Nathalie Richards

As chief exec of SEO London, Nathalie and her team work with some of the biggest names in the tech sector to improve workforce diversity.

Nathalie has dedicated her career to improving opportunities for women and young people from underrepresented groups in the top professions, including tech, finance and real estate.

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

I grew up in the East End in the 80s. As a teen, I had no idea what I wanted to do after school and had never heard of most of the careers that we now help students to access.

As a girl from Ilford, a career in tech couldn’t have been further from my mind even during university! There simply weren’t any women like me thinking or talking about it, which underlines the truth in the saying ‘What you see is what you’ll be’.

But early in my career I found myself part of a testing team implementing a large-scale billing system and surprisingly, I loved it. Not the most glamourous of roles, but I soon realised the transformative power of technology in business.

Far too few young women from minority and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are aware of the many roles and opportunities that exist in the world of tech. As CEO at SEO London, I’ve made it my mission to change that.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Honestly, no. Partly because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My only real plan was to adapt and make the best of every opportunity.

For example, I completed an internship at Lehman Brothers in 2008, and just a week later the bank collapsed, taking the global economy with it! This taught me that even with the best-laid plans, you never know how your career is going to unfold.

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

Yes. As a young black woman starting my career, I was often the ‘only one’ in corporate environments. Almost always the only black person, and occasionally the only woman too. I lacked role models and it often felt like I just didn’t fit in with the ‘old boys’ networks I encountered.

Even in senior roles I’ve been in meetings where clients automatically directed questions to the more junior white male in the room. My colleague on the receiving end of the questions found this habit extremely uncomfortable.

These experiences have put fire in my belly and driven me not only to become a successful, authentic leader but importantly, to inspire generations of women to come.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Understanding how tech can drive change and solve problems led me to my biggest career achievement to date – launching a tech start-up, EduKit, a social enterprise dedicated to helping schools improve their students’ mental health and wellbeing.

Having been bullied at school, I wanted to ensure young people’s educational journey wasn’t just focused on what they learned in books but filled them with confidence and resilience too. We launched a platform that schools could use to survey students on their mental health and wellbeing. It meant schools could look at the results and see if additional workshops or courses were needed to support students. Knowing that the insights from our platform enabled teachers to ensure students who were depressed or withdrawn could access the help they needed filled me with immense pride.

A golden thread throughout my career has been to help others and give back. My role at SEO London encompasses this perfectly and I’m hugely proud of the work we do to encourage positive change within the industries we work.

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

Resilience, without a doubt. It’s no trope that the greatest success comes from rising after every fall. The ability to embrace ‘failure’, see it as a learning opportunity and keep going is the bedrock of achievement.

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

Young people starting out often think being a coder or developer are the only career options in tech. So, my advice is to find out as much as possible about the broad spectrum of opportunities across the industry from strategy, design, testing, project management and much more.

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

The lack of representation, particularly at senior levels. Firms need to focus on retention as well as recruitment. It’s getting better but there’s still a long way to go.

Far too many women still don’t think they can make it in tech, but look at what Suki Fuller, Sarah Turner and Sheridan Ash have achieved. Sheryl Sandberg too, who played a significant role in transforming Mark Zuckerberg from millionaire to billionaire status.

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

Invest in programmes that help build the pipeline of talent and support the next generation of female tech leaders and innovators coming through. Not just engaging with young people as they leave university, but long before that in schools. There are so many great organisations out there that can help you focus your efforts where they will have the greatest impact like ours, SEO London, Women in STEM and Stemettes.

Think about flexibility too. Hybrid or home working, part-time hours and job shares all allow people to have fulfilling careers while bringing up children or caring for relatives.

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

I would ask all firms in this sector to work with schools to get tech careers onto the radar of women and girls early. The careers days we run, that connect tech companies with school children, really help. We also have a network of individual and corporate partners who fund the work we do to improve DEI in the sector. Readers interested in getting involved can contact [email protected].

If you’re a small tech business, you can still play your part. Contact your local secondary school and ask to speak to the careers advisor or contact us to organise a careers day on your behalf. Schools are always looking for people in business to speak to students or offer work placements. You’d be surprised how much impact you can have in just one day.

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

There are many great resources available for women in tech which provide valuable insights, networking opportunities and support including:

Read more from our inspirational women here.