In our latest Cyber Leaders on the Move, a series that features untold stories of leaders shaking up the cybersecurity industry, I had the privilege of sitting down with Natasha Passley, Executive Manager - Head of Cyber Strategy, Architecture and Consulting at IAG. One of our distinguished Cyber Leadership Institute (CLI) Alumni, Natasha is also a great friend and a member of the CLI Community Advisory Board.
What strikes me most about Natasha is her determination to break down barriers keeping other women from rising to top cyber leadership roles. But to fully understand what shapes Natasha’s unshakeable resolve and core values, I take her back to her formative years.
“I was born and raised in Wales,” Natasha opened up the conversation, “My dad is Jamaican, and my mum is Welsh. I grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood and was one of only three black/mixed-race kids at school.” Natasha knew from a young age that she had to put in the hard yards to achieve her goals. “I became aware of being different and knew I had to work harder than the other kids to have my achievements noticed,” she recalls.
But those challenges were not necessarily a bad thing; they instilled a strong determination and work ethic that continues to serve her well. Growing up, the hardest bit for Natasha was the absence of relatable role models. “One of the reasons I am passionate about diversity is because I remember being one of those kids that didn’t have a role model. At that time, there weren’t many senior leaders to look up to that were black or mixed race,” Natasha explains. She also found it difficult to make the right academic choices, choosing simply to focus on an area that she loved; languages.
She decided to move to London to do a Bachelor of Arts degree in French and German, but soon after graduation, she faced a dilemma, “When you study languages unless you are going to go and translate, your career pathway is limited.”
But Natasha’s multilingual skills would soon open an unexpected door. Around a year after leaving university, Natasha was hired by Electronic Data Systems (EDS), a global tech behemoth, as a Helpdesk Analyst. The help desk role, which required multilingual skills, taught Natasha the fundamentals of IT. “In those days, when someone had a problem with their desktop, you would go out and fix it,” she recalls nostalgically. As a desktop support analyst, EDS introduced Natasha to the troubleshooting and problem-solving aspects of a role in technology.
The technical skills Natasha built at EDS gave her the credibility and confidence to apply for a role at Halifax, a division of Lloyds Banking Group as a Desktop Support Manager. Natasha managed large-scale software upgrades and a team of people, which kick-started her project management and leadership journey.
After five successful years at Halifax, Natasha joined Accenture, the global consulting giant, as a technology consultant. The role, characterized by constant travel and a hectic schedule, quickly thrust Natasha into the deep end. She was assigned to manage complex IT transformation projects for high-profile clients.
When Natasha moved on from Accenture, she’d gained critical skills in leading large-scale projects. Her experience there turbocharged Natasha’s project delivery expertise, “I enjoyed leading teams and solving important problems for my clients,” she explains.
Natasha joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a Senior Project Manager. There, she led a number of successful infrastructure projects before joining Barclays Bank in a Vice-President capacity.
When I asked Natasha’s project delivery success secrets, she offered three valuable tips. “First, the key to successful project delivery is all about people,” she begins, “Build strong relationships with your clients and understand what success looks like for them. And build strong teams of people to support you in delivering your goals. Second, set realistic expectations and be honest. Any issues that are raised can be addressed and overcome. Third, understand and communicate the impact of the change and take everyone, from stakeholders to employees, on the journey. The people element and the change impact are the crucial elements to understand for any transformation. Bring people on the journey with you and make sure you communicate why you need to make the change,” Natasha counsels.
Over the next five years, Natasha would immerse herself in global and business-critical regulatory and security projects, holding senior roles at financial services organizations such as Credit Suisse, Direct Line Group, Financial Conduct Authority, and Deutsche Bank.
Examining her successful career, I was keen to know Natasha’s biggest challenges, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field. “Looking back, with the wisdom of age, I realize that I wasn’t as assertive as I could’ve been. I was quite a shy child, and I had to work at gaining confidence,” Natasha confides. Lack of confidence is a common theme Natasha regularly sees in her female mentees. Natasha elucidates that as women, “There are internal challenges we put on ourselves, and there are challenges that are external to us. Confidence is actually something we can improve and control ourselves, but we have to work at it. For example, women often feel they need all the answers before speaking up, but that shouldn’t be the case. We need to learn to be more comfortable with speaking out.”
Breaking it down further, she continues, “It’s quite typical for men to apply for roles if they feel 50% qualified. On the contrary, most women will only apply if they have 100% of the experience required for the role.” Natasha recommends her mentees listen to podcasts and read books to develop confidence as well as making simple changes in meetings to be more effective.
“I have been in so many important meetings where I am the only woman, and I struggle to get my point heard. I have noticed a lot of men have a tendency to listen to other men. As a woman, you must reiterate what you’ve said and persevere. But women also need to support other women and not be afraid to reconfirm other female viewpoints in meetings if they agree with them. We can all benefit by being a bit more vocal. Of course, with greater diversity at senior levels, and more senior female leaders, this would happen naturally, which is why diversity is so important,” Natasha explains.
Since moving to Australia, her career has gone from strength to strength. Thanks to her depth of experience, she was hired by the Insurance Australia Group (IAG) as Executive Manager - Head of Cyber Security Portfolio. After proving herself, delivering large-scale security capability uplift and enhancements, she was promoted to her current role as Executive Manager - Head of Cyber Strategy, Architecture and Consulting.
In 2019, CLI partnered with the Australian Women in Cyber Security Network (AWSN) to offer scholarships to women leaders to join our flagship course — the Cyber Leadership Program (CLP). Natasha was one of the four women selected based on their proximity to the CISO role and commendable leadership. Her drive shone throughout the intensive eight weeks, and she went on to win the highly competitive Cyber Strategy competition, thanks to her ability to pitch cyber transformation as a robust growth area and ruthlessly prioritize critical initiatives. This earned Natasha a scholarship into an award-winning INSEAD Executive Communication program.
When I ask Natasha to share advice to those seeking to break into cybersecurity, she replies, “Cybersecurity is very broad, so think of an area of interest to focus on. Project management can offer a good entry point into security. Apply for roles on cybersecurity programs that will give exposure to a range of cyber disciplines and could lay the security foundations for you to build on.”