Meet Eleanor Lightbody, CEO at Luminance

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Eleanor Lightbody is CEO of Luminance. She is a former Director at world-leading cyber AI company, Darktrace, where she spent six years as Global Head of the organisation’s Industrial Division. With a wealth of experience in scaling fast-growing technology businesses, Eleanor oversees Luminance’s product development and leads the company’s continued global expansion.

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

After graduating from the University of Exeter and completing my Postgraduate Diploma at the University of Cape Town, I started my career as one of the first 30 employees at Darktrace, the world-leading cyber AI company. At the time it was a young, ambitious start-up spun out from academic research at the University of Cambridge, and it was exciting to be part of the team that helped to grow it into one of the UK’s most successful technology companies today. I saw first-hand the ability of AI to transform an entire industry, so when I saw the opportunity that Luminance presented in using AI to revolutionise the legal sector, I jumped at the chance to be part of it.

Now, in my role as CEO of Luminance, I’m incredibly proud to be leading a team of 150+ across four global offices in London, Cambridge, New York and Singapore, working with clients in more than 60 countries worldwide. Our AI is used by over 500 organisations of all shapes and sizes to automate and augment their legal processes, from some of the world’s largest law firms, to all of the ‘Big Four’ consultancies, as well as multinational organisations including Tesco and Ferrero. I’ve watched our product offering, our headcount and our customer base grow significantly since I joined the business 18 months ago, and I truly think the sky is the limit for a world-beating tech company like Luminance.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. I have always been an ambitious person, and I definitely saw myself moving into the business world, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted the route my career would have taken nor that I’d have the opportunity to run such a promising young tech company at this stage in my career. That said, I think there have been key decisions that have shaped by journey. For instance, after completing my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to become more business-savvy but I also wanted to see a bit more of the world and put myself out of my comfort zone. My postgraduate diploma in Business Management from the University of Cape Town helped me to achieve both of these things. It’s also where I met my husband, which was an added bonus!

Joining Darktrace was another pivotal moment in my career. Whilst a lot of my friends pursued more ‘traditional’ career routes in law or accounting, I took a risk on a young company with a promising technology at its core. I think you have to be bold and brave in your decisions, particularly when you’re young and can afford to do so.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

The proudest achievement in my career so far came last year with the launch of our latest product, which is the first AI in the world capable of taking a first pass review of any incoming contract straight out-of-the-box. It reads each component within a contract, colour-coding whether each section is compliant or non-compliant compared to what an organisation has negotiated and agreed to in the past, meaning lawyers can instantly understand where risk lies and where to focus their time and attention. We’ve already seen significant uptake of the technology and I’m incredibly proud to have overseen the launch of such a pioneering innovation in the industry, working closely with our R&D team in Cambridge and creating a consistent feedback loop from our stakeholders and customer-facing teams. The release of this product represents a significant milestone in the company’s growth journey and it’s been hugely rewarding to be at the forefront of it.

On a personal level, I’m also proud to act as a spokesperson for the potential for AI all around the world. I’m lucky to have been invited to speak to world-leading publications including The Financial Times, the BBC and The Times, as well as attending global trade missions and industry events. I hope that I inspire other women to pursue a career in tech by doing so.

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

Grit. There are always going to be challenegs and setbacks in your career, but I think it’s about how you handle them and who you surround yourself with that makes all the difference. Particularly in a young company like Luminance, creating an environment where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes, voice their opinions or challenge others has been crucial.

Level Up Summit 2022

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 

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

My top tip for women looking to start or excel a career in tech is to always put yourself forward for job opportunities in the sector when they present themself – even if you feel you lack the experience. This might seem like a daunting prospect in an industry traditionally seen as being very male dominated, but I truly believe that many female students and graduates are unaware that the skills they have developed throughout their studies or early in their careers could mean they thrive in this industry.

I often find that female graduates join Luminance with a variety of different backgrounds and degrees that don’t necessarily relate directly to technology, but they excel in a range of roles. For instance, a lot of our Product Specialists and back-end Support Team studied Humanities subjects, but their problem-solving skills and ability to clearly convey information has made them perfectly suited to product-related roles. Many have even started to learn coding in the context of their role, despite having no previous experience! One of our female software developers actually studied Arabic at university but developed an interest in coding and now works in our R&D hub.

There is evidence to suggest that women are less likely to apply for roles if they don’t meet every single one of the requirements listed in a job specification. I would truly encourage women to reflect on what they have learned throughout their university studies or career so far and use this to feel more confident about their suitability when applying for roles.

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

I’ve had plenty of challenges in my career, but I am fortunate never to have experienced the glass ceiling. That’s certainly not to say it doesn’t exist, but I’m lucky to have worked for organisations with flat, meritocratic structures. I’m determined to create a culture at Luminance where everyone feels that they can succeed, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age, or level of experience.

Also, I’m a firm believer that age does not necessarily equal experience. In fact, in many cases, age doesn’t matter at all. I find that you can tell who has the potential to excel early on in their career, and it is a case of exposing those individuals to a wide variety of tasks, challenges and people that will help them develop into leaders. For this reason, I am a strong advocate of hiring young, bright, and ambitious people – often graduates – and giving them the chance to shine.  Many of the people in my senior management team are under 30 but have that ‘can-do’ attitude which is vital at a fast-growing technology company.

There are currently only 21 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?

I would advocate the real range of opportunities within the tech sector. There is a wealth of opportunity out there for women beyond coding – for example, all of my sales leadership team and 50% of the senior management team are female! The tech industry is highly interdisciplinary and we need to start portraying it as such. This will ultimately make the sector far more accessible to women.

This starts with tech companies doing more to encourage career flexibility and supporting lateral movement. For instance, I started my career in marketing but realised that I was far more interested and suited to sales. This decision and ability to easily pivot ultimately put me on the path towards becoming a sales director and then CEO. If organisations allow and support lateral moves, recognising the strengths and interests of each individual, then I believe that they will be more likely to attract and retain talented female employees.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’m a big believer that women should actively seek out opportunities within the tech sector via networking. This may seem intimidating, especially as a woman trying to enter a traditionally male-dominated field, but I believe that many female graduates could start a highly successful career in tech by leveraging connections. The tech industry is competitive, so I think women should seize any opportunity to showcase their skills and ambition in ways that simply aren’t possible in an online application.

Opportunities can come about by connecting with people in the industry, either through LinkedIn, alumni groups, or careers fairs, asking relevant questions about their work and demonstrating real industry knowledge. If you can convey your passion for the tech industry and the people in it, then I think that you have a real chance of being presented with valuable opportunities – at the very least, you will have connected with new people and experienced a great lesson in networking. It’s also important to remember that networking isn’t one-sided. Once you have entered the tech sector, you can act as guide or mentor for women looking to educate themselves about the industry and find opportunities.