Hayley Sudbury is the CEO and Founder of WERKIN, a company that helps track, create and activate mentoring and career development programmes that support workplace inclusion like professional LGBT+ communities and BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) talents. Sudbury is an ambassador of LB Women, a network created to inspire, inform and celebrate the success of professional bisexual and lesbian women. She is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and for two consecutive years, in 2017 and 2018, Sudbury was a part of the OUTstanding Financial Times Leading 100 LGBT+ Executives list.
Hayley Sudbury was born in North Queensland, in the coastal town of Ayr in Australia. Her parents owned a family music business selling recorded music and musical instruments. Her grandfather began the company, and Sudbury worked there on Saturdays to help out. Along with founding and running the music business, her grandfather also raised early-stage venture funding for a silicon chip producer from the US with individuals based in the region. Watching her grandfather gave Sudbury a keen insight into the entrepreneurial world.
While in school, Sudbury excelled in academics and was awarded a scholarship to one of Australia’s first private universities, Bond University, to study for an accelerated business degree. She explained: “It worked really well for me, someone who wanted to get out into the world quickly. It was focused on business, something that I loved, valued, and understood, and I was keen to put some shape around that essentially.”
After university, Sudbury ventured into the business world with a friend; together, they built marketing plans for other small businesses. They established the company to stay on the Gold Coast while saving up enough to go travelling. She says, “It felt like a nice little natural next step to apply my business learning to other businesses that were in the region, make some money from it, live a nice life, and then get some money to actually head over to Europe and explore.”
However, In 1999 Sudbury decided to move to London, where she took on several short-term temporary jobs, including one reception work, project work, amongst others.
In 2000 Sudbury returned to Australia and worked in the energy sector for a significant company in Queensland. In 2004, she took up a role for Esanda, the asset finance arm of ANZ Bank, which Elizabeth Proust headed at the time. Sudbury recalled, “It was a really exciting time. It was great to have that role model in Elizabeth; a senior woman leading this business.” She described the time as a defining moment in her career, giving her exposure to outstanding leadership and experience through both Elizabeth Proust and John McFarlane, CEO of ANZ at the time. She added, “He (John) was doing things like demanding his leaders had quotas for women for recruitment, it was early days and he was spearheading a lot of that, which I think created a really amazing energy in the organization.”
In 2007, Sudbury returned to the UK to take up an exciting role at Barclays. Due to her agility, she soon reached the top and secured the position of Global Commercial Product. However, after working at ANZ in a progressive, female-led environment, she found Barclays at that time more conservative, especially around gender equality.
While Sudbury immensely enjoyed her role and made significant progress, she struggled to find role models for herself; she added, “I enjoyed the work and achieved some things, but as I was actually on a personal journey, not just about seeing senior women, I was also asking where are the role models of gay women? I was struggling with that personally.”
As a professional gay woman working in the industry, she felt lost. This experience led her to a revelation; she explains, “There were no women above me and there were certainly no gay women above me. I thought ‘wow, if that doesn’t exist, then I think my career might be elsewhere; so I started to think about how we can change that.”
She soon started working on revolutionizing the sector alongside her co-founder, Angella, with whom she previously worked on several passion projects. The duo focused on their career journeys and what they could change. She explains, “For instance, who actually moves up through the talent pipeline of organizations and how we can help because the reality was, not everyone who should be progressing was progressing, and the top half of organizations were still disproportionately representative of one type of person.”
She says, “Werkin was born from the idea of ‘how do we help accelerate someone’s career journey and how do we help managers and leaders do the things they said they were going to do’. This was at a time when people were using technology to solve problems, so it made sense for us to bring together this problem that also provided an opportunity for technology disruption, and to look at how we solve the issue of D&I.”
The duo reflected on how individuals can stay in organizations and grow if they are LGBTQ, minority or identify as anyone who is underrepresented in the industry. To do this, they created a user-friendly app and then built an enterprise platform with supporting algorithms to ascertain what diversity looked like in a company. The data was then shared with senior executives and employees devoted to workplace diversity, which dictated multiple ways to support minorities and empower them. The platform also allowed to book regular mentoring sessions with these minority groups and offered coaching sessions.
Sudbury explains, “The idea is to start with one employee and scale up to offer multiple employees the same level of support. We had our product but needed credibility by getting actual clients, and did that by running a pilot program for the Women in Banking & Finance network. The pilot was a success and gave us access to top companies where these women worked.”
WERKIN has also worked with the public sector and built its programs, initially starting with the Westminster City Council. They currently have more than 200 companies globally on the Werkin platform. EY is one of their largest clients to date, and they have also worked with BBC, Google, and Cisco.
Due to her tremendous feat in the diversion and inclusivity sector, Sudbury has received several awards. She says, “Getting the champion award for the TechWomen awards was kind of key as being seen as a real leader in that space, and has led to a lot of other great opportunities. As was being really properly acknowledged by industry publications as a thought leader in this space for being a workplace advocate and creating real change.” Other awards conferred on her include Champion TechWomen50, FT Outstanding Top 100 LGBT+ Executive Finalist, amongst others.
In conclusion, she says, “When the market demands change, change happens and, the openness is there to try something different.” It is time for companies to shift to a more inclusive and diverse working model to be productive and excel in the ever-changing business world.