Female Disruptors: Natalie Egan is shaking up diversity & inclusion efforts
“Always remember that the highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t as low”. This has been a really valuable way for me to navigate through work and life. In other words, take yourself down when things seem really good and bring yourself up when things are really bad. Neutral and calm is the best state for startup land.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Egan. Natalie (she / her / hers) is an openly transgender B2B software entrepreneur. As CEO and founder of Translator, she is on a mission to scale empathy and equality through technology. Natalie has over 20 years of experience driving digital change, developing high performing teams, building complex products, and selling enterprise solutions. Prior to founding Translator in 2016 — and prior to her transition — Natalie was CEO and founder of PeopleLinx, a venture capital backed social selling technology solution that was acquired by a leading sales acceleration company. In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits, Natalie has also worked in leadership positions at LinkedIn, Autonomy, and Ecolab. Based in New York City, Natalie is currently writing her first book about her transition from male to female CEO and the business lessons learned along the way.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I spent the first part of my life as a white, cisgender hetro-normative “alpha presenting” male, living in a bubble with access to resources, status, and privilege. No one questioned my identity and I was well-positioned to succeed. When I transitioned from a male to female CEO, that all changed. Becoming an instant minority I discovered a new side of business and whole different world socially as I experienced bias and hatred for the first time in my life at age 39.
Prior to all of this I always worked hard and while I thought I earned everything, I never realized how privileged I was until I transitioned. I discovered that it is in fact significantly and statistically harder to start and grow a company as a woman, or as a person of any marginalized experience who lives outside the center of white-male-power. The cards are truly stacked against the vast majority of people in a way that I could never see before. On top of all that, as a transgender CEO, there is also a newness to my presence that complicates matters even further — as a community we are not well understood. I was shocked by this reality and, as a result, became passionate about helping all people, but especially women and minorities succeed in business by using my experience from living and working on both sides of the table.
Why did you found your company?
In essence, I founded Translator because I want to resolve inequality, bias, and discrimination. Before transitioning, I knew these problems existed, but I didn’t truly understand why or where they came from. When I came out as a transgender woman, I started to realize that they are learned and / or inherited behaviors. They are thoughts and beliefs, handed down through tribal knowledge or cultural conditioning as like to call it; the parents, peers, or layers of communities that shape who we are. We aren’t born with hate and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it is developed over time. My biggest realization through this whole experience was that technology, with its power to change the world in so many ways, can help us unlearn what we have learned and that’s when Translator was born.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
At Translator, we empower companies to measure and scale their Diversity & Inclusion efforts with the goal of creating a more inclusive workplace, but our vision doesn’t stop there. Eventually our platform will be available for all people, regardless of their status, privilege, or resources. Everyone should have access to technology that helps them become a better version of themselves am I right? And in terms of our current product, we are fundamentally changing and improving how live training is delivered, but we are just enhancing it, not replacing it. Think of it as a an anonymous digital layer that sits on top of the training and makes it interactive, measurable, and most importantly, more effective.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
There are two warrior women who really inspire me and for whom I am forever grateful for unconditionally taking me under their wing when I came out as a trans woman and moved to New York City. First is Kellee Khalil, Founder of Lover.ly (the wedding planning site) and now CEO of Engage Media Group. She just so inspirational — one of those business women who somehow gets stronger no matter what happens.
The other is Iman Oubou, the CEO of SWAAY Media, and she’s just incredible too. She’s a former Miss New York and struggled in business as a result of being too gorgeous, which is something I would have never understood until I became “too something” to be taken seriously. So now she has started this new company called SWAAY, which is a online news and media portal for female entrepreneurs to get inspiration, learn, grow and connect.
How are you going to shake things up next?
These are exciting times for Translator. We’re expanding our team and are working with some of the world’s biggest brands. The newest version of our platform is about to drop soon and that is when we can really start to scale. We will be empowering thousands of Diversity & Inclusion trainers all over the world to quickly grow the reach and influence of their programs inside very influential organizations and it is an opportunity to really affect change at a global level.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
The first is an important lesson I learned when I launched my first real tech start-up about 10 years ago and that is this: “always remember that the highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t as low”. This has been a really valuable way for me to navigate through work and life. In other words, take yourself down when things seem really good and bring yourself up when things are really bad. Neutral and calm is the best state for startup land.
I also love a piece of advice I learned from Reid Hoffman when I worked at LinkedIn a while back. He said that “if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late”. Don’t wait for it to be perfect because it never will be. You need to ship it. Get it out there in the world so that you can start to get users and valuable feedback to further enhance the product.
Finally, my father really pushed me to get into sales early in my career. Just to try it so it was on my resume. He always said you may not like it and you may not be good at it, but it will teach you how companies make money and that will be valuable for the rest of your career. Turns out sales skills are really important for starting companies too.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
These days, it’s not a single story or person or book that moves me. It’s people. Quite literally I am inspired by everyone. People are just so incredible and I guess I just never paid attention to anyone before. I’m so inspired by the stories I hear and the people I see every single day. They give me so much strength. It’s like constant micro-inspiration.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Honestly, I would love to have a meal with Jeff Weiner. I have never met him but he knows the old me ;) Long story lol for a different interview lol.
And Caitlyn Jenner too, I don’t agree with all her politics and people can say whatever they want about her but she truly saved my life and helped me figure all this out. I pretty much realized I was transgender when I watched her coming out episode with Diane Sawyer — it blew my mind. So thank you Caitlyn! When we meet lunch is on me :)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
People can follow me on Instagram @nataliejegan or Twitter as well (same handle) but I don’t really tweet much. In terms of Translator, you can find us on the web at: www.translator.company or social media @translatorco
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!