IWD interview with Katarina Ferme

Katarina, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Katarina Ferme, the Chief People Officer here at d.labs. I am a psychologist and I focus on our culture and strategic People goals. Together with my team we handle everything from office and equipment, to recruitment and people & culture development.

You've been with d.labs for a couple of years now. What made you choose d.labs over any other company? Would love to hear a bit more about d.labs, structure and culture here.

Yeah, I’m coming up on 4 years already. I chose d.labs because I could feel that the leadership really understood the need to focus on people. And because I saw interesting challenges I thought I could really help with. d.labs is a UK/Slovenian company with offices in Ljubljana and Maribor. We are also remote-first, hybrid company so our employees, from 11 countries, have flexibility that allows for better work-life balance.

Last year we also did a segment on International Women's day. In one post we mentioned that the ratio of women to men was 1:4. Has that number changed in the meantime and have more women joined?

I love that you asked that, as getting more women in tech is my passion and I’m super happy to say that our ratio now is 1:2, so 30% of d.labsians are women. Women are predominant in product management, product design, people department, but our web development is still predominantly male.

The number of employees is growing constantly. As a C-level professional, how has that growth affected you, both in terms of the volume of work but also how has that shaped you?

It has affected me a lot, my role has really changed in the last year. When we first started scaling, my work tasks quickly became too much for one person, so we onboarded Staša as a people expert last year and we have also just hired another person who is joining just next week.
I have to focus a lot more on our growth strategy, scaling our culture and the way we do things. I try to structure our processes a bit more, focusing on making sure the recruitment process is optimal, also the onboarding process, I’ve been very busy with defining and implementing our values as a way of putting our culture into words. With my team growing, I’m also more focused on team work and team cohesion.
It’s been exciting for sure. I had to learn a lot and kinda reshape how I understand my own role and my focuses. I’m trying to achieve a lot more through my team now, which felt weird at the start, but I love it now.

We often hear the advice given to women on how to be successful wives, daughters, mothers, but what does it take to be successful in your career? Any thoughts on that?

You’re right, we’ve been taught from childhood how to be a good wife, daughter, mother. And as a consequence, we ourselves then put so many expectations on us as adults. We try to be successful in our careers while not letting go of being the perfect wife, etc. I see this as very toxic. It’s like saying you can have a career, but you’ll have to work full-time at home as well. And then when we break our backs to do it, people call us superheroes instead of jumping in and helping.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to find a partner who sees this and treats all housework and family obligations as equally distributed between partners. And this has helped me enormously to be able to focus on my work as well. Now the only thing I have to shed is my guilt when I feel I’m a bad wife - because it’s completely bogus and just something we’ve been taught.

You have volunteered a lot in your life. Do you find these experiences important for your own growth and do you look for those in candidates?

I do find them very important. I see volunteering as creating the perfect way to have the impact you’d like to have and being able to help more people than just your coworkers. I’ve started when my husband, then boyfriend, and some friends opened a society that collected old donated computers, refurbished them and pass them to children who could not afford them. We saw this big inequality in schools that more and more expected kids to do homework on their computers, using the internet to search for information, and some kids just didn’t have access to all that. Working on this was such a rewarding experience.
I’m now a coorganiser of an HR community here in Slovenia, preaching modern practices and connecting people. I also love to speak and mentor.
I don’t necessarily look for such experience in candidates, as people can get relevant experience many different ways. What I do is I equate those experiences with experience people get from employment for sure. And furthermore, it shows a sort of giving character, somebody who is not transactional, but is looking to help out others, have real impact.

Anything you would like to say to female professionals entering the world of tech whether they are fresh out of college or in their 30, 40 looking for a career change?

Do it. :D I love the tech environment as it is very open and inviting. Inclusion and diversity are at the forefront, so I feel it is easier to succeed than in more stuck up environments. I say be bold, make some calculated risks. And invest in relationships - when people know and trust you as a person, the sky is the limit.

If you had the power to change the world of business, what would you change?

To stick with the theme of today: I’d put more women into leadership positions. Not because women are better leaders, but because they are equally good as men, but usually have a bit of a different approach and viewpoint and it’s important to have diverse opinions and ways of doing things at the top - so the management can serve all employees.

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