A passionate advocate of empowering women in tech sales, Natália MacQueen, Regional Vice President UK&I at Dataiku, talks to Liv Price, Principal at Erevena, about her own career in sales — and why every woman needs mentors and allies.

Dataiku is the world’s leading AI and machine learning platform, supporting agility in organisations’ data efforts via collaborative, elastic, and responsible AI, all at enterprise scale.

Natália is based in the UK, having recently moved across from the US to take up her new role with Dataiku.

Tell us about your current role and what attracted you to Dataiku

I joined Dataiku as a Regional Vice-President in April 2021 and am running a go-to-market revenue team in the UK and Israel. There were several things that excited  me about the opportunity to join the sales leadership team: to start, the data science and machine learning space that Dataiku plays in is the future. Dataiku has a terrific foundation in place and is at a momentous stage which is an exciting environment to learn from and contribute to. Last but certainly not least, the people at Dataiku were also a big selling point for me. From culture to diversity, I was impressed from day one. In terms of gender balance which I feel strongly about, a lot of the groundwork has already been done and  everyone I met during the hiring process was up-front about diversity and mentoring.

What attracted you to a career in sales?

I think a lot of people end up in sales by accident, but I remember a specific event at university that led me to sales. I was in a marketing class with a charismatic professor who surveyed the students on who would pursue a career in marketing versus sales. 95% of students raised their hands for marketing, with just 2 or 3 for sales. After a few more questions in between, he wrote on the board ‘financial independence’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘faster freedom from student loans’ and asked who wanted those things—everyone raised their hands. He proceeded to jokingly congratulate those 2-3 students in the class who had picked sales. Although this was intended to be more of a joke, it was a moment I didn’t forget. A few months after this, Konica Minolta recruited me for a sales executive role and I’ve been in sales ever since. 

What did that first opportunity in sales lead to?

It was a stepping stone, a gateway into Enterprise Tech. I was recruited fairly quickly from Konica Minolta into Gartner, where I spent 8 years; It was a really fun ride where I was able to develop my skills as a sales professional as well as a leader. Sales is about continuous improvement and I’m looking forward to the next part of my sales journey as a leader at Dataiku.

What has the transition been like from sales in the US to sales in the UK?

Besides some of the obvious challenges of working in a different culture and with different companies it has not been too difficult to adapt. I am half Portuguese, half American so I have lived in different locations before and this type of change is familiar. Thankfully the beauty of being in the Tech industry is that most of the problems we are solving transcend borders. While there are some cultural nuances between the US and the UK, my new team has been very welcoming and patient as I adapt to the British way of thinking!

Can you expand on women as leaders — and how you’ve improved the balance?

When I joined the group that I eventually went on to become VP in, at my previous company, there were just four women in a division of 50 accounts executives. My immediate thought was that this needed disrupting and I later became the first female sales leader in that business unit. I’ve been lucky to always have strong female role models and mentors and feel that it is key to improving balance. I focused on identifying future potential, telling them that if I could do it, so could they! When I became a sales VP with leaders working for me, I was proud that I had a 50:50 ratio of women to men at both the AE and direct manager level.

What advice would you give to companies wanting to encourage more women into sales?

Organisational change doesn’t happen overnight, so patience and planning are critical. It’s about having the intent to get people ready for what lies ahead. It’s thinking that we will have a position for this woman in two years, so let’s invest, let’s connect her with the right people in the organisation and put her in external workshops that help to get her there.

It’s a cycle that takes you from sourcing talent, through the interview, to onboarding and retention, then back to sourcing. The mentoring I mention above is very much part of the retention phase. You need to manage this cycle so that the women you bring on board are nurtured and promoted, then go on to be advocates, making it easier to source new talent.

Recruitment is where it all begins. When you’re recruiting new talent, ask yourself if you need to reinvent the persona you’re recruiting for. Does the female candidate you want have to be a certain  persona? Does she need a Wall St background? Probably not. Rather, she needs to have the right traits — to be great at what she does today and able to apply this to the product, service, or solution she’s selling. Your recruiting and sourcing partners must also be intimately aligned with the story you want to tell about your organisation. Everyone needs to be conveying a consistent message about your belief in women as sales executives and leaders.

Can you tell us more about diverse panelling?

For example, at interview stage, are you asking the right questions? Or are you giving answers to the questions they want to know but are afraid to ask? Do they have a female perspective? Are you actively listening and really paying attention to what’s important to this person? Use the interview to tell stories about how other women have progressed their careers in the organisation and talk about what this person’s role might be. In the past when I’ve been recruiting, we’ve been able to get a lot of talent through the door because they wanted to be part of something big; to have a mission. That’s what the interview should be giving them.

It goes without saying that your panel should be diverse. But not just in terms of gender; there should be diversity in roles, background and perspectives. It’s how you help the candidate decide if they want to be part of your company. And everyone who’s sitting on a panel needs to know why you’re looking for a female sales exec or female leader. It’s not just a simple nod to diversity; it’s about being able to articulate to the candidate why it’s important to you as a company, and to you individually as the hiring manager.

What’s halting women’s progression in tech sales?

I’ll start with a personal illustration. Earlier in my career, I was working alongside a male colleague doing a similar role, with the similar levels of sales achievement. I was heads down trying to be really good at what I did, which is a fairly stereotypical female characteristic. In contrast, my male colleague was much more verbal about his ambition to grow in the organisation. He was far bolder than me. So, when certain opportunities for career advancement programs came up, he was better positioned to be included in those. This was a big miss on my behalf and my advice is to ensure you are speaking up and ensure you are thinking about what job you want next.

Mentoring is clearly important to you — why is that?

When I look back at my career, mentorship is one of the things that has had the biggest impact. Early on, I knew I needed to find professional (and personal) mentors to help guide me into the world of work. At the time, I was new to the US so I grabbed every opportunity to find professional mentors and took an active rather than passive role with this. Whether that was a direct leader, a wise friend, or a sales prospect, I realised that mentors could be all around me.

One of my great mentors still to this day was actually a sales prospect – a CIO at a Silicon Valley tech company I was selling to. I told him I was just starting out in my career and asked if I could meet up regularly to pick his brain— 8 years later, he is still someone I call onto when I need direction and advice, or to get a challenging point of view.

Mentors can be internal to your organisation, or they can be external— in my opinion, a combination of both is key to helping keeping views balanced.

Lastly, you can’t just have mentors— you also need allies. These are the internal advocates that have a vision of where you can go and how you can grow in the organisation.

What impact has Covid and remote working had on women in tech sales?

I think this really depends, remote working has removed the burden of commuting into the office every day but for women and men for that matter with families at home during lockdown it has been incredibly difficult. For me personally, I believe companies will thrive in a hybrid environment. There is still a lot of value in getting people together in the office environment but what I think the last 18 months have proven is that top sales professionals can be successful wherever they are based.

The conversations we are having today as leaders and the decisions that will come from it will certainly shape the workforce trends and demographics of decades to come.

What are your hopes for the future of women in tech sales?

Honestly, that we won’t have to talk about this because what we’re talking about becomes part of our social fabric! It’s about getting to a place where every woman walking into an organisation can quickly identify a role model and say that’s what I aspire to — someone perhaps three steps further ahead in their career. The future should be a place where transparency in the market means female account executives or sales leaders don’t have to wonder if they have equal pay. Where there’s no perception of a glass ceiling, and where needing flexibility doesn’t mean that you hinder your career.

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