Nathalie Marchino

Nathalie Marchino has represented the Colombian women’s rugby team at Rio 2016, the US in the 2010 and 2014 15s world cup and in the 2013 7s World Cup, where they earned a Bronze medal.

She also worked her way up in the tech sector with the likes of Google, Twitter and LinkedIn, before progressing to the role of Head of Partnerships at Figma – the web-based design platform behind Uber, Deliveroo and Spotify.

Now based in London, Nathalie is a huge advocate for helping athletes enter the workforce, helping women reach the top of their game both professionally and in sport, and for helping minority groups have their voices heard. Her experience as an athlete has taught her a thing or two about how to collaborate and help minorities succeed in business – something she applies to her role at Figma, which is democratising design for all.

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

I’m Nathalie Marchino, a half Swiss half Colombian former Olympic rugby player with a ten year long career in the tech sector also under my belt. I’ve worked and competed across the globe, but I’m currently based in London working for Figma – the design platform for teams who build products together.

It’s fair to say I’ve had an unconventional professional career – for many years I held a day job alongside competitive sport. Throughout my first roles at Nestlé, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn – which were all based in the US – I’ve always juggled them with playing professional rugby – which could at times prove to be a challenge in more ways than one!

Two years after retiring I moved to Figma, where I’ve progressed to the role of Head of Partnerships and show leading brands how to make their digital design more collaborative and more accessible. I’ve been at Figma for almost three years now, and have recently relocated to London to lead the partnerships teams in EMEA.

Whilst my retirement from professional rugby has taken a lot of adjustment, it has been so exciting to not only channel all my focus into my career at Figma, but also to be in a tech role that I love, helping to create opportunities for designers around the world.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The short answer is no! In terms of my rugby career, I didn’t think there was ever an avenue for me to become an Olympian. I grew up in Switzerland, and even though I loved sport from ever since I can remember, I wasn’t exposed to as many advanced sporting opportunities there as I was in the US. When I moved to the US for college and eventually for work, my love of basketball was quickly replaced by a love for rugby when I realised that it combined a lot of my existing athletic skills.

To seriously pursue rugby, I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way professionally. I’ve had to quit almost every job to participate in big athletic events, including representing the Colombian women’s rugby team at Rio 2016, the US in the 2010 and 2014 15s World Cup and in the 2013 7s World Cup. It’s a massive commitment, and I know I’m not the only athlete to make these career sacrifices – nor will I be the last.

Having retired in 2016, I’ve since had an opportunity to sit down and work out where I wanted to make my mark in my career, leading me to the work I’m doing with Figma now, breaking down the barriers of design for all.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve faced was balancing both my tech and my athletic careers – especially in terms of capacity. To maintain my fitness, I was going to the track at 5am, lifting weights at lunch time, and going to endurance training at 6pm, all the while trying to maintain my sales targets too. As an ambitious person, I found it difficult to prioritise one career over another.

By pursuing rugby though, and taking time out to compete at international events, there were often misconceptions that I wasn’t serious about my tech career. I’ve been passed over for promotions and lost contract renewals because of it.

I’m not convinced this would have happened if I was in a more mainstream sport and even less so if I wasn’t a woman. I found out the hard way that women’s rugby doesn’t garner mainstream support in the US, and having watched a documentary on women’s soccer, I’ve come to realise it’s a widespread issue in women’s sport. This was always front of mind for me as a rugby player.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is definitely moving to Europe during a pandemic with Figma to help launch a partnerships team that I love. Not only has my team been crushing their targets, which is really encouraging, they’re also a motivated, curious, interesting and smart group of people that I feel incredibly fortunate to work with every day.

As someone often described as a minority candidate, I feel that in the past colleagues haven’t recognised what I can bring to the workplace. Nowadays, I can also honestly say I feel the most accepted and the most ‘myself’ at Figma. My team are a diverse group of people who are unified by one vision that we truly believe in – I think that that is the foundation of our success over the last year. I am immensely proud of that.

Nathalie Marchino

You were an Olympic athlete – how have you transferred your skills to working in tech?

Almost all the values I bring to the workplace were learnt from the sports I’ve played throughout my life. Each team sport has taught me something about learning to work with others, and appreciating different perspectives and ambitions. This has really helped me to navigate team projects in my professional career.

My main takeaway from rugby was shifting my mindset. I had a very fixed mindset growing up, and through rugby I learnt to be more of a growth-oriented person. The Japanese concept of Kaizen, which refers to the notion of constant self-development, has really shaped my outlook and goals for my career. Every day I try to learn something new, teach something new, or make sure we’re developing a team, product or strategy that’s a little bit better than the day before.

As I said earlier, I have also found my appreciation of teamwork in sport and the good of the collective to be immensely transferrable. As an Olympic athlete, I’m hypercompetitive (unsurprisingly!) but I truly believe we should compete as a team and not against one another in the workplace. If we can lift each other up, we can only be better off for it.

There have been many campaigns encouraging more women into sport and exercise. What would your advice or tips be to get more women moving?

Although I have always been sport-oriented, it’s not something that’s necessarily taught to girls growing up. Coming from a Colombian background, femininity is taught as the best expression of who you can be as a woman, and sport is viewed as incompatible with that.

My advice is simple; if you have the urge to play sport, give into it! Give yourself small things to try that aren’t overly intimidating. Try a bunch of different sports – not any one thing is going to appeal to everyone so it’s all about self-discovery. If you don’t know where to start, join a group or go with a friend to ease your way in. Surround yourself with people that will encourage you, because there are plenty of people who will say that women’s sport isn’t as interesting or athletic as men’s (which is just not true!). There are a lot of women that I follow that are breaking the mould of what it means to be a woman in sport – let those people be the ones that drive you.

Most importantly, try not to be motivated by the physical element of sport. A lot of people are driven by the goal of looking fit and have unrealistic aspirations as a result. At the end of the day, it should be something that makes you feel good, happy and accomplished.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Statistically speaking, it’s been proven that there are far fewer opportunities for women in tech than there are for men. We encourage men to be ambitious from an early age, and as a result, men apply for jobs that they are hardly qualified for, whereas women try to meet around 90% of the requirements before applying.

One thing that I am really excited about at Figma, is that the eight-person team I manage is made up of seven women. Although sales teams are notoriously male-dominated, my team goes to show how there are super qualified women in tech.

Now that we know less women will apply for such roles, it’s important to not only encourage them to apply, but to proactively recruit women and show them how accessible these roles can be. It’s up to leaders to empower women to see what they can contribute to a workplace, and that their perceived imposter syndrome is unwarranted.

I think mentorship is a really valuable way to help women also. At Figma I’ve been really lucky to have mentors who have encouraged me to be ambitious in my career. I really recommend reaching out to your networks to connect with people you want to emulate so that you can learn about how they’ve navigated their careers.

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

To create change, you have to be aware of it. A lot of companies are starting to ask themselves the right questions about diversity, but they aren’t necessarily putting the infrastructure in place to address these problems.

Leadership teams have to be invested in driving opportunities for not only women, but also under-represented women, with an appropriate accountability structure in place to enable tangible progress. Without this, the subject of diversity stays at the conversation level.

What I’m proud of at Figma is that we don’t see diversity as merely a tick-box exercise. We have done a good job recruiting incredible female talent and making it a key priority as we go forward.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

First and foremost, I would have more women apply to more positions in tech, be more vocal about their capabilities, and be confident in what they can bring to a role.

However, to do so, society requires a mindset shift. We still associate traditionally ‘male’ attributes with leadership, despite it having been demonstrated that women leading companies do really well. If I had a magic wand, I would remove the biases towards women in leadership roles. At the end of the day, I truly believe culture is top-down, and if those at the top don’t believe women belong there, then nothing is going to change.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

One of my favourite books is Legacy, by James Kerr, which recounts the successes of the New Zealand men’s rugby team – the All Blacks – and the lessons that can be applied to business. This book really reaffirmed to me about how athletes make great employees – they bring a unique, transferrable skillset to the workforce as self-motivated, goal-driven, dynamic, and highly adaptable individuals.

I think there’s also so much to be learned from your peers – you don’t have to go far to be inspired! Our Head of Sales at Figma was recently featured on the podcast SaaStr, where the most prominent operators and investors are interviewed to uncover their tips, tactics, and strategies to attain success in the world of SaaS. After learning about SaaStr, I’ve really enjoyed the conversations that I’ve heard from other business leaders.

And in terms of podcasts generally, there’s a lot of content out there that is women-generated for women about how to advance your career. The LatinX in Power podcast is a personal favourite that highlights both male and female business leaders in the Latin world, which really resonates with me as a Latina woman in tech.

The Harvard business review is also a great resource. I’ve had a lot of insightful quick reads shared with me on the subject on tech start-ups, how to scale up your team, and how to find the right people.

Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck was also instrumental in prompting my shift from a fixed to growth-oriented mindset, whilst Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshya Medcalf is a great read about a boy’s journey to becoming a samurai warrior and deep diving into the mental process of improving your craft, whatever that craft may be.