Today we sat down with Nathalie Peach, Director of Work-Integrated Learning, to discuss her career as a woman in business and how she aspires to inspire young people to further their career.

Tell me about yourself

Hi my name is Nathalie Peach, and I am Director of Work-Integrated Learning here at Pearson College London. What that means is that I am responsible for the student experience of the working students - degree apprentices and professional pathways. I am also in charge of the internship schemes for the traditional degree students. Alongside that, I am the module leader for the People Management and Leadership module, a core module for the second year students.

What have you done in your career so far?

I worked for 15 years in HR and was a Headhunter. I then worked for L’Oréal in France and Italy and then at The Body Shop in the UK and then Pearson. I have worked in international roles, Talent Development, Diversity, Talent Acquisition and HR Director roles, therefore touching on a broad range of areas around HR. Throughout my career I have lived in 6 different countries including France, UK, USA (New York) and Brazil and I speak 5 different languages.

I didn’t see myself working in HR for all of my life, so when I left L’Oréal I then joined Pearson. This gave me the opportunity to go into the business side of things. One year ago, I was seconded to Pearson College London from Pearson plc to work in Business Development, Account Management and teaching. That role allowed me to gain the Director for Work-Integrated Learning; outside of work, I am also an executive coach.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?

One of the most interesting challenges I faced and what I have learned the most from was when I came back from my second maternity leave and it was a time when I felt quite vulnerable. I had been off work for 6 months and was returning into a HR Director role, which as you can imagine is quite stretching. I was confronted with a manager who pretty much had ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’. This is when a woman in a position of power desires to be the only woman in that position. Instead of developing me and mentoring me, she did quite the opposite, creating a difficult relationship and working environment for me.

It was a big learning curve for me. And on the one hand, I had the support of my business and although I had little to do with her on a day-to-day basis, I still had to interact a fair bit with her. It eroded a lot of my confidence because we simply could not align. I think that it was a dynamic both ways, so I am not saying I was a victim; however, I realised that things weren’t going to improve and so it was better for me to extract myself from the situation.

At times it is important to persevere, but also have the courage to extract yourself if you are not in a feasible situation.

What inspires you?

There is not one thing, nor one person. I find lots of gems in everyday life. I do not believe in having one source of inspiration or a single role model because I think that this is dangerous. If you put too much expectation on one thing, chances are you will be disappointed.

What inspires me are things for the day-to day. Firstly, seeing my children bounce back after a tantrum or meltdown. I know it sounds funny but I think as adults, we tend to sulk a lot longer if something goes wrong or when you have a bad day at work.

Last week, when I did the Women in Business society panel, I felt very inspired by the students’ initiative to organise an event that can resonate with so many young people.

Finally, when I asked a colleague of mine to talk to my People Management and Leadership students last term, it really inspired me. He talked about how he lead thousands of men in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan over 25 years in the Army and how he applies that now to his role in a corporate environment. He discussed what leadership means to him. His humility, moral courage and his ability to connect with the students was a real inspiration.

What do you think the future holds for women in business?

I have been reading a book called “It’s a good time to be a girl” by Helena Morrissey and she is very optimistic. I would tend to say that I am more optimistic than I was a few years ago because I see a lot more advocates for women in business, such as the panel I was asked to speak on the other day.

I see a lot of women in senior roles with children now and who are successful at juggling that lifestyle. Women have much more of a voice to talk about equality, gender pay gap and all these topics that probably weren’t even mentioned when I started out. I find this big shift very encouraging.

What I would like to see happen is men taking an active part in this movement. If we are serious about changing the future of women at work, this needs to be a cause that it embraced by women and men just the same.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in business?

Push yourself but remain true to yourself, and by that I mean remaining authentic.

I think that women still carry a lot of stereotypes from society; In Sheryl Sandburg’s book, ‘Lean In’, she says that we don’t lean in enough. So, you don’t want to ‘lean in’ in a way that wouldn’t obstruct you from remaining true to yourself, but we need to push ourselves a bit further.

I am quite a keen yoga practitioner, and my yoga teacher always says ‘it’s about pushing to a zone of discomfort, but not to a zone of pain’. So, I would share that as advice to young women. Push yourself to a point where perhaps it is stretching you or taking you out of your comfort zone, but not at a point where you put yourself at risk or become inauthentic.