Hayley Sudbury is founder and CEO of WERKIN, a company which helps to create, track and activate mentoring and career development programmes, supporting workplace inclusion like professional LGBT+ communities, and BAME talents. She is an active mentor of Stemettes speaker for Founders for Schools. She is an ambassador of LB Women, a network created to inspire, inform and celebrate success of professional lesbian and bisexual women. She is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and in 2017 and ’18 Hayley was on the OUTstanding Financial Times Leading 100 LGBT+ Executives list.
Hayley Sudbury was born in Ayr, in North Queensland, Australia. Her parents worked in their family music business which sold recorded music and musical instruments. Her grandfather started the business and Hayley worked there on Saturdays. As well as starting and running the music business, her grandfather also raised early stage venture funding for an American silicon chip producer with individuals based in the local region. This gave Hayley an insight into the entrepreneurial world.
Hayley enjoyed “the creativity of school” with drama, music and economics being among her favourite subjects. She played both saxophone and trumpet in the school bands.
Following school, Hayley was awarded a scholarship to Bond University, one of Australia’s first private universities, to study for an accelerated business degree. She explains: “It worked really well for me, someone who wanted to get out into the world quickly. It was focused on business, something that I loved, valued, and understood, and I was keen to put some shape around that essentially.”
After university, Hayley started a very small business with a friend, building marketing plans for other small businesses. They set up the business as a way to remain on the Gold Coast while saving up to go travelling. She explains: “It felt like a nice little natural next step to apply my business learning to other businesses that were in the region, make some money from it, live a nice life, and then get some money to actually head over to Europe and explore.” In 1999 Hayley moved to London where she took on different short-term temporary jobs including project work, reception work, and so on.
In 2000 Hayley returned to Australia to focus on her career and work with larger companies to gain the experience she desired. She spent four years working in the energy sector for a major company in Queensland where she focused on product development. In 2004, took up a role for Esanda, the asset finance arm of ANZ Bank which was headed up by Elizabeth Proust. Hayley says: “It was a really exciting time. It was great to have that role model in Elizabeth; a senior woman leading this business.” Hayley describes the period as a turning point in her career giving her exposure to experienced people and great leadership through both Elizabeth Proust and John McFarlane, who was the CEO of ANZ at the time. She adds: “He (John) was doing things like demanding his leaders had quotas for women for recruitment, it was early days and he was spearheading a lot of that, which I think created a really amazing energy in the organisation of ‘this is a great place for women to work’. Women excel, and the organisation is delivering great results.”
In 2007 Hayley returned to the UK to take up a role as Head of Service and Supplier Management at Barclays. She quickly progressed to become Head of Initiatives, Global Commercial Product and then Head of Pricing, Cash Management, Global Commercial Product. She explains: “That was exciting, and it was great to be in a global bank. Barclays was a good solid place to start. It also led to a number of other opportunities while I was there. Really being able to move through into a position that was focused on the balance sheet. So, for me, it was great to have not just operations as a financial services professional, but actually be working on the money side as well, and be thinking about, how do we make money not just lend money, and how do we attract the right clients.”
After ANZ, which was a very progressive, female-led environment, Hayley found the Barclays of ten years ago more conservative especially around gender balance. She adds: “I’m really pleased to say that, actually, that organisation has changed significantly when it comes to that; it’s evolved and moving at pace. There’s a real commitment to LGBT there as well.” John McFarlane, who was the CEO of ANZ, is now Chairman of Barclays.
Hayley describes how at the time she worked there, while she really enjoyed her role and made great progress, she struggled to find role models for herself, saying: “I enjoyed the work, and achieved some things, but as I was actually on a personal journey, not just about, seeing senior women, I was also asking where are the role models of gay women? I was struggling with that personally. I was trying to reconcile what it meant to be a successful gay woman, and for me, I just didn’t have those images. I considered myself fairly focused on achieving in most areas of my life, apart from when it came to my sexuality, and I think probably largely, I also was in an environment that was kind of not celebrating that at the time. In today’s organisation, it is radically different and continuing to change, but at that point, I just couldn’t point to it. One of the most powerful quotes is ‘you can’t, you can’t be what you can’t see’. Even for the most confident, extroverted individuals, that idea of being able to see yourself is hugely powerful.”
In 2010 Hayley decided to leave financial services to explore her options. She explains: “That was a completely personal decision, and was based on wanting to go on a journey to be really clear around, was that the path I want to go down and if it was, what would it look like for me at the end of that? ” She had already established Tasting Sessions, which she describes as a “passion project” with Angela Newell, who was also from Australia.
Angela Newell and Hayley started a small business called Tasting Sessions in 2008, while Hayley was still working at Barclays. It was built on their passion for food and wine. Hayley explains: “It was really a bit of a new take on the wine tasting concept; we wanted to demystify wine and take people on a journey of discovery. That became something much more creative over time as we continued to push boundaries. There was always a drink of wine or a spirit at the centre as a learning component. It always brought together really interesting people from different industries. With regard to taking people on the journey, it ended up being something much more in line with experiential dining at the very early days of that trend in London. We would transform 5,000 square feet warehouses into a tasting journey and have different sets, with actors, to fully make it immersive.”
The business was very successful in bringing people together and building lasting relationships as well as allowing each of the partners to play to their strengths, with Angela undertaking the creativity of the events and Hayley managing the commercial aspects. They employed between 20-40 people in an art department developing sets, as well as employing actors and so on. Hayley credits the experience as providing her with real insight into what was needed in building businesses, including the importance of establishing personal relationships and strong networks. She says: “It was something we were doing after hours, and it was a huge amount of work, but I think it really formed, not just the basis of our friendship, but it was the basis of a business partnership moving on that is very real. It was really physically tough as well, which was very different to kind of, a desk-based job.”
Having received feedback from the Tasting Sessions from attendees that they had met great people and wanted to stay in touch with them, in 2011, Hayley and Angela established SMITH. The idea was to connect thought leaders and changers around a social experience through technology. Hayley explains: “SMITH was really our first step into starting to commercialise what we had done with the Tasting Sessions. We knew that we had a unique ability to bring together extraordinary people. We knew that doing that, just in live environments, just in one city, wasn’t scalable, particularly if it was going to be the thing that became our life. We saw a huge opportunity in using technology to better connect the community.”
Over two years SMITH grew into a large private B2C operating in the UK and the US and gave Hayley and Angela the opportunity to explore how to scale it and where to go next. Hayley says: “It was definitely a tough one to commercialise, but we had learnt a lot about connection, we had built our first early-day products, which were fantastic. We’d had some really great feedback, but it wasn’t until we got approached by a large corporate who said, ‘Actually, look, we’d like to use your technology for one of our programmes,’ that we started to think maybe the commercial opportunity is doing something differently for business, and bringing that consumer approach to business.”
Hayley continues: “It kicked us into kind of a, a different way of thinking, and a lot of entrepreneurs referred to it as a pivot. Pivots can be quite painful as well. But essentially, we did start to pivot the ideas around could we be a B2B offering? And if we are going to be business-to-business, what is it that we want to do? Because, both of us hadn’t left the corporate world to necessarily build a B2B company, that wasn’t the intention.”
Taking into account their personal journeys and the feedback, Angela and Hayley reached the conclusion that they ‘had to change the mix of who was running our global organisations if it was going to change’. Hayley explains: “We felt that starting with women was a really good place to start. But to do that, we had to change the experience that women were having in their careers, to actually help them accelerate through.” They decided to focus on mentoring as a starting point which saw the birth of werkin in 2016.
Hayley and Angela chose to focus on mentoring because they wanted a simple concept that people could ‘wrap their heads around’. Hayley explains; “We didn’t want to be too esoteric; we didn’t want it to feel like, hey, we can change the world.” They knew that people would understand what a mentor was, that organisations would have mentoring programmes and they wanted them to think about them differently. Hayley explains: “The fundamental belief is, if you do the same thing, you get the same results. So, we really talked to organisations to encourage them to do their programmes in a different way, to get different results, because unless we have different results, we are not going to fundamentally address the gender pay gap. We’re not going to change somebody’s career.”
Having recognised that while you can learn about unconscious bias, it does not necessarily drive an actual behaviour change, Hayley and Angela built a technology platform delivered via an app which aimed to drive behaviour change in senior leaders and managers. Hayley explains: “When we thought about unconscious bias, we thought about ways in which we could nudge and prompt an action from a senior leader or manager which would change their relationship to that person from that underrepresented group. So essentially, getting them to then do that action could start to positively reinforce their neural pathways. It is that idea of doing which is quite radically different to just learning and trying to make meaning from learning when you haven’t actually done something for an individual or your relationship to that data hasn’t changed.” Taking a tech approach allows the action to be manageable, measurable and scalable. Hayley and Angela are able to collect data that shows the whether the change is happening or not.
In 2018, werkin opened an office in Hong Kong and this year will see the company focus on growth in North America, in particular in New York and San Francisco. As well as spending time building the business, travelling between offices, Hayley also runs the werkin podcast featuring interviews with key individuals to share insights about mentoring with a broader population.
When faced with the question of what is her superpower, a question she frequently using in her podcast, Hayley says, “I am extremely tenacious, with high energy, and driven by our focus at werkin; because I care so deeply about this, it’s what gets me out of bed. The mission and myself, it’s one and the same. The reason why changing the mix of who’s running our organisations and our global organisations, is so important to me is that if we can do that, it will impact on political, economic and social change.”
Diversity & Inclusion
Hayley believes that the tech industry is under huge scrutiny right now, and that companies are having to be honest and look at what is really happening in terms of diversity and inclusion or lack of it. Hayley says: “I don’t think this is necessarily all about harassment either. It’s actually about building an optimum place for your people to come to work and deliver great results and feel really good. … It’s essentially people feeling comfortable in an environment as well, which takes a mix of individuals to get that right.”
To create a culture that supports inclusion in business, Hayley, believes that it needs to start from day one. She says: “I think a really smart way to think about it is you’re probably building a product for a range of customers, and if you want to be able to connect with a range of customers, you probably should be able to have a range of people from your team who are able to input and help you create that. When I say that, I don’t just mean the developers, I mean every role plays to that.”
Hayley’s own experience in building an inclusive team has centred on being seen and talking about what they do in an authentic way; she explains: “Our biggest and most successful strategy, in attracting and retaining a fabulous diverse mix of individuals who are well suited and well skilled, has really been about proactively being out in the world talking about what we care about, and why are we doing what we do. It’s that authenticity that connects with other people who care about that.”
Hayley adds: “I heard a fantastic quote the other day that says, ‘The thing that you are looking for is also looking for you.’ That actually is really powerful, because if you can be open about what it is you are, and what your company’s about, that sends a really powerful message to market, that will connect with individuals to come and help you create change. … For us, people can’t just be on the journey to make money. They’re got to believe that we’re doing this to create fundamental change.”
Hayley acknowledges the issues of inherent bias built into any AI and explains how werkin has tried from the outset to address this, explaining: “This is a new area that we are moving into. We tend to think more about the idea of augmented intelligence versus artificial intelligence, purely because, artificial intelligence is about replacing human behaviour or the human task. With augmented intelligence, we’re about helping that task change and get a different outcome. This is why everything we do leans more towards that. With regard to the inherent bias, at any point we are making sure there’s a gender mix at least involved in anything that is dealing with those components. A lot of our product too was always designed with things like gender in mind and then we’ve moved into other areas of diversity, purely because we knew there were differences in how people did things, based on who they were, or the time that they had available, and how they wanted to connect. So, that thinking has always been at the forefront of our business and product design.”
Biggest challenges and issues related to IT for the next five years
With technology moving quickly, Hayley identifies talent as one of the biggest challenges for companies in the next five years. She says: “A lot of talent has already rolled back into the big behemoths. So, I think it’s around making sure that we are continuing to push new ideas here, and that’s probably not going to come out of just the largest technology companies; it’s the academics, it’s the upstarts. But if they’ve all been acquired, we’ve got a bit of a talent issue as well around, where do we tap into that, and how do we get some different thinking around what it is we want to do, what’s the problem we want to solve, rather than what’s the biggest commercial opportunity.”
Hayley believes that we need to use technology to deal with some of societies big challenges such as climate change, she adds: “There are some pretty horrific statistics out there around how much time we’ve actually got left, and that is going to require a fundamental shift in consciousness but also in a commitment and a want to do something differently. I think the technology is there; we have to refocus on where we invest as governments, and the problems we want to solve as entrepreneurs.”
On the positive side, Hayley points to the impact technology has already had and will continue to have on society, including better automation, reducing admin and changing and simplifying the way we interact with governments. She adds: “Essentially I think we’ll get streamlined as a society. I hope what that then allows us to do is free up our intellect to focus on some of the really big things that are affecting our future including climate change, but also how we want to be as a society.”
Advice for someone entering the tech industry today
Hayley says: “The reality is, we need everyone involved in tech. Every company is a tech company now anyway. I would say to anyone; you don’t have to be a developer to move into tech. So, firstly, nothing’s off the table. Secondly, it is worth developing an understanding of coding. You don’t need to be a coder, but understanding how it works, giving you just a bit of a sense around how the space works, is helpful. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but if you have time and capacity, it’s worthwhile developing that skill, just your understanding and your learning. Thirdly, if you do want to be a founder, have a go. It’s not easy. It’s an epic ride. You need to make sure you have an ecosystem that can support you. But you also need to be not distracted by any ecosystem and really focused on the thing that you want to do.”
An additional piece of advice for women in particular is “to not wait until you tick every box but to go for it because no one really ever knows 100 per cent of what they’re doing. Everyone is winging it in some way. The way we think about hiring, it’s about, aptitude and attitude. Be confident in what you’re bringing to the table because, I truly believe all skills are translatable, and that’s why attitude and aptitude are so important.”
Hayley emphasises that it’s the same advice for anyone from a BAME background; “It’s, go for it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about stepping out in the world; it’s about knowing you can do very different things. It’s the same advice for all groups, and we need you here; you’re powerful consumers, you have a seat at the table to be able to share your advice, your thoughts, to better connect with consumers that are similar to you. That’s hugely valuable to an organisation. So, lead with the value you can bring because there is always value you can bring, and difference actually results in innovation and in turn profit, which companies love.”
For LGBT+ Hayley encourages people to recognise the power in being open and the potential to be a role model for others and provide a sense of support, saying; “I always encourage openness. I think it’s actually been a, a fundamental change in my life. It’s only brought happiness. It’s only been a good thing for the business that I am building, and I’d encourage everyone to live their truth.”
Openness & LB Women
Hayley recognises that for many people there is a conflict between being open and protecting one’s privacy in sharing personal details such as sexuality. She says: “I think this is an individual choice. For me, I had always considered myself as a fantastically open person which I think allowed me to build great teams, get fantastic outcomes, and have a great energy around what we were creating in businesses. However, this position of open but private, for me was a conflict. I struggled with it for a while. At the time I was working through this, I didn’t feel like this idea of, women who identified as LGBT, was celebrated. My idea of success was not linked to it. I couldn’t see it. A lot of these issues are always your own. For me, when I actually worked through it, by the time we had launched werkin, I was very clear that I wanted to be open and out in the world.”
She continues: “I think it’s a fine balance, but if you aren’t open, or if you are covering, you are hiding, people might get a sense that you’re hiding something that isn’t actually your sexuality, that something’s not right, which I don’t think creates a great working environment. I had always truly believed that you should bring your whole self to work. The reality is for me, it took me a little bit longer to get that last piece right, but in building my own company, it’s been kind of at the heart of what we do and being open and honest about that has been really liberating.”
Hayley is an ambassador for LB Women, which aims to raise, recognise and celebrate the profiles of LB (women, lesbian, bisexual women, and trans), providing inspiring role models. Werkin provides the mentoring programme for LB Women.
Speaking of some of the many awards Hayley has received in the last couple of years, she says: “I think, probably getting the, the champion award for the TechWomen awards was kind of key as being seen as a real leader in that space, and has led to a lot of other great opportunities. As was being really properly acknowledged by industry publications as a thought leader in this space for being a workplace advocate and creating real change.”
FT Outstanding Top 100 LGBT+ Executive Finalist
Champion for Women – Women in Banking and Finance Awards Finalist
Disruptor of the Year – Women in Finance Awards Finalist
Science and Technology Leader – First Women Awards
Advance Innovation Programme
Courvoisier The Future 500 Entrepreneur
2018 Silicon Republic Women Invent Top 10, (workplace advocate)
Hayley is a mentor of Stemettes, speaker for Founders for Schools, ambassador of LB Women and a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society,
Interviewed by: Elisabetta Mori on the 11th January 2019 at WERKIN Head Office, London
Transcribed by: Susan Hutton
Abstracted by: Lynda Feeley