In honor of Women’s History Month, we had the opportunity to speak with three incredible leaders from OneBank United, Cisco, and Google. Featured in this interview are:
Teri Williams is President and Chief Operating Officer of OneUnited Bank, where she is responsible for implementation of the Bank’s strategic initiatives and its day-to-day operations. Under her leadership, OneUnited Bank has consolidated the local names and product offerings of four banks to create a powerful national brand supported by innovative products and services, and become the largest Black-owned bank in America. She highlights the power in elevating the women around us, trusting your instincts, and the women whom she admires.
Maria Martinez, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at Cisco, is responsible for the company’s operations and transformation, as well as building high-value experiences for its customers, partners, and employees. She applies her love for transformational leadership not only to work, but also to bridging gaps of inequity, taking care of her team’s (and her own) well-being, and pushing through skepticism.
Nina Harding, Global Chief for Google Cloud Partner Programs & Strategy, has transformed the company’s approach to partnering, benefits, and the way in which Google and its ecosystem is growing globally. She talks to us about the importance of being a part of the solution every single day, having the courage to fail, and more.
Continue reading for a deeper dive into what these remarkable women have to say on gender equality, the advice they would give to their younger selves, making room for wellness during COVID, and other legendary trailblazers who inspire them.
Salesforce: How can we all drive gender equality in the workplace? From people leaders to policies, to being allies — what are some factors that you believe are important on this path to gender equality?
Teri Williams: The first factor is to recognize that gender equality in the workplace does not currently exist and we all need to make changes to move our organizations forward. Secondly, we need to identify opportunities to hire and promote more women, who have historically been overlooked. These fabulous women already exist in our organizations. Look around! We need to appreciate their brilliance and hard work and elevate them.
Maria Martinez: At Cisco, our mission is to Power an Inclusive Future for all, meaning that we hold ourselves responsible for bridging the gaps of inequity and exclusion globally. I’m particularly passionate about building a workforce that is reflective of the world we live in and creating opportunities for our future generation of leaders. It’s all about doing what we can now to impact what comes next. As the Chinese proverb goes: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Nina Harding: My best advice in championing gender equality is to actively be part of the solution each day, in every way – professionally, socially, and at home with your family. How we engage others, model equality, accept or adjust others’ behaviors, and define responsibilities sets the tone and path that germinates experience. At Google, I serve as the executive sponsor to the Women@Google Cloud Employee Resource Group. We explore topics that range from negotiation to diversity initiatives to mentoring and sponsorship programs, and focus on making a difference from a grassroots perspective.
Salesforce: If you were talking with your younger self today starting out on her career journey, what might you say?
Teri: “You were right in following your passion and recognizing the importance of corporate culture before the term was coined.” After business school, I took a job at American Express because it was a financial services company that was also very creative. My alternative offer was with a stuffy investment bank that paid more. It was a tough decision at the time because I was broke! But using creativity and the other lessons I learned at Amex, such as the #BankBlack movement, contributed to our success today. So my advice is: don’t doubt your instincts!
Maria: Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Surround yourself with people who you can learn from and listen to, but always be your own best champion. Your career path will not be linear, but don’t worry – the richness lies in those detours. Do not be afraid of failing; be only afraid of not following your heart and living out the legacy you want to leave.
Nina: Take more risks. Have courage. Don’t be afraid to fail. We’ve all heard the adage of, “Fall fast, fall often, but get up even faster!” I’ve learned more from the mistakes, the challenges, the misses, and the leaps of courage in my career than ever from my successes. The art is in understanding what good you take from every interaction, the lesson learned, and then pushing yourself to the next “discomfort zone”. No one is excellent at everything. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is paramount to success – and knowing when to rely on the excellence of others is the heart of real collaboration.
Salesforce: Tell us a bit about how you’ve pivoted in COVID to ensure wellness and balance during this time?
Teri: Even before COVID, I always made sure we encouraged and supported employees who needed to take care of their children, parents, and even pets! There is no greater gift than family, and requiring someone to work to the point that they cannot attend to the needs of their family is an anathema to me. COVID has required us to be even more flexible.
Maria: My family and I have started virtual wine-and-cheese get-togethers each Saturday; I expect we’ll keep it long after COVID. I’ve also used this time to take up a new hobby (playing the piano) and have brought back my meditation practice to keep me grounded. Cisco also offers flexible workweeks, virtual health and wellness classes, regular employee check-ins, and family-friendly sessions that allow us to get to know our colleagues better in a meaningful way. The silver lining in this is that we are seeing one another as our authentic selves, no longer having to bifurcate into “work” and “home” versions of ourselves.
Nina: I encourage people to take the business day as it works for them and their family, to schedule in family time. If we don’t, one more email or meeting will always be there and we lose the separation between home and work. Also, ask people how they’re doing. We move from one video meeting to the next and forget the power of camaraderie and connective tissue. If you care, show that you do, ask people how they’re doing, and then really listen to what they have to say.
Salesforce: Who is a legendary gender equality Trailblazer in your perspective and why?
Maria: I love tennis, so one who stands out to me is the legendary Billie Jean King. She has never shied away from challenge, carrying the confidence and determination to push through skepticism and stereotypes. In the well-known Battle of the Sexes match, she famously said, “I welcome the responsibility and the pressure,” a mantra that I also try to live by. Moreover, she took an individual sport and used it as a platform for many, breaking barriers on and off the court, and standing up against inequality of all types.
Nina: Clare Davis Parker, who, affectionately, was also my grandmother. She was the first woman lawyer to attend law school and pass the Bar Exam in Colorado. She challenged the status quo of propriety with wit and intelligence. When incredible artists such as Marion Anderson or top athletes like Althea Gibson came to Denver and were not honored due to their race, my grandmother hosted parties and introductions honoring them in her own home. She believed in equality, pushed boundaries, and committed to doing what was right even when it was unpopular.
Teri: I admire Harriet Tubman and Maggie Lena Walker, the first Black woman founder and president of a bank, because they were driven by their missions and didn’t let stereotypes get in their way. I have learned that trailblazing looks easier when you look back from the future. At the time, I know they were questioned, ridiculed, and even bullied on their journey, but they continued to rise. I admire their steadfastness, despite systemic racism and gender barriers. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, “And still we rise!”
And still, we rise, indeed. While there is much progress to be made, Women’s History Month gives us a dedicated opportunity to celebrate the successes, contributions, and journeys of women everywhere. Nina, Maria, and Teri remind us that we all bear the responsibility of driving gender equality; they also exemplify the amazing trails that we can blaze when we surrender to our fear of failing, trust in our instincts, and cultivate relationships with those around us.
At Salesforce, we are committed to advancing gender equality in the workplace and in society. Click here to view the recap of our third-annual gender equality summit, Trailblazing Women, where we heard from inspiring authors, business leaders, and activists. If you’re interested in a career at Salesforce, visit our careers page.