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This is how you promote gender equality in the workplace

Gender equality at work is a serious issue for Julian Ford, head of the Solutions Engineering team at Salesforce. It is a part of the business that has traditionally had high proportion of men. Ford’s team started 2015 with 81 per cent males. In little over 12 months that proportion has dropped to 67 per cent. This is a standout result around the company and, indeed, in the software industry. Julian acknowledges that the fact the company is growing has been an advantage, “you don’t have to rely on attrition”. Nonetheless to achieve such a result, Julian must have been doing something differently.

Overcoming the shortage of women in STEM

“The problem with inclusion in technical roles is general. The reality is there are more men doing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). It’s not a barren wasteland of women, but you do have to look hard.”

Julian sees his team as more successful when it has a better mix of diversity of all kinds. So the gender mix was a problem he was determined to solve.

The tried and tested approach wasn’t getting the results. “We made sure all interview panels had a female, so that we present as a male and female organisation. It gives women candidates the chance to ask questions of a female, for example. But just getting a good pool of women’s CVs has always been a challenge.”

“I tried to approach it differently,” he says, and with colleague, Chris Tye they determined to think differently about what they were looking for.

We made sure all interview panels had a female, so that we present as a male and female organisation.

“We decided to stop asking candidates for five years in engineering or a degree in technology, and looked for other skills. It’s easier, in fact, to teach people technical skills than it is to teach them how to sell, how to interact with customers or prospects or present in front of crowd.”

One of the people who has benefitted from this new approach is Stephanie Barnett. Stephanie was working as an account executive when she became interested in the technical side of the business. “I had the opportunity to play with the technology,” she says, and enjoyed translating customers’ requests into new solutions by going into the backend of the Salesforce tools. “And then I get to see the look on a customer’s face,” she says.

She decided she wanted to more technical role. “Moving from sales to solution engineering is not a traditional path, but there was a fabulous female leader who I found really approachable.”

She credits Julian Ford’s new way of thinking as a key part of her success and her commitment to the team.

Accepting parental leave as the norm

Within two months of making the jump, Stephanie had to tell her boss she was pregnant. “She was mortified to have to tell me,” Julian recalls. “I was mortified that she was mortified. Losing someone for a period because they are having a baby is being a poor manager.”

Accepting parental leave as a normal part of the working cycle meant Stephanie could take the leave she needed. Just as importantly was the contact her bosses, Chris and Julian maintained during her time away from the office.

They were in regular contact with her, at least fortnightly, and when it was time to come back to work, the transition was smooth. “They said ‘Tell me what you want and we’ll make that happen.’ And that’s exactly what they did. There wasn’t even any need to negotiate.”

Parental leave is only part of the gender inclusion challenge. Stephanie values the opportunities she is given to participate in all aspects of the team’s activities, to gain visibility and to stretch her skills.

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