Positioning The Next Generation Of Women To Succeed In Silicon Valley

Editor’s note: Leyla Seka is the SVP and GM of Salesforce Desk.com.

Over the past few months there’s been a lot of discussion about whether women are positioned for success in Silicon Valley. The debate on empowering women in tech ranges from pay equality to increasing the number of women in the boardroom. Still, it’s encouraging to see many women who are driving their own success and supporting each other. There are a lot of positive things that we can start doing now to help ourselves, our children and each other.

Change your thinking

The chasm between men and women starts in childhood, with the messages that are given to girls. A lot of girls don’t think it’s cool to be smart, and especially not to be good at math. Most teenagers are desperate to fit in. Why else would I have curled my hair and opted for neon tops with Guess jeans?  When I got to college and had to make the choice between learning to code and taking an econ class, I practically ran to econ. Coding was for guys.

I didn’t know any women who were learning to code and nobody was pushing me to do it. Although it’s true that you don’t need to be an engineer to be successful in Silicon Valley, it can be a great stepping stone to success if you are starting out. I see a lot of women who are afraid to get out of their comfort zone and learn new technologies and skills.

Speak up

Many women continue that mindset of hanging back when they get into the workplace. Too often they sit silently at the back of the room while men run the meetings. When I offer a new employee a salary, many women say “thank you” — while the men almost always ask for more. I’m guilty of this myself. After I had been running Salesforce’s AppExchange for five years I was itching for a new challenge, but I was insecure. I wanted to run a business unit but I was afraid to ask. Surely there were many others in the company who were better qualified.

Wouldn’t they be in line ahead of me? I went so far as to find another job outside the company. At that point I was forced to talk to my manager about it, and to my surprise he was full of encouragement. He promoted me and asked me to run Desk.com, because he knew I was ready for the challenge. I wasn’t an imposter after all.  We all need to realize that we work hard and deserve our success. We deserve to be heard. To be paid well. And to move up the organization.

Build your brand

Even if they have the confidence, a lot of women could still do more to position themselves for success. They need to be out networking every week so they can build an army of champions that have their back. They also need to participate in conversations about timely issues and trends, through their company blog or posting on LinkedIn.

Before I interview someone for a position at Desk.com, I always Google them to see if they have an online presence with a point of view. (That’s why I advise people on my team not to use their cat for their profile photo or post anything potentially embarrassing on social media.)

I also encourage everyone at Desk.com to publish their own insights and expertise on our blog and to share it with the rest of the world. We encourage employees to participate by giving out prizes each month to the one whose post generates the most page views on our blog.

Prioritize and be Grateful

No matter how well you promote yourself, you’re still going to need to make some tough choices. No matter what people say, you can’t do it all. You need to do the things that matter and outsource or delegate the rest. This applies to both your professional and your personal lives. You need to prioritize projects that innovate, not iterate.

Let’s face it, nothing is going to change for women overnight. We need to challenge ourselves, work together, stand up for ourselves, and build a culture that will enable all of us — our peers, our daughters, and generations of women to come — to succeed together.