Natalie is a product-oriented and people-obsessed organisational leader with over 10 years of experience in product delivery and operational roles. In her current role, she leads the product organisation at OAG, a leading travel data company which has been around for over 90 years.

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

I’m Natalie, I’m 46 years old and the mother of three children. I’m currently the Chief Product Officer of the travel data company OAG, where I am focusing on delivering maximum value for our customers. I work in partnership with our Chief Technology Officer on modernising OAG’s data offering and continuing to serve our customers in the best way possible.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I very much fell into tech as a career but I would not have it any other way. I started out in technology at Worldpay 12 years ago as it seemed like a fitting opportunity from a practical perspective. It was then that I realised tech is a fantastic place to be, and I have never looked back.

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

Openly, one of the most difficult things I have faced in my career has been the judgement of other people, especially as a working, single mother. When I had my first son in the 90s, I returned to work within two months, which many colleagues expressed strong – negative – feelings about.

It was an early lesson for me in understanding that it is completely impossible to live up to society’s expectation. If I’d stayed at home longer, I would have been very bored and unhappy, so that simply wasn’t an option for me.

Since then, I’ve learnt to follow my own path and not be concerned with what other people think. What is right for me might look different to the next person, but it is the only choice for me. This is especially true of motherhood: I think a happy mother makes a good mother, so we have to do what makes us happy, even if that means being judged harshly sometimes.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of the product strategy that I set out and executed in my time so far with OAG. The innovative and modernised tech strategy which our CTO created needed strong product ideas so that the organisation could move forward and continue powering the travel ecosystem. Inspired by my previous experience at an innovation startup, Pollen8, I implemented a customer-led product strategy which saw us build a product prototype and test it with 60 customers in under 12 weeks. Since then, it has become one of the most valuable products in OAG’s offering, bringing a new, multi-million dollar revenue stream into the organisation.

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

Being in product has taught me that testing and learning is the only path to success. You give something a go, you fail, you learn, and you try again. Iterating myself like a product and being relentless in my pursuit of continuous learning, development and progress has served me well as a strategy.

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

Invest in your network. Know your boundaries and understand what you are prepared to do and what you are not. Get a good mentor, ideally someone who’s been there before you and who can help you shortcut some of the long and difficult lessons that they had to learn along the way.

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

Speaking with my network, most organisations have good intentions when it comes to hiring women in tech, however, creating a pipeline of future talent, attracting that talent and creating an environment where women want to stay, still seem to be the key challenges.

Tech is a fast-paced and demanding environment to work in, and in a world where the majority of household tasks and childcare still fall to women, I can say from first-hand experience and repeat burnout that it can simply all end up being too much.

Society and government have critical roles to play here in regards to removing barriers and passing policies in order to create an equal playing field for women to succeed.

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

Take time to listen to women, their needs, aspirations and specifically their experience of working in your tech team and organisation. Not all women are the same, so if I apply a product mindset, it’s about understanding individual requirements and tailoring your product offering, your “employee experience” in this instance, to create optionality for people who can meet their individual needs. Doing this will result in “employee fit” (like product-market fit), making them happy at work and more likely to stay and grow with your organisation.

I think that considering all genders at the individual level and not lumping people into boxes is the secret to success here. Putting people into categories might make it easier for the organisation to manage, but it’s a counterintuitive approach.

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

As a product person, I’m always going to begin with the “customer problems”. In this case, it starts with understanding the reasons why we don’t have greater gender diversity in tech.

The misunderstanding starts early. When I talk about tech as a career to my 15-year-old daughter, her response is usually: “No way do I want to code all day”. But she is observational, empathetic, and good with people, so I’ll speak to her about the broader range of tech roles that exist, such as Product, where we’ve seen a huge increase in women over the last decade. We need to help people understand that it is not just about writing code. If it was, I wouldn’t be here!

Early education is necessary as we try and pull more women into tech. Besides, we also have a responsibility to make sure that we hire and retain women at every level, and that we continue to evolve our employee proposition as women’s lives and needs evolve. People don’t stay static and organisations need to be agile and flexible to iterate their employee experience if they want people to stay.

My needs, challenges, and motivations in my late twenties and thirties with three young children are very different to the ones I have in my mid-40s, and I need to work for an organisation that understands, respects and supports this.

It might sound simple, but creating an open environment where there is psychological safety so women feel they can be themselves, voice what they need and then pursue what they want, with support, is key.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Find your tribe. In tech, and in business more broadly, there will be people who you love to work with, as well as relationships and situations that are more challenging. One painful lesson I had to learn is not to expect my organisation, my manager, or anyone else to solve these problems for me. It’s critical to form a network of people, both within your organisation and outside, who can be there to support and challenge you when needed and provide impartial views and advice.

At a senior level, my tribe has mostly been men due to the legacy ratio of men to women in senior roles. To counter this, I recently became a Founding Member of Chief UK which is a private network for senior women. I really enjoy the spontaneity of making new connections at the London clubhouse and sharing experiences, ideas and challenges with other members. But what Chief has also taught me is that my male tribe is also critical to my success, so my advice would be to invest in both equally.