Continuing the Tech=Icon series, Charlotte Finn, VP, Global Strategic Relations at Salesforce.org, spoke with Computer Business Review’s April Slattery; discussing the need for industry role models; the challenges she faced entering the industry and what more must be done to encourage more women to enter the tech sector.
AS: Why did you choose a career in tech/STEM?
CF: As a child and young adult, I had no real guidance on or understanding of what a career in tech could offer, or the variety of skills it requires. In fact, when I was a child I wanted to be in airline operations. After completing a degree in business studies, I ended up at Pipex – the UK’s first commercial internet service provider. This is where I fell in love with the tech industry and the limitless possibilities it offers.
However, it wasn’t till a few years later that I developed a passion for building STEM skills. I spent some time working in South Africa and both the social and economic situation in South Africa was very different to anything I had experienced previously in the UK and Europe. I saw the power of philanthropy first hand. In addition, thanks to my time at WorldCom, Corporate Governance and ethical business practice became of paramount importance to me. These experiences made me realise I wanted to work in an organisation that used its resources as a force for good. Technology and STEM skills, in particular have such transformative power as a force for good and I love being able to witness and support that daily in my work.
AS: What were the main challenges you faced at the start of your career and how did you overcome them?
CF: Looking back to the start of my career, one of the biggest challenges was that there were very few female role models in the industry for me to look up to and follow. I made a conscious effort to overcome this by speaking up a lot during meetings and putting myself forward for new roles and opportunities.
Another challenge which we still face today is that many people do not understand what a career in technology can offer, and that technology is not just computers and hard drives but that it impacts almost everything around us and therefore the opportunities that technology can offer are for all, not just the traditional image of what a “techie” is.
Nowadays, I encourage all of my colleagues to engage with their local communities however they can, to inspire a broader range of talent to join our industry. One of the most effective ways is going back to school – your own, your child’s or your community school – and speaking about your career in tech and the opportunities that are open to them.
I believe the more young people see the broad range of opportunities the tech industry offers, how others have succeeded, and the broad range of people who work in it, the more likely they will be consider it as a career.
AS: Tell us about your current role. What motivates you? What has been the driving force behind your career strategy?
CF: In my current role I am responsible for building formal strategic partnerships, international collaborations and strong strategic relations to holistically support Salesforce.org’s mission to put technology in the hands of nonprofits and education institutions so they can connect with others and accelerate their impact. I can be out on the field meeting with 1-1-1 partners or visiting one of the projects we support or I can be at the office reviewing which organisations are getting funding and why.
My motivation stems from my passion to drive diversity and equality for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity or social background. I believe we should all have the opportunities to develop our skills and reach our potential and access to education is an important driver for equality. Working for a company that champions education for everyone, what drives me are the continual success stories I hear from those who have benefitted from the initiatives we as individual employees and as a company support.
AS: What have been your most significant achievements in the IT industry in the past year?
CF: One that stands out for me is the Davos Codes programme that I’ve championed as it’s had a real impact on driving other organisations to contribute to creating impact in sustainable ways. As Marc Benioff states, the business of business is improving the state of the world and that includes enabling organisations and their employees to participate in philanthropy and giving back.
Davos Codes is a coding club with a difference, launched at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2016 and run by Salesforce volunteers and local mentors. It teaches young people both programming skills and ways in which technology can be harnessed to achieve social good.
It also highlights to corporate executives attending events such as WEF and the Salesforce World Tours what incredible things can be achieved when you build philanthropy into your culture. By harnessing the passions of your employees and creating collective impact – that is when business truly improves the state of the world.
This programme has been running in Davos for three years now and I’m excited to see what these young coders do next year at WEF and beyond.
AS: What is your proudest achievement to date?
CF: I’m particularly proud of the work that Salesforce.org has done to help educate young people and enable them to consider a career in the technology industry. Our 1-1-1 model leverages Salesforce’s technology, people and resources to help improve communities around the world.
Every young person should have the same opportunity and we want to help level the playing field to create equality through education. I hope one day to see a world where people of every background and ability have the same kinds of opportunities and career progression.
AS: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
CF: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it’s incredibly important to listen to your colleagues and customers.
As a team leader, it’s your role to develop a team environment where people feel comfortable speaking openly and challenging each other. By creating a positive, communicative environment, you’ll be surrounded by colleagues who want to be successful together. When it comes to customers, it’s only by listening and understanding their goals and challenges that you’ll truly be able to help them reach their goals.
AS: What would be your top tip for women looking to start a career in IT?
CF: Put your hand up and get involved in any way you can. It might seem like a simple piece of advice, but I have always found if you wait for the opportunity to come to you, you’ll never achieve your dreams.
As part of this it’s important to take control of your own continuous learning. For example, I regularly use our online learning platform, Trailhead, to find out about new technologies and pick up new skills. It’s also worth considering volunteering as a way to try new experiences and get a foot in the door with new skills and organisations. What’s brilliant about it, is that you’re helping others at the same time.
AS: How would you encourage more women into the IT sector?
CF: All of us working in tech have an opportunity to impact the world for the better. One simple thing men and women can do together is encourage the young people in our lives to consider a career in tech.
Talk to friends and family about what you do, why you do it, how fulfilling your career has been and also why it’s so important that the tech industry has women in it. Many of my colleagues have visited their secondary school to take part in careers days and talk about all of the exciting opportunities that STEM subjects can unlock. Particularly for women, going into a local school can be very powerful, as young girls then see you as a positive role model.
After all, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.
There are also lots of organisations specifically focused on helping young people develop their tech skills. For example, iDEA is an incredible learning platform which helps young people develop, grow and advance their digital and enterprise skills and become career ready.
AS: How do you think businesses should approach diversity and inclusion?
CF: Diversity and inclusion is not just an issue for women. Both men and women have an equal part to play. One way to do this is to encourage all senior leaders to speak out about equality and put their words into action.
At Salesforce we know that cognitive diversity and inclusion at all levels is critical to the success of our company. A diverse workforce – and diverse leadership in particular – is vital to the continued development of innovative products, as varied viewpoints are the most effect way to uncover the best ideas.
Supporting this, we have a series of employee-led groups that bring together diverse communities and their allies, for example Outforce for our LGBT community. These networks provide valuable mentoring opportunities and the chance to share different perspectives. They really do help foster a more inclusive culture.
I also think that having a chief equality officer who champions diversity and inclusion makes the topic a key imperative for our company, from the boardroom to the mailroom. We celebrate diversity as that is the thing that makes us all unique. And only when we can appreciate each other’s uniqueness can we truly have equality.
Corporate policies, like hiring processes, can also be a very effective tool. Our inclusive hiring programme, for example, is anchored in five key principles: always hire the most qualified candidate, make sure the range of candidates is diverse, ensure the process of hiring is fair, make sure everyone can be an ambassador for the business, and ensure all bias in terms of cultural fit is removed when considering who to employ.
We also ensure women make up at least a third of all attendees at executive management meetings, reflecting the ‘critical mass’ required for women to have a real voice at the table. Also for me, it is important that equality is not just limited to gender. It extends to age, race, impairments and more – we have to consider all elements of equality and diversity.
Each one of us in the tech sector, regardless of gender and position has the opportunity to support others around us and encourage diverse backgrounds into this sector. It’s only through doing this that the tech industry will shake off it’s ‘boy’s club’ image.