Katya LinossiKatya Linossi is the co-founder and CEO of ClearPeople. She has over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry, most recently scaling and leading the technology business that provides digital workplace solutions for large enterprises.

Last year, Katya was shortlisted as Innovator of the Year at the Women in IT Awards 2019, as well as named Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Europe, the Middle East & Africa at the Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

Katya supports various groups championing women in technology and diversity in the workforce.

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

I’m Katya, the CEO and co-founder of ClearPeople, an award-winning technology company that builds and delivers Atlas – the people-first digital workspace.

I have worked in technology for over 20 years and been fortunate to work in a number of roles from testing software to pre-sales technical consulting to running an e-commerce site with colleagues spread across several countries and finally I worked as a web project manager before launching ClearPeople.

Even though I have worked in a variety of roles in tech, I had no formal background but always held an interest in the subject.

I believe that my experience within the digital and software sector has provided me with a wide set of technical skills, and an understanding about how technology can be used as productively as possible to make businesses more effective, efficient and ultimately more profitable.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Unlike most other teenagers I thought I had my career all figured out. When I was 17, I was convinced I was going to be an accountant. But that quickly fell to the wayside in my first year of University when I lost all interest in the course! I spent most of my time in the second year of university trying to figure out what it was I was going to do with my career, but decided in the end that a broad business degree with three majors – including economics and psychology – would open up more opportunities for me and it certainly did. Moving into tech was one of the best decisions I ever made and underlines that if what you’re doing doesn’t feel right, then reassess your priorities and make positive changes.

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

Like anyone else, I have faced career challenges but the best way to overcome any challenge is to look beyond the challenge itself.  It requires determination and being able to pick yourself up and keep going even when things go wrong.

I have also been fortunate through my career that I have worked with bosses who believed in me more than I did in myself. I have always had a “can do” attitude and this definitely helped with my career progression.

In the early days of ClearPeople I was regularly mistaken as the assistant or, occasionally, been completely ignored if accompanied by a male colleague in a meeting. I would sometimes laugh it off but made a definite point to never do business with that person.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am torn between two achievements: The first is juggling a Master’s in Business Administration with motherhood and launching what is now a successful business.

The second is more recent and that has been the transformation of ClearPeople from a professional services company to being fully product-led. Completely changing your business model is no easy feat and during that time, I was shortlisted as Innovator of the Year at the Women in IT Awards and earlier this year our client won the prestigious Nielsen Norman Group award which is given to only 10 outstanding intranets globally

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

In the early parts of my career, courage certainly helped. My Dad gave me the confidence to be brave and try new things from shooting to diving – my most memorable experience is diving with Ragged Tooth sharks without a cage in South Africa. Moving from being an employee into starting your own business can be daunting and simply having skills and experience isn’t enough, you also need courage and self-belief.

Once I started a business and a family, this would not have succeeded without the amazing support I have both at home and professionally.

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

Be open to new opportunities wherever they come from. I would not be doing what I am doing today without that little voice in my head telling me “why not give it a try?”.

Be more confident in your abilities. This is something that I still struggle with at times and I see it so often when we interview women compared to men. Women will not even apply for a position unless they feel that they fit at least 80% of the criteria.

Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and in your own authentic way.

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

Things are certainly getting better but, unfortunately, the barriers do start early on. On several occasions I have provided career advice or talks to schools. From speaking to the students and teachers, girls have predetermined ideas of technology as a career path. Often it is their own parents and peers who discourage girls from pursuing a career in technology. We therefore need to educate girls from a young age about the wide variety of roles available in this sector and that being excellent at maths or science is not essential.

I believe it is also important for women in tech to help other women, whether through mentoring, supporting their career progression or educating those around us by sharing our experience and opinions.

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

First instil a culture of support through mentoring schemes. Review your recruitment process for unconscious bias. Focus less on the person’s background and instead on what you think that person can bring to that role.

At ClearPeople we have hired several women who had no background in technology but possess other fantastic qualities. If the person is a quick learner, you can easily teach them a new skill.

Provide more return to work opportunities. Prior to the lockdown, our HR manager (a returner herself) hosted a “Returners’ breakfast” that was over-subscribed. We heard some fascinating stories from women who stepped back from their careers after their first, second, or frequently third child and their personal stories of climbing on and off the career ladder. This is certainly an untapped market for talented women.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Change the old, outdated perception that technology is a more suitable career path for men than women. Teach schoolgirls that there are amazing, rewarding careers in tech and encourage them to build a fascination in how tech can change the world positively.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are so many places to go for information but I still regularly start with business books. I find  browsing through various titles until I find the parts that resonate the most beneficial personally, opposed to reading cover-to-cover. I then try to apply one or two of the things I have learnt. My go-to-books currently are: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur andRadical Focus by Christina Wodtke.

In recent years, I have joined and highly recommend a couple of membership organisations that not only provide helpful advice, but offer fantastic women in tech networking opportunities. One of these is WIT Network UK; a welcoming environment that encourages women to help other women.

I enjoy attending conferences but, due to time constraints, I try to pick carefully. The pandemic has opened up so many new worlds for me as more companies are using free webinars to promote themselves. Most of these come through scouting LinkedIn, finding pertinent groups and engaging with its members.

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