kinesso, Femi was a Senior Consultant at YSC Consulting, where she used her expertise in cognitive psychology and applied data analysis to provide leadership insights, executive coaching, and partnership to organizations wishing to develop and execute bespoke DEI initiatives. Before that, she was part of Catalyst’s Diversity and Inclusion practice. Femi earned her PhD in Psychology at Boston University, her MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at University College London, and a BA in Psychology at Cornell University.

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

As the Senior Vice President of Culture and Inclusion, I lead the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies for Kinesso and its sister IPG agencies, Acxiom and Matterkind. My responsibilities include extending the impact of existing DEI efforts, identifying opportunities for new programs, and championing the companies’ focus on ensuring their data and technology products serve all people in a respectful and inclusive manner. My passion lies in ensuring employees have meaningful ways to engage so they can continue co-creating the diverse and inclusive culture that is core to each company’s values and culture.

Prior to joining Kinesso, I was a Senior Consultant at YSC Consulting, where I used my expertise in cognitive psychology and applied data analysis to provide leadership insights, executive coaching, and partnership to organizations wishing to develop and execute bespoke DEI initiatives. Before that, I was part of Catalyst’s Diversity and Inclusion practice. I earned my PhD in Psychology at Boston University, my MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology at University College London, and my BA in Psychology at Cornell University.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I have never planned anything out in a lot of detail, but I knew early on that I was very curious about others and wanted to help others grow, but what that looked like has evolved with time. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Like most people, I have faced various challenges along the way, but I have been fortunate to have allies along to way to support. At moments when things felt particularly challenging and there was a lot of things piling up, taking time out to reassess, breathe and prioritise what’s most important has been helpful for long term resilience, and being able to overcome challenges.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For me it was my PhD, which I’m incredibly proud of having seen through to the end, but it was a difficult journey. It’s still hard to believe I finished!

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

For me it has been predominately three things. The first one has been learning and staying aware of myself and how I operate, as well as being mindful of what I need to feel rejuvenated and stay as able to do the best work I can, as much as possible.

The second has been not being too rigid in thinking about my career journey and where I might end up. I think it’s important to be flexible when interesting opportunities arise, but there’s also something be said for ensuring there is some broader goal or purpose that you are actively working towards at the same time.

Finally, it’s been wise counsellors and the guidance that I have picked up from them along the way that has really helped me. Sometimes you need other perspectives and points of view to help you make decisions and having some trusted people you can count on as mentors or even just a quick sounding board can be invaluable.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

The first would be to not give up at the first hurdle. This kind of thing can be a long, gradual journey, but one that rewards persistence and patience. It can be tough to stay on course and maintain morale. It’s difficult, but use the resources that you might around you in terms of support and resilience. You might have colleagues for example that are particularly inspiring or helpful, or get involved with external mentoring programmes.

You also need to celebrate your own accomplishments and take the time to appreciate the progress you’ve already made. I’ve observed that it can sometimes be quite common to downplay strengths or successes, and focus instead on areas of development.

There’s also something to be said for the way you approach and think about future career moves. It pays to not be too rigid in where you see yourself, and while others can serve as inspiration, it can be limiting to only follow the paths of others. Finally, carve out time regularly to reflect on what’s working, examine potential alternate approaches to do things, and to leverage resources around you such as team colleagues, sponsors and mentors.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I believe so, and I think a big part of resolving that would come from companies actively listening to the women in their workforce, and taking action in response. Many companies recognise there is work to be done in this area, but it’s really in the doing – the policies and programs – where they will be able to make a difference, instead of just talking.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

One part of this is in being flexible with how work happens, and where it might take place. There has been a lot of progress in this area over the past year, and I think if companies are smart in how they retain the elements of remote working that are beneficial, they’ll be able to support a more diverse array of candidates and bring them on board. But it’s also about retention, and recruitment and review processes alike needing to have clarity, transparency and equity as foundational principles if they’re going to be successful in any way.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

We need a lot more empathy within the typical workplace. Again, I think the pandemic’s effects have humanised us a lot more, and made us aware of individual’s own situations and the challenges they’re facing alongside work, but efforts to respond to that need to continue.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a big fan of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead Podcasts.