8th March 2018 marked International Women’s Day* and to mark the occasion I attended the London Salesforce Women in Tech event, which turned out to be a trip down memory lane for a couple of reasons which I’ll get into shortly.
I enjoyed it so much that I wrote up this blog post on the train home. While this may disappoint the regular readers of my train tweets, it was a pretty dull journey anyway, only livened up by the wonderful French accent of the young lady speaking (French) on the phone opposite me — I’ve no idea what she was saying but it sounded so elegant. Then it made me remember Pauline Dufour who used to work for in the developer relations team but doesn’t any more. We miss her and that made me a little sad.
The first blast from the past was the area the meetup was hosted in — East Road in hipster Hoxton. Around 25 years ago I worked for a company based in City Road and spent a lot of time wandering the streets in the vicinity — usually looking for a Reuters office where they were going to tell us about the latest changes to their API. Of course it’s all changed now, refurbished or new buildings replacing the ones that I remember, although desperately trying to look older and more distressed than those they replaced!
The main topic for the event was the Salesforce Supermums programme. This is something that I knew was a thing, but hadn’t needed to find out much more about, and it’s pretty awesome. The idea is to get mums (and dads, before anyone gets too excited) who have taken time out of their career to raise a family back into work in the Salesforce ecosystem, which is crying out for more talent.
The second blast from the past was the founder of Salesforce Supermums, Heather Black. As she started to give her talk I had a strong sense that we’d crossed paths before, and sure enough when I caught up with her afterwards, it turned out that we’d met at Dreamforce 2010 when she was running Striding Out and we discussed some ideas around providing a more user-friendly experience in her Salesforce org as they dismantled the show around us.
Many of these people have had successful careers and senior positions in the past, but often struggle to return, as
- They are often looking for a role that allows them to fit work around their family — flexible working hours and remote working for example. Note that flexible working hours doesn’t have to mean part time, it just means that the 35/40 hours or whatever isn’t carried out between 8am and 6pm.
- They have been out of the workplace for a number of years and feel that their skills are out of date. While this is a particular issue in IT, Salesforce has Trailhead, which makes it eminently possible to upskill whenever there’s a spare hour.
Not every role is going to be suitable for someone in this position — running a support team covering fixed hours with a team rota for example, or in a consulting role where the customer is expecting you to be on site during their normal working hours. Any company that is outsourcing work should be able to accommodate this though — they are already in the groove of handing over a specification and receiving a completed work task some time later, without expecting to watch every keystroke that went into it.
Sadly it feels like we’ve still got a long way to go in this regard in the UK. Many companies, while claiming they only hire the top people and want them to be the best they can, still don’t trust that they won’t be skiving off if they aren’t under the beady eye of the office manager. As though people can’t waste time sat at their desk on their computer!
As yet another aside, at the start of her presentation Heather asked for examples of unusual places that we’ve used Salesforce. I put my hand up with one, but didn’t get pointed at straight away. Fighting back my desire to shout over the top of everyone else, I had moment of clarity and realized that for many women this is how every interaction of this nature goes — they have something to say, but others get in there first. What happened next was a poster child for any man wondering what to do when women are being talked over — one of the women there said something along the lines that “Keir must have an interesting one, he’s always posting from planes and airports” which gave me a way in. That really is all it takes — if someone isn’t getting an opening, make one for them. I’ve no idea if that was the reason why, but thanks anyway Amanda! And if you’re wondering, my most unusual place was on top of a bin in the car park over the road from our Witham office when I’d forgotten my keys and nobody else came in for 30 minutes. I got through an entire Heroku workbook!
So that was a pretty good start, but things then got better with the next item. Speed dating! The idea here was to find someone you hadn’t met before (although I stretched this to people I didn’t know that well, or just hadn’t seen for a while!) and get to know more about them. We were aided in this endeavour by some printed questions that we all clung to like a comfort blanket to begin with, and then didn’t really think about once we got going. Every three minutes one of the organisers would yell “Switch” and we then moved on to find someone else to talk to. This was great, as its unlikely that I would have just wandered around the event randomly introducing myself to people, and sometimes it can be difficult to break into a conversation that a bunch of people who already know each other well are having. An excellent idea from Jodi Wagner
So all in all a top notch event with one problem — not enough men. More allies are needed, so get yourself along to the next event. You won’t regret it.
*For anyone wondering why there isn’t an International Men’s Day, there is. It’s on November 19th as Richard Herring is very fond of pointing out. Strangely, International Men’s Day generates a huge amount of interest, from men, on International Women’s Day. However, when the 19th November rolls around, you’ll hear very little about it.
I’m better known in the Salesforce community as Bob Buzzard — Umpteen Certifications, including Technical Architect, 6 x MVP and CTO of BrightGen, a Platinum Cloud Alliance Partner in the United Kingdom who are hiring.
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