Inspirational Woman: Lorraine O’Keefe | Director of People, Noon

Lorraine O'Keefe

Lorraine O’Keeffe is a Senior HR Professional with 14+ years’ of strategic and operational experience working in global high-growth business’ and technology start ups.

In Lorraine’s current role as Director of People at Noon, she is responsible for leading the overall human resources strategy, global talent acquisition, employee and cultural development. Prior to joining Noon, Lorraine served as People Director at Builder.ai as well as HR Lead at Global Web Index. Before entering the world of technology Lorraine worked in ad land at such agencies as Adam&EveDDB and Olgivy.

Through joining Noon, Lorraine hopes to transform the People and TA functions, grow Noon’s culture, and make HR more impactful across the company to support its business goals and strategies as well as the needs and aspirations of its 100+ employees around the globe. Lorraine’s aim is to be an advocate for people centric people processes that give employees at Noon an exceptional people experience from day one.

Lorraine holds a BA Degree in Arts as well as a Degrees in Personal Management and Employment Law from the University College Cork (UCC) and Law Society, Dublin. Part time stand-up, at least once a month Lorraine can be found in a basement pub making a room full of strangers laugh.

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

I have been working in the People space for over 14 years’ leading on strategic and operational people initiatives in global high-growth business and technology start ups including Global Web Index, Builder.ai, Oglivy and AdamandEveDDB.

In my current role at Noon, I am responsible for leading on our overall People strategy, global talent acquisition and cultural development. I have been working on transforming the People and Talent Acquisition functions, growing Noon’s culture, and making HR more impactful across the company. This all supports our ambitious growth goals and strategies, as well as the needs and aspirations of our 100+ employees around the globe.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I am a big believer in planning and whilst my career has not followed one direct straight path, every move I have made has been intentional in terms of my own growth and where I wanted to develop my skill set. For example, I worked within advertising and marketing for about five years and what I started to notice was the market in London was starting to become a hot spot for tech startups and businesses who wanted to scale.
Working in more established organisations at times does not allow you the same exposure to growth and scaling as businesses who are boot strapped and at a much earlier stage such as series A or B funding.
My niche now is building functions from scratch and knowing that whilst there is no one size fits all approach, my years spent in bigger, more structured teams has allowed me to build them quickly and embed good foundations for growth.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

100%! Every role has presented itself with its own unique set of challenges, some of which I have met head on, others not so much. The biggest challenge I find working in a People function is getting that all important leadership/employee buy in. At times during my career it’s been challenging for those who have a traditional view of ‘HR’ or Human Capital (a term which makes me cringe) to fully partner with you and view the People Team as true business partners, who are culture ambassadors and influencers within the business.

Some of the best leaders I have worked with are willing to collaborate and champion the People Team whilst not viewing the department as purely an operations function. A way of approaching this is to engage with employees and encourage them to become involved with the People initiatives that impact them such as Diversity and Inclusion Wellness, Learning and Development and asking how we can be better.

Transparency around what the People Team are delivering is something I am always happy to communicate and share with the wider business. This helps remove any of the old stereotypes, that whilst we do keep some more sensitive issues confidential, we are not shying away from feedback

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

For me one of my biggest achievements would be studying for almost three years at night whilst working full time to get my masters in HR and degree in Employment Law. It’s been the foundation that has not only helped my career in terms of my skill set, but whilst I was spending weekends/evenings studying and sitting exams (when I would have loved to have been out enjoying myself) made me realise I had a true passion for people. Understanding how I could be a change agent for business and be impactful on the culture of organisations drives me. That and my love of performing standup comedy – makes my presentations much more entertaining for people!

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

Continually pushing myself to grow and having a thirst for knowledge! I always say I only know what I know, I don’t know what I don’t know and even at this stage of my career I am still an avid learner. I am keen to keep understanding newer and better ways to lead on people initiatives that create impact and a great culture.

When I joined Noon one of the key elements I loved was the leader’s passion for learning, not just for the students that use Noon’s platform, but its employees as well. Being able to work in an environment that actively encourages and creates safe spaces to learn is definitely a major factor for achieving success.

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

Mentorship is an externally important element of anyone’s career development whether you’re a mentor or mentee. It can be very insightful when faced with a challenge or a new approach on how you might want to do something, to have a sounding board to advise, give perspective and generate fresh ideas. I am both a mentor and mentee. As a mentor it’s great to work with people and see them develop and change someone’s world view. Sharing my own experiences and lessons learned to help them achieve their own personal career goals is extremely rewarding. As a mentee, my mentor has helped me clarify my own career goals and connect with other professionals to build effective personal and professional relationships. It has also helped me to become a better leader.

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

Creating a safe space for returning to work mothers especially after Covid. So often I have seen amazing female talent leave organisations due to the demands of family life. The recent pandemic has undone years of progress in gender equality in the workspace. During Covid women have left the workforce at twice the rate of men. According to McKinsey, a massive 5% of female talent is disappearing from the workforce, with nearly one in five women leaving the workforce within five years of having a child. There needs to be an onus on employers to find better ways (not just through flexible working) to create a safe space for women returning to the workforce.

Return to work coaching and mentoring would be one approach and creating a plan that explores options available and supporting work life balance – not just owning to the employee and their line manager but having established programs in place for women to access.

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

I love that quote ‘Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration’. I would tell myself that whilst you might have an initial talent to do something, you won’t achieve success without putting in the time and work.

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

I am really passionate about creating space for women in the workplace and how we, as employers, can drive a culture to be more inclusive for women, not just at leadership level but returning to work against the backdrop of the great resignation. I am partnering with a company called Propelelo that looks at developing better strategies for women returning to work with confidence, whether they be new mothers coming back or women who have been out of the workforce for a number of years.

I am hoping to really help change the mindset of employees towards equality and gender in the workspace. And the next exciting thing on the horizon? I will be launching a podcast talking to women across all levels of industry about their own personal experiences in the workspace and how they believe we can change equality in the workspace.

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