Brittany Benson: Natasha, could you share a little bit about your role at Sage, and how you would describe your leadership style?
Natasha: I joined Sage four years ago and I lead public affairs in the comms function. I’m responsible for handling our relationship with government, influencing policy development, and building networks with the decision-makers that impact our business. The areas that we focus on in public affairs at Sage is championing our customers. 100% that has to come first. That means making sure that the voice of small business is heard on issues like COVID recovery support, Brexit, trades, and more. We have to partner to build our influence so we are seen as a thought leader on issues that affect us. We're constantly scanning for which issues might be the most relevant at the moment that we need to get involved in. Today, I've been talking about the future of open banking and the future of filing in digitization of tax in the UK. We're looking at whether we will have a voice in the G7 and COP26 discussions later this year.
Brittany: It seems like there's so much intention and thought that goes into that role even on a day-to-day basis. Can you share a little bit about what type of impact you hope to have with this role?
Natasha: I would hope that if we have a great public affairs strategy that's focused on rapid digital adoption, it means that we are viewed as a trusted voice for our customers. The more that we engage and partner and campaign constructively, the more we get a voice at the table amongst the decision makers. We have to present ourselves as being innovative, and as a responsible, purpose-led business, where we champion digital equality, inclusive growth, and are looking ahead to a greener future.
There's no doubt that COVID had just been the worst economic crisis in peacetime history. So we need to put forward really constructive ideas to government around what an SME-led recovery could look like.
Brittany: What has shaped your leadership style and how you view that?
Natasha: I think my leadership style is shaped by how I like to work, which is in an environment where there's really strong collaboration, which is brilliant being at Sage. There is absolutely that environment, and people can share views openly and are ready to jump in on opportunities. My style is to encourage as much collaboration as possible and to favor more of a flat structure than you might have in a more traditional organization.
I'm lucky to be part of a brilliant team and it would be a mistake if I didn't tap into their ideas and wisdom all the time. One of the things I noticed when I joined Sage is that you never regret reaching out to people because you always get a proactive response and ideas, and people always welcome you reaching out for a catch-up.
Brittany: I completely agree. Can you share about an obstacle that you encountered in your career and how you overcame that?
Natasha: I think one of the biggest challenges – but I don't mean this in a negative way – has been having children. I've benefited from having some fantastic bosses that I reported to in my time. But I've also come across some that are less flexible, and not so open-minded. When I started out with my family, around 20 years ago, there was no such thing as part-time or flexible work in public affairs, which still tends to be a male dominated sector. If you wanted to earn decent money and have good career opportunities, you had to think outside the box.
I set up my own limited company at that time and had my own clients so I could be my own boss. I kind of effectively promoted myself, but also saw my children more. It gave me flexible working hours. Funny enough, my clients never once asked me where I was at what time. They just wanted to see good results from my campaigning. Compare that to a managing director I once went to an interview with who said he didn't see how I could have two families at once: one at work, one at home. I couldn't get out of that interview quickly enough. I'm very lucky that Sage is fantastic in terms of flexibility and that makes a huge difference.
My advice for people that are starting out with families, is to not be afraid to go for something that perhaps looks quite daunting on paper, or a full-time job. The way things are evolving with technology, there are so many more opportunities to work flexibly and keep your career going. My advice for those women would be to don't hold back. You aren’t limited, and there are so many options!
Read the other colleague profiles who are part of Sage’s Women in Technology interview series.