HR in the Hot Seat, Katie Burke, VP, Culture & Experience, HubSpot

by Victoria Bruce09 May 2016
Katie Burke, VP of HubSpot's Culture & Experience division tells HC Online why compassion is key to being a strong leader.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My mom has a saying: aim to be a strong woman of great compassion. I try to live that motto daily-- the goal is always to be brave enough to try new things and to help and encourage people to think differently and to grow but also to be kind and compassion to others and lead with empathy.  I think for strong leaders, combining bravery and strength with empathy and kindness is a constant juggle, but it's a critical one. On any given day, if I've achieved that balance, I can sleep well at night.

What challenges do you think culture will face over the next 10 years? 
Culture is a hot topic and growth are at the moment, and there are a lot of start-ups and technology companies building apps and tools to help companies build and scale culture. I think the greatest challenges culture will face over the next decade are two-fold: one is maintaining a human component. At the end of the day, culture is about the people you work with, the problems they get to solve, and the environment you give people to learn and grow. There are technological and programmatic elements of culture to be sure, but at the end of the day, businesses are run by human beings and it's imperative that culture maintain its human focus and human perspective.
The second challenge is how the notion of culture particularly in tech evolves to be more inclusive--there's certainly a notion that hiring for culture fit creates an environment of sameness, and there's a real potential danger there, so I think it's imperative that how organizations think about culture reflect diversity of perspective and thought as well as diversity of experience, gender, age, race, nationality, and language.

What is the favourite part of your job? And which part of your role has proven the most challenging?
My favourite part of my job is getting to work with all of our global teams and offices. I never get sick of getting feedback from an engineering director in Cambridge on things we can do better one morning and then getting on a call with a brand new member of our sales team in Sydney straight out of Uni with an idea on something we should try out--culture is a team sport, so collaborating with all of our offices and each of our teams is the best part of my job and my day. The most challenging is prioritization--we have massive goals and we want to be remarkable in everything that we do and with everyone we hire, so prioritizing what we focus on and don't can be a real challenge, particularly when you're growing as quickly as HubSpot is growing.

What do you feel is your biggest professional achievement to date?
I'm most proud of the fact that HubSpot helps transform people's careers and that people have achieved major promotions, switched careers, bought their first homes, and achieved goals they didn't think possible as a result of being part of our company. For example, one of my team members just got accepted to MIT, my alma mater, and I just couldn't possibly be more proud that her achievements at HubSpot and her impact on the world helped open the door for her next opportunity. No one deserves it more, and seeing other people succeed and thrive and grow is the thing that gets me out of bed every morning.

What attracted you to a career in HR/culture?
The opportunity to be on the leading edge of how organizations scale culture as a competitive advantage. Jack Welch was one of my professors in business school, and he was an early advocate for the notion that HR in most companies is highly under-rated and under-utilized. He's known as a tough guy (for good reason), but I think his sentiment really resonated with me. I truly believe the most precious resource any company has is incredible people, and the fact that I get to spend my days thinking about how we attract and grow more exceptional people at scale is truly an honour.

What are some of the challenges particular to your firm and industry? 
In tech, the sheer pace of the business is overwhelming. HubSpot helps companies grow with marketing and sales software, and our prospects and customers expect us to innovate quickly adapt rapidly, and see around corners as we develop our strategy and products. That means we need a talent strategy and a leadership strategy that evolves as quickly as our business grows globally.
Another opportunity in the world of tech is women and leadership. I'm really passionate about helping attract more female leaders to the world of tech and helping our existing female employees grow their careers, so we have a Women on Board initiative specifically to help more women in tech aspire to board roles, a Women@HubSpot program that features remarkable entrepreneurs and leaders talking about their path to leadership, a Women in Sales program, and a Women in Product initiative, all of which are aimed at helping women develop and grow in the tech industry. We still have work to do to improve there, both on the industry level and at HubSpot, but I love the progress we are making and the response we are getting from female and male employees alike on how it's progressing.

If you could host a dinner party and invite anyone in the world, who would it be?
Beyonce. Honestly, I'd be delighted if it was just the two of us, but if we were truly hosting a party, I'd add Melanie Perkins of Canva (one of our conference rooms in Sydney is named after her, and I love their product), Tina Fey, Elon Musk, Hillary Clinton, Steve Martin, and Justin Trudeau. Now I'm hungry and really want to host a dinner party, so thank you for that--let's hope at least one of them can make it.

Please complete this sentence: If you weren’t working in talent, you would be…
teaching, most likely. I'm certified to teach 7th through 12th graders because I thought I would end up in the education policy space, so likely teaching or writing full-time if I wasn't in the talent space.