Women Leading Tech: Why HubSpot’s Kat Warboys Prioritises Transparency

Women Leading Tech: Why HubSpot’s Kat Warboys Prioritises Transparency
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

As B&T‘s Women Leading tech awards inch closer and closer, we’re speaking to some of the women making waves in the industry. kat Warboys is ANZ Head of Marketing at Hubspot, who told b&t about her experience as a leader.

Entries for Women Leading Tech close on 1 March and late entries close at 5pm on Monday 8 March.

Last year was incredibly challenging. How did it transform your professional life?

I was reflecting on this, and it’s funny how significant events force things that were already coming – I think this was particularly true in 2020 for remote work. Working remotely was already quite popular at HubSpot and it was referred to, in fact, as our third office in terms of employee size!

We have our headquarters in Boston, which is the biggest, and then we have our offices in Dublin, and then our remote force is our third biggest office, because we had nearly four hundred people at that time working remotely. For me personally, I’d already made plans to go remote just before COVID hit – it was completely random that as I went remote, the rest of the world had to go remote as well.

That forced HubSpot to really think about its considerations in terms of what’s the future of work, and of course it’s not the future anymore – we’re in it now.

The best solution for HubSpot was to roll out three options, [and] as of January 1st 2021, every employee picked an option. There was home, which is remote most of the time, office, meaning you’re in the office most of the time, or flex, which means you’re probably going to be in the office at least two to three days a week. For my team as well and the people I work with, it gave them the ability to identify: where do I do the best work?

How do you ensure that you have screen-free time?

Screen time is something I’m very conscious of. It bleeds so much into our personal lives – [so much] of what we have to get done admin-wise requires a screen. All of my family lives in the UK, so even just a casual family or friend chat requires a screen, so it’s a real challenge.

There are two ways I’ve thought about this. One is to cultivate interests and hobbies that involve no screens, and be very intentional about that when it comes to your free time. I’m very lucky with where I’ve relocated to in the Southern Highlands. I’m a big hiker, I’m surrounded by national parks, I love to grow veggies in my garden.

I think also adapting [activities] that you recognise take up a lot of screentime. So, a good one is meetings – instead of being on a Zoom, can you dial in on the phone and be going out for a walk at the same time.

What do you think are the successful foundations for leadership?

A big one for me in terms of what I’ve seen work really well is for leaders to cultivate a culture of transparency. I think most of us would agree that it’s our people, our teams that make us look really good, and I have found that transparency is one of the biggest enablers for my team.

As an example of what that looks like, when I go to an executive meeting, I will summarise some key actions or key thoughts that came out of the meeting, and bring that back to my team, which many people don’t do for their teams.

I think this works really well at three levels. One, it helps my team understand what’s going on in the wider business, and that means they can make better decisions in their own work.

The second part to that is what I’ve found with people who are very driven in their career…they thrive off of that kind of insight. They want to have a dialogue that takes them out of their day-to-day and gets them thinking about the higher business. And thirdly, transparency, I’ve found, is contagious. It often disarms people, and it’s reciprocated very quickly.

I feel like with my teams…I’m very transparent with them, even on the tough stuff. Sharing information that might affect their job or what they’re doing in a way that could be challenging – that level of transparency is reciprocated when they give me feedback back in return.

Thinking about my previous boss, actually, we used to say that as you get higher up it feels like people are less inclined to give you honest feedback because they’re really worried about how that might come across to somebody that’s more senior.

But…feeling that transparency [builds an] environment for psychological safety, and it creates trust.

As a female leader in the industry, what skills do you think are essential for other women to know?

I think it’s got to be how women lead with influence. It’s a complicated subject for many women: this can be interpreted as being really loud or bossy. Research shows that women speak less, and for shorter intervals in business settings than their male counterparts. That’s something that we can probably attribute back to not wanting to take up too much verbal or physical space due to how we have been conditioned over time.

I’ve seen it play out time and time again. My team, we run events, we have a podcast and it has always proven hard to get women to want to come on to those events and those podcasts. They shy away from the opportunities and often decline them. You can be fantastic at your job, you can be the number one expert, but if you cannot use that to be heard to drive action, it’s not going to take you very far.

It’s not about being the loudest person in the room, it’s about influence. If you break it down to a more intellectual level, it’s about being able to tell compelling stories and really understand your audience and their interests. It’s an incredibly transferable skill.

Influence comes into play when we are trying to encourage the next generation of women: to see women having a voice, adding commentary, adding their thoughts, bringing their expertise to light, and inspiring others to consider career paths that they might not have considered otherwise.

How well do you think the tech sector is handling initiatives in favour of diversity and inclusivity?

Tech is really interesting. I do think tech has a particularly great platform to lead the way and set the vision, for visionary work standards.

I guess in addition as well, the very nature of tech means that we’re in a bit of a unique position to do this. When you’re in tech, quite often you just need a laptop and a really good Internet connection. What this means is we’re not really restricted by location in tech, especially. This is really opening up the talent pool and is increasing the ability of hiring diverse teams, including rural, remote areas in Australia, which is fantastic.

I think this is a real call for all organizations, not just tech, to be thinking about how they create equal access for people who live in these rural, remote areas. The trick with being on the leading front of these topics is that you can also come under attack quite quickly when you get it wrong. That’s bound to happen at times – that’s the trouble when you’re the first to voice something in what is still for many uncharted waters.

I’m particularly proud to be at HubSpot, a company where I think we’re taking a good lead. Five years ago now, we took a good look at ourselves in our diversity data, and we weren’t happy with what we saw, quite frankly. [This was] namely around how our company wasn’t as diverse as we were aspiring to be or what our customers told us they wanted us to be as well. Since then, diversity and inclusion has been a huge driver and priority for the business. We actually just published HubSpot’s fifth annual diversity, inclusion, and belonging report.

We publish it purposely externally, as part of our internal commitment to make sure that we’re being transparent with our customers, our employees, and holding ourselves accountable to that progress and accountability. In that fifth edition there’s a lot to celebrate. For me, I already picked out the fact that we have increased the number of women in leadership roles in that report – that was fantastic to see.

But there’s always going to be other things we need to do better. It can be quite confronting to put that out there as well, but leaning into that I believe is really important, because it’s what sparks these conversations, and these conversations really need to be had.

How does your work allow for creativity?

I think marketing in particular, especially in tech, is very exciting and highly creative.

As a marketer you are constantly finding new channels for growth and new ways to optimize your existing channels. For me personally, that’s a huge source of creativity. Especially as we’ve seen in the last year, so many businesses have moved online which just caused huge saturation in the online space, and of course, everybody’s competing and advertising is getting more expensive as a result. So, to continue to find ways to cut through that requires deep problem solving and a lot of creativity as well.

Just again reflecting on 2020, I think the biggest area that needed some disruption and creativity was events. Events was such an important place for many marketing teams and that [was] completely turned on its head.

Our global event INBOUND happens every year.  That attracts normally, in person, about 25,000 people so it’s a big event. We get lots of people from Australia and New Zealand over there, and they had to very quickly turn that into a virtual event, and I think that was really interesting to be a part of.

You know we have to understand: okay, how do you drive value in a virtual environment for attendees, but also how do you drive value for sponsors, what does a sponsorship even look like on a screen? Coming up with a platform, coming up with an agenda, coming up with ways for attendees to engage from home – that’s no easy feat, and I think almost the definition of marketing is to be creative.

Do you have a woman in tech hero?

I probably have two, and one is our own chief customer officer Yamini Rangan and the second one would be the chief customer officer at Xero, Rachael Powell.

The reason why I named them both is I think they are doing an amazing job of pioneering a role that’s still quite in its infancy, but we’re going to see very commonplace in the future. It’s such a critical role, I think there’s a lot of ambiguity around it. Together, we actually had them on a session at INBOUND.

To have that dialogue from such passionate women that are really carving the way with that role was super inspiring. I didn’t realize until afterward how inspired I was by that, and I think we need to see more of that, 100%.

It’s a C suite level role, and to see two women really leading the way there is rare and very inspiring.

What do you think will be the biggest innovation of 2021?

With tech there’s always innovations, and we could probably talk about advancements in AI and machine learning or new channels that are going to come out for marketers to be able to use. But, I think what would potentially be more interesting to talk about is actually innovation coming from inside organizations.

There’s definitely a need in the industry for us to make sure that we’re keeping up internally from a people perspective with the tech that we’ve implemented. We’re going to have to get on top of this. CRM adoption is exploding in Australia. It’s estimated that we’re going to spend 1.6 billion, I think, in the next three years.

We really need to be set up to make sure that we implement these systems in a way that does what it was actually intended to do, which is to easily provide our teams with insights, scalability, and platforms to execute and do their job, but not in the silos that we’re currently seeing.

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