Charlotte Broadbent is the General Manager in the UK for Faire, the world’s largest online curator and wholesaler of independent brands to independent retailers.

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

Careers aren’t linear, but it would be fair to say that I did not follow a traditional path into the world of tech. I have a degree in Geography! Early on, I was driven by a profound curiosity to understand how businesses worked. This led me to start my career in Private Equity because I believed that being in the shareholders’ seat, where major decisions are made, was a great vantage point for learning. My role was to assess and deliver new investments but also grow the value of those businesses through operational levers. I built my tenacity and understanding of what it means to have skin in the game over the long term. And I had to get comfortable quickly with context switching; I worked on deals across renewable energy, agriculture, healthcare and consumer with some world-class teams. But over time I came to two key learnings, which pushed me in the direction I have taken more recently. Firstly, I knew that I could add meaningfully more value in the future if I had experience rolling my sleeves up and getting in the arena to run a business, rather than solely having sat at the ‘back of the bus’ as an investor. Secondly, I got some direct and honest feedback that while I had impressive experience, it was almost entirely with traditional companies that were struggling with ‘digital transformation’. I wanted to add new strings to my bow.

At the beginning of 2020 I jumped into an operational role as COO of one of my portfolio companies; an international fine jewellery brand and retailer. I loved working alongside the founder to solve daily problems in the business. I didn’t know then quite how many we would face; running a retail business through the pandemic was a baptism of fire. They say that you learn the most when things are hitting the fan and I agree! We had a significant wholesale business that helped me intimately understand the problems we are trying to solve for this ecosystem at Faire.

Today, I lead Faire’s operations in the UK. Faire is the largest global b2b marketplace for independent retailers; an industry that has until very recently operated largely offline. The opportunity to join in early 2022 at the point when the US-founded business was pivoting to focus on European expansion was both hugely exciting and unique within the tech ecosystem. I spent a lot of time with the team and understanding Faire’s values before making the decision to join, which gave me the confidence that I could add value in a tech environment and most importantly, that we were a good fit.

At Faire, we are harnessing the power of digital innovation and a global marketplace to help independent retailers source, finance and manage their product selection.

But most importantly, delight their customers! All retail, but particularly discretionary, is about hearts as well as minds. This presents a unique set of challenges that I get to spend most of my time thinking about at Faire with our incredible team across product, marketing and sales.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No. But I think being deliberate in your career choices, where you are going to spend most of your waking time, is important to prioritise. An old boss taught me to differentiate work experience between what is ‘interesting’ and what is ‘helpful’. Over the years I’ve learned that what he meant is that you need to keep your eyes open and be explicit with yourself about what a project or role is giving you. A balance is fine but bringing an awareness to how you are building a portfolio of skills you bring to the table has certainly helped me make career moves.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Lots! How long have you got? When I look back, it is starting something new that has always presented the most intimidating and vulnerable periods, but often the most rewarding. I’ve tried to challenge myself to embrace these moments and now even seek them out. Early in my career, I was seconded to an Australian cattle business and sent out to farms in the Northern Territory to help build a bottoms-up strategy for the business. I faced a major culture and environment shock – my pink jeans, plaid shirt and laptop were not what the male-dominated cattle station teams were expecting! But I focused on listening hard for as long as possible and building authentic relationships, which helped me understand the business and ultimately find my voice to do the job. Breaking down the headline task into lots of small questions helped me feel less overwhelmed and gave me an opportunity to follow my curiosity, which built my confidence in this new context.

I was 26 when I landed my first board role at a national retailer. In the first meeting, I remember being so intimidated by the brains in the room and wondered if I would ever be able to fit in. I applied the same approach here and took the time to go and visit sites, spent quality time with the operational teams and most importantly customers. Doing this took the ‘scaries’ out of my new role and helped me bring a fresh perspective to those board meetings.

I’ve learned that stepping up is supposed to feel terrifying! I try not to rush to a conclusion or speak up for the sake of it in a new context, but instead have the confidence to ask for help and build my views organically.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

On the topic of context switching, I’m working on it right now with the team at Faire! I joined Faire with lots of retail experience and bundles of passion for the mission, but limited tech experience. At first it really felt like learning a new language – not only was I working in tech, I was working for an American business – and an entirely new business model (Faire was the first global wholesale marketplace when it was founded in 2018)  – the curve felt steep. We were building a new team and I was lucky to be able to spend most of my first month being a sponge and asking for lots of help from colleagues but also from our brands and retailers. Since I joined, I have worked on major category expansion, go-to-market strategy and pricing projects. Each of these were building blocks with tonnes of customer and business impact, which is the stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning.

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

Finding sounding boards and sparring partners. These have taken many forms and change over time; from peers, managers, friends and many more. They are the people I can bring a knotty issue to and talk it through, even if it means being vulnerable, admitting fears and mistakes. Doing this has totally shaped my career. In particular, I am so grateful to the supportive women I have around me. Remember that the best ones probably won’t tell you what you want to hear!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

I think the tips for a career in technology are the same as in any career. Keep an open mind – be ready that the best opportunities may not tick all the boxes on the face of it. Careers are not a linear path – sometimes going sideways is what helps you move upwards. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – the smartest people I have worked with, are the ones who often ask the simplest questions.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

Myth-busting tech at a basic level early on would have a major impact on inclusivity and bring in many more undergraduates (60% of whom are women in the UK), rather than appearing to be an industry that is only open to  computer science graduates (just 13% are female). A Computer Science degree is not a prerequisite for working in tech. But given that every single business is going to be a tech company in some form, I believe that every student should be exposed to computer science in some form during their formative years. It is a basic literacy and dexterity that we all need to have. Even if you think you may never write a line of code, you are going to be impacted by people who do and likely will be coming up with solutions in any role you do that will require code.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

We know that diverse thinking and diverse teams outperform homogenous ones. So I think we can get much more open-minded as an industry about the incredible breadth of the talent pool that is out there. If women are being overlooked from the very top of funnel, we are setting ourselves up to miss our goal. Changing this, means creating new and attractive entry opportunities for women into the tech workforce – from internships to mid-career moves and looking outside of just the top tier universities. I am proud that at Faire, we have a strong female presence across the organisation from the very top down which our founders have clearly been deliberate about. Our customers overwhelmingly skew female so I think it’s one element of a smart business decision too!

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

Gender diversity has a huge positive impact on driving innovation, which is crucial in tech where we are almost always trying to build something new. As I mentioned, I believe getting young girls and women familiar with tech at the very early stages of their education and career is key for gender diversity. But also shining a spotlight on the wide variety of non-technical careers in tech that are crucial cogs in the wheel and have paths to senior leadership. Unlocking these elements could bring a whole new cohort of great minds to our businesses.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Having a group of people in the same career universe that you can talk to about challenges is a huge comfort so that you know you are not alone in navigating the experience. Many years ago, a great mentor of mine brought me into the Vital Voices network. Vital Voices was founded on the simple idea that nations and communities cannot move forward without women’s voices in leadership positions. I’m now part of the European leadership council and encourage you to check out their work.

I love audiobooks and podcasts because I find I can absorb more information that way and often on the go. At the moment I am loving the Business Breakdowns podcast, which goes in-depth about how companies work from the people who know them best. Specifically on tech, I love listening to anything with Kara Swisher as she has seen it all and is the consummate devil’s advocate!