Inspirational Woman: Katharine Coombes | VP Talent, Culture Amp

Katharine Coombes

Katharine Coombes is Vice President Talent at Culture Amp, a world leading employee experience platform.

At Culture Amp, Katharine oversees oversee global talent acquisition as the organisation continues its fast growth following a recent US$100m funding round.

Prior to Culture Amp Katharine spent 10 years at LinkedIn where she led talent acquisition across a variety of geographies. Katharine led the design of LinkedIn’s talent attraction strategy globally, re-designed internal hiring and helped grow the APAC employee base from 30 to 3,000.

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

I am an artist at heart, I paint, I love sharing and consuming stories – books, movies, podcasts, I write a little. I am a Mum to 2 adventurous boys and being a Mum is one of my biggest passions. I love to travel and have lived in 5 different countries: the US, Greece, Australia, Singapore and we have just moved back to the UK.

After 10 years with LinkedIn I have recently joined Culture Amp as the VP, Global Talent. My team and I look after the attraction, acquisition and onboarding of talent at Culture Amp based all around the world and since we are a growing company are an advisor on how we enter new markets.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I always knew I wanted to work with stories. I started out thinking that meant as an actress. I studied performing arts and had a love for period drama, I thought I could bring to life important history. I dreamt of starring in things like Downton Abbey… but then I began to realise that it might take a while to strike it lucky and living in London was expensive! I then thought I would try PR and could promote individuals’ stories, so I applied for a role through a recruitment consultancy – I didn’t have the experience for the role but I did get to learn through that hiring experience about the role of a recruiter.

What fascinated me then and is still a part of my role I very much love, is hearing about the journeys people have taken in their careers, their ups and downs and their achievements. In the world we live in today where work and life have beautifully collided we hear a lot more now about the personal goals people are striving towards and I love being a part of helping them think through how they can achieve those.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many challenges. I had my 2 boys during the global financial crisis, a time when jobs were scarce and the economy was vulnerable, both my husband and I ended up contracting through this time and we lost a lot of money. During this time I also had a health scare and the rehabilitation was quite challenging with 2 boys under 2 – I ended up returning to work earlier than I had planned. But the job I returned to was the job with LinkedIn and it changed our lives. I learnt a lot through that time – that we could live simply, to be grateful for community and life, a whole bunch of new skills as I toggled different contracts and I grew a lot of self-confidence.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

A Mum of 2 boys is for sure what I am most proud of personally, they teach me a lot. And in fact I take a lot of my parenting learnings and apply them in my daily Leadership practises and vice versa. Taking the time to listen to each side of the story and help coach them through their thinking be it the kids or teams is an on-going study of mine!

Professionally growing my career at LinkedIn into a Global Leader is my most significant achievement to date. There was a time when I flew to NYC to bring together my first global team. I brought in a group of VPs and had dialled in a really impressive Executive Coach I was working with to help me facilitate the session. 

I remember thinking, I have come a long way and remember inwardly beaming with pride at myself. I grew up in the countryside not the city and I didn’t go to university, yet I was sitting there with a lot of Harvard and Yale grads in the Empire state building where our office was, it was a big moment for me, to accept how far I had come.

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

Having advocates around me to cheer me on, to speak up for me, to advocate for me, to help direct me. I am a huge believer in the need to build meaningful relationships. There is a wonderful woman called Carla Harris who says “Relationship currency is key to career progression.

Your ability to ascend will be a function of somebody’s judgment about whether you will ultimately be successful, and judgments are influenced by relationships. People won’t spend their currency on someone they do not know.”  I wholeheartedly believe this. It would be my biggest advice to anyone looking to go somewhere – invest in your relationships.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? 

I have a few mentors and I am a mentor myself. I believe very much in mentorship. I think it’s important to distinguish between a mentor and a coach.  A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge and skills to develop you v a coach who is someone who provides guidance and helps you set goals to help reach your full potential. 

As a mentor I therefore often mentor on Leadership, leading global teams, building teams with diversity. I have also mentored women entering the workforce through non- traditional channels as well as young Mums and Mums returning to the workforce.  Hearing from someone who has walked a path you are either treading or aspire to tread can be very inspiring and instil confidence.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Increasing the representation of female CEOs, Board members and Exec Leadership teams. We have seen some progression over the last 2 years. In S&P 500 Companies there has been an increase of female CEO representation by nearly 2% to 8% but there is still so much work to be done. Leaders define the culture of an organisation and it reflects back what is possible for all those that follow. Organisations have access to plenty of data to help them plan and be deliberate and that intentionality is what is needed.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Ask for advice, you won’t always know the answer. And even if you think you know the answer, it might be better if you can add the perspectives of others or ideas to it.  Asking for other perspectives is also a great way to build trusted relationships.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

I have just arrived at Culture Amp which is super exciting and I am thrilled for what we can achieve together. This company is making the world of work better which after the last two years especially is so relevant and necessary right now.  I am looking forward to elevating the team and their work, acquiring and nurturing new skills, showcasing our incredible culture and together building a richly diverse company that delivers meaningful solutions for our customers.

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