Guest Blog - Women in Data & Technology: Natasha Passley, IAG
Natasha has more than 20 years’ experience in technology, leading IT and Security transformation programs across large financial services institutions and consultancy in the UK and Australia.
Natasha is an advocate for the importance of program delivery within the security function to fully realise strategic intent, improve capability and reduce risk. She is the Head of the Cyber portfolio at Insurance Australia Group (IAG), leading large scale program change to deliver security solutions and uplift compliance across the organisation.
Where did your interest in technology come from? How did you decide to form a career in technology
I entered the Technology industry many years ago purely by accident. I graduated university with a BA Honours degree in German and French, and was approached by a company that was looking for someone with language skills to join their European Technical Helpdesk. I joined Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and learned as much as I could so that I could respond to the technical issues that people were having, and my interest in technology grew from there. After a few years, I decided to do a Masters Degree in Information Systems. I made a move into technology consulting around 15 years ago, where I managed large scale projects, and I've been managing technology programs, predominantly within Financial Services, ever since. In the last 5 years, I've moved into the Security and Risk area of Technology, which I really enjoy as there’s always something new to learn with Security.
What are the key habits that you feel make you successful?
I'm very goal oriented, so at the start of each year I set myself goals for career, personal development, health etc. that I want to achieve, and I regularly check how I'm doing against those commitments. Setting goals for my career ensures that when I get to a point where I feel comfortable, or that I'm doing the role with ease, it's time for me to seek out a new challenge so I can stretch myself. I think this mindset has helped me move forward in my career. But it's also important to look after yourself and your mind, as success is not only about career achievements. I regularly go to the gym to manage stress.
I am also very organised and have a plan for each day. I'm an early bird as I do my best thinking in the morning, so I make sure the tasks that need real focus and new ideas or creative thinking are scheduled for early in the day. This means I've usually done a couple of hours of productive work, whether that be for my role or for my personal development, before the working day starts. My days at work are taken up predominantly with meetings, so it's important I set aside time to do the things I need to do as part of my role.
What would be the key things that allowed you to get to where you are today and what do you attribute your success to?
I think having an appetite to learn something new has helped me develop myself and seek new opportunities which have led me into roles that have uplifted my skills and experience. I am very focused on how I reach the next level, and what I need to do to develop myself professionally, and personally, to get there.
Building good relationships with people you meet along the way is also critical to success, as you never know when someone may play an important role in your life, or vice versa. So I like to approach all interactions with the intent of building a lasting relationship, whether that be on a professional or personal level. That doesn't mean you've got to get on with everyone, but it's important to respect everyone's point of view, and try and understand where they're coming from.
What's the most valuable piece of advice you have received in your career and how did it help you?
That I should make myself heard more and not be afraid to put my point across. When I look back at the early part of my career, I was lacking in some confidence and I think this advice helped me realise that everyone's opinion is valuable, even if what you've got to say doesn't seem to be that important. I now make sure that if it's a topic I feel passionate about, am very experienced in, or have a strong opinion on, I get my point across. But I don't talk for the sake of talking. I think it's important to choose what to say, and to know when to speak up and be vocal.
As you transitioned to more Senior and Leadership level roles what was the shift you needed to make?
I needed to start thinking about the qualities that make a manager and leader, rather than just focusing on delivering and getting the job done. The more senior you become, the more you need to balance the ability to continue to deliver and keep your customers/stakeholders happy with the need to be there for the people in your team, as they are critical to your success. If you have a good team of happy, motivated people working for you, you can achieve anything. So I try to balance spending time with my team against achieving what we need to do day to day, while also setting aside time for strategic thinking and future direction. It's easier said than done though!
What's the most challenging situation you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
While I was consulting, I was working a long way from home on a project that was particularly difficult in nature. The customer was very unhappy and needed to be convinced that we were capable of doing the job at hand. The team members were disenchanted and unmotivated, and the only way we were going to be able to turn the project around was by bringing the team back onside, which would improve delivery success for the client, while also restoring the relationship with the client. This type of turnaround doesn't happen overnight. You need to invest a lot of time building up a relationship and understanding the root cause of the problems before you can start presenting a workable way forward. But we got there in the end and managed to restore the client's confidence and complete the project.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in Technology?
Technology is a fantastic space to be in, as there is so much opportunity to pursue and if you like learning and developing, you'll never be bored. The pace at which technology changes nowadays means there's always a demand for people with new skills and a fresh outlook to join, and this is very true of the Security space. Don't be put off by the fact there are a lot of men in Technology. Women bring a different perspective on problems and situations, and this in itself is powerful. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask questions if you're not sure; there's usually someone else that doesn't understand and wants to ask the same question, but doesn't have the confidence to ask. It's hard at first but the more you do it, the more you'll get used to it and feel comfortable in your own voice.