Q&A with Bera Kalhan, CPO of Feefo
Feefo is a software-as-a-service consumer ratings and reviews platform, harnessing the power of verified consumer reviews to improve online sales conversion metrics, enhance digital marketing and provide valuable customer insights and analysis to ecommerce customers. Startups Magazine caught up with Feefo's CPO, Bera Kalhan.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the Chief People Officer at Feefo, the world’s largest verified and ethical reviews platform, and I’m responsible for defining and leading our global HR, talent acquisition and culture strategy.
I love my job. I’m passionate about developing trust with employees, nurturing teams, creating initiatives to improve a company’s culture and improving stakeholder communication to ensure the whole company is successfully working together. This is especially important when working for a start-up as the culture is only just beginning to develop, so having a strong vision and being able to communicate that to employees is crucial.
Before Feefo, I was the Chief People Officer at Zilch, a buy now pay later company, and HR Director at Poq, a retail Software-as-a-Service platform. Thanks to my 10 years’ experience working for start-ups, I know that the most important thing is to encourage people to stay and grow with a company is the culture. With the Great Resignation still taking hold, that’s my key priority for Feefo.
What advice would you offer to women that want to start their own businesses or enter the start-up world?
During my time working for start-ups, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is to adopt an always learning mindset that focuses on regularly upskilling and educating yourself. Whilst this applies for most workplaces, this is particularly important when working for a start-up as things move so quickly and you’re constantly moving onto your next project.
I’m surrounded by people who have successfully launched their own start-ups and secured VC/PE funding. Before launching, you need to be clear on what the commercial drivers of the business will be. What is your offering and what problem is your product or service solving for customers? Put simply, if you get the commercial aspects of your business right, you’re more likely to be successful and get investors and customers on board. Whilst this is certainly easier said than done, taking that leap of faith becomes easier when you understand your proposition from the start.
You work in the tech industry, what are the barriers facing women in tech in particular?
The statistics speak for themselves, whilst women account for 48% of the global workforce, they remain significantly outnumbered in tech. Only 26% of jobs in computer-related sectors are occupied by women and just 27.1% of managers and leaders in the industry are female.
I believe the barriers are likely due to a cultural issue within workplaces, as we know women do well in STEM subjects to university level. To overcome this, tech companies, start-ups in particular, need to be re-designed as inviting places for women to work and pursue careers. It’s only natural that if you’re one of two women that work at your company or in your team, you’re bound to feel slightly alienated. I believe we’ve moved on from stereotypes of tech companies being boys' clubs, dominated by ‘bro-culture' but there is still a long way to go.
Given women are already underrepresented in leadership roles in the industry, it’s hardly surprising that there are fewer female entrepreneurs in the tech sector than in other sectors. I think this is because women often lack access to the same networking and mentoring opportunities that are provided to men within this industry. To me it feels like there needs to be more cross-industry initiatives that allow women to form strong support networks and systems that can help their business flourish.
How is Feefo building an inclusive culture for women?
Feefo has redefined and diversified its senior leadership team which is extremely important as championing gender diversity starts from the top. Over the last couple of years, the makeup of the board of directors has changed from 28% to 50% female and our wider senior leadership team has also increased from 15% female to 50%.
Research from Gallup shows that 70% of workplace culture is influenced by leadership and the way they behave has a ripple-down effect throughout the entire company. Therefore, it’s key for leaders to care about gender diversity, particularly in tech. This will help to create a culture that doesn’t tolerate discrimination. However, I strongly believe this kind of culture must be created from a point of authenticity, rather than tick-boxing exercise.
At Feefo we’re focusing on diversifying our hirings in order to drive inclusion, equity and belonging. Widening the applicant pool beyond traditional sources whilst building a company is a great way of identifying under-represented and unique talent. After all, the more diverse your team is, the more successful your business will be as diversity encourages innovation and hard work.