This year, I had the nice opportunity to host a virtual coffee chat with three amazing women. They are active participants in our Bring Women Back to Work (BWBW) program, so I spoke with them to learn about their experiences.
Bring Women Back to Work (BWBW) is a Salesforce program, which aims to recruit new talent, by supporting women who have taken long career breaks in their journeys as they reenter the workforce and join the tech industry.
For all BWBW participants, the program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to enter the tech industry — many for the first time.
Below, Ariane Lavalette, Nisrine Danaf, and Raquel Santos, who participated in the BWBW program during the first cohort this fiscal year, share their experiences.
Welcome to this coffee chat! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am French, born in Paris, and married with two children. In my professional career, I have always worked in Sales and Marketing roles for big multinational companies. But I stopped working after the birth of my second child, who is now four years old because I felt I needed more time to focus on my family. And I really wanted to think about where to move with my career.
After a few months of leave, I reentered the workforce again as a consultant for a private company, and got my first experience there, using Salesforce CRM. While I was working with this private company, one of my peers mentioned the BWBW program within Salesforce and, after reading more about it, I immediately understood that I could fill my knowledge gap with the technology.
I am a mom of a six-year-old. Before my child was born, my husband and I had been planning this big move to China. Then as soon as we got there, I found out that I was pregnant — and I was immediately excited about this new personal adventure! My husband and I always joke that my son was designed in Switzerland and made in China.
My professional experience is both in the private sector, similar to Ariane, but I also worked for the non-profit sector for a long time, here in Geneva and while I was living in China. After our stint in China, my family lived in New York for a while. It was extremely hard to find a suitable job while I was living there, so I started my own business.
We returned to Switzerland almost 3 years ago and, unfortunately, I could not keep my business running. Moving around different countries wasn’t good for my career, especially as a mother. We needed time to settle down, and I wanted to make sure everybody in the family was fine and happy. I also struggled to carve out time for myself.
In the past year, I have struggled to find a suitable job, while being a mom and trying to balance my family life and work at the same time. I got to know Salesforce as a CRM solution many years ago, while I was working in the non-profit sector. Earlier this year, I learned about BWBW on LinkedIn, and I immediately knew it was exactly what I needed!
I am originally from Portugal and I’ve been living in Switzerland for 5 years now. Before Switzerland, I lived in the U.S., where I worked in different universities and museums, while I was studying to complete my PhD.
I then came to live in Switzerland and became a mom. This was an amazing experience, but it presented challenges for my professional career. Also because I live in Zurich, I experienced additional language barriers. Once I finally started feeling more confident speaking German, COVID-19 happened and everything stopped.
I was fortunate to work with great coaches and the Swiss Unemployment Agency, which led me to the BWBW program. When I heard about the BWBW program, I immediately thought it was a great opportunity for me, since it doesn’t require previous technical knowledge or experience.
Unlike Ariane and Nisrine, I learned about Salesforce when I signed up for the BWBW program.
What challenges did you face that prompted you to take a longer leave?
Ariane: In my experience, the required rhythm of my job at the time was unsustainable. There was a total lack of flexibility and trust in my abilities to complete my work in a shorter amount of hours per week so that I could use the rest of the time to take care of my family.
What I found most upsetting is that some of the same people who didn’t want to give me more flexibility were parents as well, but somehow, their understanding of the situation was overcome by company rules and policies.
When I was offered a “leaving package,” I accepted that this could be my moment to take a break and start thinking about my career.
In Switzerland, it’s not just being a woman and mom that presents difficulties in the job market, but there is also the “age” factor and pressure to have a lot of previous professional experience.
Nisrine: I absolutely agree with Ariane — being an expert in your profession, while also learning to be a mother as a foreigner in a country, is truly challenging. You often feel alone and expected to achieve everything by yourself.
It is impossible to give 100% at work and 100% as a new mom. You need to make adjustments, at least for a period of your life, while your kids are small. And I think COVID-19 made everything more challenging for moms. It added extra mental load to the everyday struggles, and most of the support system collapsed.
I believe this is a systemic issue if we want to bring up the leaders of tomorrow. We need solutions that are suitable for a good life-work balance.
What I love about the BWBW program is that nobody asks where you are coming from or where you have been previously in your professional life. Instead, it focuses on taking you where you need and wants to go. I am not necessarily saying that it is easy — it requires personal effort and determination, but it gives you an opportunity to move forward with your career and embrace a “new you.”
Raquel: I completely agree with Ariane and Nisrine. In my personal experience, COVID-19 has added extra challenges to motherhood for sure.
What I found surprising, while living in Switzerland, is how difficult it is for women, especially mothers, to find suitable work opportunities — even for someone like me who studied and is a professional. This made me question my abilities and has been very challenging for my mental wellbeing.
After a 3-year, unsuccessful job search, being accepted into the BWBW program has been a game changer. Thanks to my participation in the program, I’ve started networking again, and I’m learning new skills for my future career.
Can you tell us about your experience with the BWBW program so far?
Ariane: I started last November and completed the intensive 2-week curriculum in preparation for the Salesforce Admin exam. It was great to be actively involved in the learning process right from the beginning and the curriculum is well presented.
In January, I decided to participate in the BWBW Bootcamp experience, which was a really useful addition to the program. It gave me the opportunity to learn at a slower pace with the support of a coach.
Nisrine: I definitely agree with Ariane. What is great about the program is that it seeks diversity and welcomes all women, regardless of their background and previous work experience.
Raquel: From my point of view, the BWBW program has great learning resources. I appreciate having a coach/mentor to support me along the way. I also think it is really valuable that the program provides internship opportunities with several companies.
Do you have any advice for the candidates participating in the program?
Ariane: I believe this program is a fantastic opportunity and it is going to be an amazing opportunity for all women in Switzerland who want to reenter the workforce.
The learning experience offered by the BWBW program is so valuable across different industries and that is what companies are looking for. CRM solutions like Salesforce are largely required nowadays.
Nisrine: I would suggest to all new participants to roll up your sleeves and treat this learning opportunity as if you were actually at work and need to deliver results. Don’t be shy to ask for help, ask questions, and share your struggles. One very useful thing we did in our cohort was to arrange virtual study groups which really helped.
Also, I encourage participants to have a clear strategy on how they intend to use the mentoring and coaching opportunities and start looking for a job at the very early stages of the program, don’t wait until the end!
Raquel: I agree with what Ariane and Nisrine said. All the doubts, questions, and struggles are part of the process, but as a participant, you need to be determined to succeed.
I believe it is a great program and all the women in Switzerland, who wish to grow their careers in the tech industry, should definitely apply.
Find out more about the Bring Women Back to Work program!