Inspirational Woman: Dr Femi Olu-Lafe | Senior Vice President, Culture & Inclusion, Kinesso

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.

office, workplace culture

Better for everyone: how data analytics can transform workplace culture

office, workplace culture

By Elen Davies, Director of Expert Services, Temporall

Phrases like ‘workplace culture’, ‘organisational health’ and ‘high-performance culture’ have recently become common in boardrooms as companies look to mimic the success of companies with high-profile cultures like Google and Asana.

These organisations share one crucial trait: they know that in a highly competitive marketplace, culture can provide an advantage. It helps attract and retain high-calibre employees, impacts organisational performance and boosts the bottom line.

But if high-performance culture is so important, exactly what is it, and how can companies make sure they have one?

What is a high-performance culture?

Workplace culture is not just about making sure staff are motivated and treated fairly - it goes deeper, explaining how employees behave and make decisions on a daily basis.

Culture is best defined as the values, behaviours, processes and systems in an organisation that decide how work really happens. A company’s values and ideal culture might be defined by the leadership team, but it is how these play out in the day-to-day behaviours of all employees that really shapes the workplace culture.

There are a few obvious things people look for in a company culture. We all want to work in a place where people are treated well, where leadership cares, and where there are great benefits. But having a good culture isn’t about gimmicks or short-term motivation boosters like beanbags and free sushi. It’s about how the organisation actually works day-to-day, and how well people’s actions are aligned with the business’ overall strategy and identity. It has a significant impact not just on how happy and efficient people are at work, but also on the company’s overall performance and success.

The future of culture: analytics

So, how do you know if you have a high performance culture or not? Culture analytics is technology which makes it possible not just to measure and understand your company culture, but to make changes and track the effect they have.These cutting-edge tools can measure the previously unmeasurable, turning data into insight that helps leaders take informed action.

Data analytics is already a growing practice in HR. By collecting data about payroll, absences and operations performance, it gives insight into an organisation’s workforce and HR practices. So imagine the questions that could be answered by technology gathering more complex data about every element of company culture.

  • Is our culture evolving to support our strategic goals?
  • Which members of staff have the most social capital, and why?
  • Do our staff understand what our values are and are their behaviours and actions in line with them?

These are the kinds of questions culture analytics can answer. Not only does it mean that culture can be measured so accurately that it could become the latest KPI, it can even use artificial intelligence to predict future trends in the business.

Early analytics adopters

Sophie Berryman, VP Talent and Organisation Development of Rakuten Marketing, is an early adopter of culture analytics. She says ‘We have moved away from a narrower focus on engagement towards a more dynamic and strategic focus on culture analytics. We are asking the right questions, which are backed up by behavioural analysis and psychometrics, and we have the right tools to analyse and truly understand that data.’

The ultimate goal for any businesses should be to align culture to strategic objectives. a  And the way to measure and track this accurately and continuously is through Culture Analytics

But it’s not just businesses that benefit. Measuring and improving a culture is best for staff too. With the kind of high-performance environment that culture analytics can provide, employees will know what they’re aiming towards and why, feel trusted to go and make it happen, and be highly motivated to go and achieve it.

Elen DaviesAbout the author

Elen Davies specialises in helping individuals and groups shift how they think and behave. She brings more than 15 years senior level consulting and Board level experience to Temporall along with her passion and depth of experience in coaching, psychology and behavioural change.

A seasoned executive coach, communications and employee engagement consultant, she is dedicated to supporting individuals and organisations access their full potential. Elen integrates psychodynamic and humanistic approaches and she has also studied with the leading thinkers in the field of developmental psychology.

Rebecca Ellul

Rebecca Ellul | Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

I am passionate about technology and innovation, and the ability to disrupt traditional markets and improve lives across all areas. After a year understanding the innovation process and learning the lessons of pioneers such as Eric Schmidt's Lean Start Up with the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF), I embarked on a career in the media industry focusing on digital media in particular, at the Guardian, Disney and Conde Nast International. My passion for technology truly began to manifest at Disney where I worked on the launch team for two years on Disney's pilot streaming service, the success of which meant the service rolling out globally in 2019 and will drastically change how consumers will experience, access and interface with Disney, Star Wars and Marvel content. It was at Disney I worked on the product roadmap as a lynchpin between developers and executives, and trained in Agile management, and with market intelligence under my remit studied carefully the developments at the forefront of emerging technology such as immersives and IoT. I recently joined the civil service to lead the government's Digital & Technology Policy business strategy; managing a team of five and overseeing the directorate's priorities, funding, and lead on the strategic narrative and stakeholder engagement in the tech sector. I also oversee the Tech policy Honours awards - recognising the best of the tech sector with the likes of CBEs, OBEs and Damehoods - and am keen to support the diversity and inclusivity of underrepresented groups.


The relationship between technology and culture


 transgender woman holding mobile phone

The well-known and overused phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” should probably be updated to read “Technology eats culture for breakfast”.

Having said that, it’s fair to say that technology and culture are two equal forces that greatly influence one another. As new technology is introduced into a society, the culture reacts in a positive and negative way.

And, as cultures change so does the technology they develop. In the past decade we’ve experienced an unprecedented amount of technological development and adoption that has changed the way we live forever.

Consequently, this has created a number of societal tensions:

  • Liberated voices or uncensored noise?
  • Connected or lonely?
  • Resourcefulness or inherent laziness?
  • Anytime, anywhere or no off-switch?

Liberated voices or uncensored noise?

The birth of social media combined with the explosive and rapid adoption of affordable smartphones has given everyone a voice. In a world where they know no different, this has given millennials the ability to quickly share their point of view with a huge audience, challenge authority and hierarchy, and if listened to, create better outcomes as a result. This, sometimes uncensored and spur-of-the-moment content, can be construed as noise. However, the other skills adopted by millennials is their ability to absorb great volumes of information and filter it to their needs. These relatively untaught and seemingly inane skills have given a less well educated subset of this age group a way to make money; blogging, vlogging etc. Older generations looked on with interest for some time, but slowly began to adopt social media as they learn about the benefits for themselves; mainly keeping connected with friends and family and as an outlet to complain! The downside of all this noise stems from a generational divide - Millennials are resilient to unresponsiveness, so much so, that things like Snapchat and Instagram stories, which have a temporary existence, have been invented. However, gen-Xer’s and baby boomers expect responses. In some instances, this has left brands exposed from a customer service perspective, rapidly trying to keep up with a stream of unsolicited feedback.

Connected or lonely?

Many claim that due to technology, the world is shrinking with more of us “connected” than ever before, which is true. And for the many of us that have moved away from their native home, Facebook can be a great way to keep abreast of what’s going on in your circle of friends and family. However, I’d argue that volume doesn’t mean quality - Millennials often don’t actually speak at all. Whilst we can do business quicker and claim that we are “popular”, as indicated by the number of virtual connections we have, it doesn’t mean that we have deep and meaningful relationships. In fact, loneliness is at an all time high in the UK with over 10 million people impacted. This has become such a big problem that Theresa May has appointed a minister for loneliness to deal with what she called “the sad reality of modern life”. This is a sad fact given we’re supposedly living in an increasingly connected world.

Resourcefulness or inherent laziness?

Since the birth of the internet and then subsequently, search engines like Google, we have the answer to everything at our fingertips - literally. It makes research projects, assignments and dissertations so much easier. But has the ability to Google everything made us more efficient or just down right lazy? Now, I’ve never been a great map reader, so having Google maps has revolutionised my life. However, I have noticed I’m much less planful as a result. No longer do I print off the directions from the AA website for a long trip or investigate what a city has to offer by purchasing the “pop up” map six weeks before. I wing it. And, pray to God that there’ll be an internet connection. If not, I’m stuffed and realise that the map reading lesson I skived at school could have been helpful after all.

Anytime, anywhere or no off-switch?

The fact we now have a mini computer in the palm of our hands, which would have been the size of a small house less than 45 years ago, means we can do anything (practically) anytime and anywhere. We’re more efficient, quicker to get things done, speedier at decision making and can squeeze mundane tasks into the odd spare few minutes. But this always on culture means we rarely switch off. Constantly emailing, posting, sharing, gaming, shopping… whatever your online fancy, I guarantee you’re addicted to at least one. Even on the increasingly rare occasions that people are together, most are watching through a lens to post on social media. What happened to being present and simply enjoying the moment? Millennials are now recognising that life experiences are vitally important. Combine this with data leaks and the fact that social is being blamed for supporting terrorism and sexual abuse, could this bring the need for regulation and the entire thing will go full circle?

So in summary. Technology can catalyse a cultural change, but equally culture determines how technology is adopted and developed. Both powerful forces, so maybe the quote should read “Culture and technology eats strategy for breakfast”.

About the author

Jenny Burns is CEO at KBS Albion, a business transformation partner specialising in product and service innovation.

She previously held a senior role at Just where she worked alongside Albion to transform the business from a successful product provider to a service brand with a strong social purpose at its core.

Prior to Just, Jenny worked at RSA for almost five years. During her time there, she transformed how people worked by leading the move from an old-fashioned office space to the Walkie Talkie building and spearheaded the cultural change required to maximise a £40m investment in new technology, which improved the productivity of almost 25,000 employees by bringing them together under one virtual roof.