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How Nathalie Pougno beat the odds to become a leader in IT

Nathalie Pougno’s path to director of digital transformation at Ricoh began in post-Soviet Russia, included two life-changing moves — to Israel and Canada — and the challenges of a male-dominated sector. Here’s how she made it.

 

by Sarah Kelsey

 

Nathalie Pougno’s father always told her there was something extra special about being a woman. “He said because I was a girl, I could do more than he could. I could do what boys could do and then some,” the director of digital transformation, IT, at Ricoh Canada notes. “He never let me settle.”

And she hasn’t. Since Nathalie realized one of her great loves was math, she’s worked diligently to break through the glass ceiling of the male-dominated tech industry — despite a personal journey full of unique challenges.

Raised in Moscow, Nathalie’s formative years included the fall of the Soviet Union, and the economic hardship that followed. Looking for opportunity, she eventually moved to Israel to study computer science — knowing no one but her husband and daughter, without speaking or understanding Hebrew, and having only $400 in her bank account. She enrolled in a program part-time so she could work in parallel.

“It was 1999, and the tech industry was booming. I was fresh from university and computers always fascinated me, so it was a great fit,” she says. Upon graduation from the 18-month program, her school connected her to a contract job, something Nathalie says was a miracle given the timing. “It was just after 9/11, when people with experience lost their jobs in the industry.”

With Israel as a home base, Nathalie went on to hold various contract roles throughout Europe. She had a great career, exceptional friends, and was building a better future for her kids — but after a decade, Nathalie and her husband began to feel the need to take on a new challenge on a new continent.

“Moving to another country was more complicated, as we had an established life in Israel. We looked around, and Canada just felt like the best fit for us,” she says, noting the country’s values intrigued her and her husband. It was also a place where her husband, who is a nurse, could grow his career.

Three days after arriving in Toronto she landed a job interview, and was working full-time by the end of the week. Nathalie started at Ricoh in 2012, where she says she’s never been happier. “I think about Monday,” she says, “and I want to come to work, and I want to see people in the morning.”

 

“In my mind, technology is the easiest part of the job. Being in IT, you need to be able to drive change through people. It’s not about my idea or yours, it’s about us putting our best thoughts together and getting to a place where we wouldn’t get individually.”

 

It’s a feeling she credits not only to her team of twenty, but the culture of the company as a whole. “It’s all about asking and listening. It’s about having a safe place where failure is acceptable and we have each other’s backs,” she explains, adding she loves how Ricoh encourages employees to be drivers of positive change — not just at work, but also at home and in their communities.

“The company’s tagline — imagine. change. — is more than just a tagline,” explains Nathalie. “It challenges all of us to unlock our creative potential in order to dig deeper and dream bigger. Those words don’t just describe what we do, they’re at the core of who we are.”

The sense of community stewardship that is fostered at Ricoh is certainly in line with Nathalie’s own values. On the home front, she has adopted twin boys from war-torn Ukraine. In her community, she’s an active volunteer, lending her time and expertise to several initiatives at Ontario Tech University, based in Oshawa.

Through Ontario Tech’s Women for STEM program, Nathalie acts as a mentor to students hoping to pursue a technology career. She has also been involved in a number of events at the university, participating in a Reverse Career Fair — where students host tables and employers circulate the room to share information about their organization — and Tech Connect, an event that brings together students from three faculties and gives them the opportunity to make connections and build relationships with potential employers in the tech ecosystem.

Thanks to her involvement, Ricoh is currently exploring co-op and internship placements with the school, and Nathalie has already made her first job offer — a fourth-year student will soon be joining her team as a business consultant.

Nathalie also identifies with Ricoh’s commitment to inclusion — building a workplace where everyone feels seen, respected, and valued as individuals. “If you see people around you as people, not those who are just sitting and doing a job, and you make a connection, that human connection, it makes a difference,” she explains.

From a leadership perspective, Nathalie believes that tapping into your emotional intelligence and creating deep interpersonal connections — skills she refers to as “soft power” — are key to running a high-functioning team, where everyone can be themselves. It creates a safe space for vulnerability, which she advises others not to shy away from. “Don’t be afraid to share your feelings and your aspirations, be vulnerable, and seek help,” says Nathalie. “There are a lot of people around you who would love to help you.”

Through her own success, Nathalie has seen the benefit of being able to bring empathy to a technical discussion. If she were to “imagine change,” as the Ricoh tagline asks, it would always start with people.

“In my mind, technology is the easiest part of the job,” says Nathalie. “Being in IT, you need to be able to drive change through people. It’s not about my idea or yours, it’s about us putting our best thoughts together and getting to a place where we wouldn’t get individually.”

Our partnership with Women of Influence highlights Ricoh’s commitment to championing and driving change. Our corporate philosophy is based on our values of ‘Love your neighbour, Love your work and Love your country’ which inspires everyone to drive change in the communities that we both live and work in. Learn more at RicohChangeMakers.