While Thursday at Dreamforce officially marks the Women’s Leadership Summit, Tuesday kicked off with some powerful programming around women in technology.
Though each of the speakers came from a different angle, the message of carving out your own path came through loud and clear. Here are five takeaways from these sessions.
Don’t be afraid to try
Corinne Warnshuis, Executive Director of Girl Develop It, shared her journey from a sociology major and documentarian at PBS and NPR to speaking at the White House advocating for opportunities for women in technology.
Without a background in computer science, Warnshuis decided to take a course with Girl Develop It to learn HTML. The environment, designed to be welcoming, judgment-free, jargon-free and supportive, bolstered her confidence and encouraged her to dig deeper. Within two years she started her own local chapter of Girl Develop It. And when it came time for the organization to appoint an Executive Director of its 54,000 members across the U.S. and Canada, Warnshuis raised her hand.
Now, Warnshuis spends her time focused on empowering women to take a chance on coding and see where it leads. She shared inspiring stories about women who’ve involved themselves in Girl Develop It and changed their lives – from a Whole Foods cashier who took a course, decided she wanted to find a career in coding and is now an engineer, to a grandmother who learned to code and created an app to help women in abusive domestic situations.
Don’t fear the point of the arrow
Cheryl Porro, now the SVP Technology and Products at Salesforce Foundation, started with Salesforce a decade ago. She managed and grew a team over the course of seven years in platform quality engineering, but felt as the years went on that her passion was for the company itself and its distinct culture.
When a role came up at the Foundation, a place she knew she’d have a hand in maintaining the culture and furthering Salesforce’s 1-1-1 model, she looked at the requirements and realized she only had about half of what they were looking for. Her response: to lean in.
“One of the things I see as a woman in tech is that we often shy away from being at the point of the arrow. I knew I needed to be at the point of the arrow in my career, so I waited until I found the opportunity I wanted and went for it.”
All you have to do is ask
Leyla Seka, SVP and GM of Desk.com at Salesforce, was great at her job. In the same role for six years, she could answer any question, solve any problem and realized that she just wasn’t challenged anymore. Assuming she was stuck in this position she started looking for a new opportunity and found one outside of Salesforce. She was about to resign when she was told that she was already being considered for promotion, and was asked pointedly what she wanted to do.
She said she wanted to lead and was offered her current role as GM and SVP of Desk.com – a position she never imagined she’d land. It was at this point she realized the limitations she imagined were keeping her stuck in her role were her own – all she had to do was ask.
The right step isn’t always up
When Mary Scotton, Principal Developer Evangelist at Salesforce, was faced with the need to move from the Bay area to New Jersey to help care for her mother who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she knew it would put a hiccup in her career path. But the truth was, even though she was headed towards the next level, which would have been VP of product management, she know it wasn’t really what she wanted.
Her manager didn’t hesitate when she told him she needed to leave with no clear plan in sight. “Don’t worry, just go and email me when you’re ready to re-engage.”
When she decided to stay in New Jersey, she knew she needed to rethink her career path, so she started connecting with everyone she knew to ask about what they did, gathering contacts and information. She used and relied on the network she’d built up over her career to help inform her decisions moving forward, and eventually connected with someone who inspired her to become a Developer Evangelist. She knew she wanted a role that would have big impact on people, but would still allow her to live where she wanted to live. It wasn’t a step up, but it was a step that worked for her life and she couldn’t be happier.
Support each other
Melinda Gates has said: “We’ve seen again and again that when you invest in women, you invest in the women who invest in everyone else.” Each of the women in Tuesday’s sessions echoed this sentiment, and encouraged participants to support and celebrate each other’s successes.
“I’ve always believed that we’re better together. There are plenty of opportunities to carve out for all of us, so it’s important that women not undermine each other, but help each other out,” said Seka. “There’s a philosophy that there are only a few spots for women at the top and people can get nasty to each other in the pursuit of those spots. For me, I’ve gotten faster and further by standing with my friends and pushing them up, not pulling them down.”
Watch the Women’s Leadership Summit at https://www.salesforce.com/video/.