Leyla on how she got her start in enterprise tech and what’s next for women in this field
Editor’s note: The Women in Enterprise Technology series features profiles of some of the top women leaders in enterprise technology from the Salesforce Ventures portfolio and the larger Salesforce ecosystem. The goal is to showcase the fantastic work these women are doing at their respective organizations, and to encourage more women at all stages of their careers to consider enterprise software.
How did you get your start in enterprise technology? What led you to your position as EVP of AppExchange?
My path into the world of SaaS was somewhat less than conventional. When I graduated college, I ended up spending two years in the Peace Corps in Mali, Africa, because I wanted to give back, to make an impact — and that’s always been a key part of who I am. So, the Salesforce Foundation was a big part of why I joined the company. I like that we, as a company, highlight the importance of giving back. I was mesmerized by the SaaS model to begin with: I worked as a product manager in client server software before I came here, and after years of dealing with the frustration of working tirelessly on releases that were almost obsolete by the time they got out, I was interested in how Salesforce was upending that model.
The AppExchange ended up being the perfect fit for me: I see innovation with our technology — and, best of all, using it in ways that help others. I think that exemplifies the best of our company, the best of what we have to offer. We foster an environment where people want to think about building a better community, over making money. And we’re one of the few places where you can actually do both of those things at the same time; we’re certainly a leader in getting that movement started.
What trends have you noticed around women in tech in the past three years? What do you find most encouraging, and what do you think is the next hurdle to be overcome?
Well, we’re seeing more women stepping into leadership roles in business — and as a female executive myself, making sure women get a seat at that table is a mission that’s particularly close to my heart. I’m also deeply encouraged by seeing more women starting businesses of their own; I get to work with some amazing female founders who are building powerful solutions on the AppExchange, which is one of my favorite aspects of my job.
But we still have a long way to go. I’m hoping that the workplace gender equality issues that we’re still grappling with today — equal pay, diversity in leadership roles, etc. — are as unimaginable to the next generation as the battles previous generations have fought for us (for example, women having the right to vote). And in addition to removing the organizational barriers that are making it harder for women to get to the top, we need to get rid of the ‘cultural norms’ that can limit women’s careers. That means encouraging more women and girls to learn to code and immerse themselves in technical side of business; raising girls that truly feel empowered to build their own solutions and businesses.
What advice would you give to young women who are just entering the workplace — and more specifically, in the field of enterprise technology?
Find a mentor. That’s one of the best possible things you can do for yourself in the early days of your career; both working with and serving as a mentor is one of the greatest ways to start priming yourself for effective leadership early on. I’d also add that it’s not something you can outgrow — committing to being an effective leader is also committing to being a lifelong learner, and you should always be looking for the next mentor to continue your growth.
Furthermore, find mentors in other areas of the company from which you work. Networking across departments is a great way to expand your circle of influence and a great way to empower yourself by understanding a larger scope of business.
Have you had any “a-ha” moments in your career that have helped you succeed?
My work on equal pay initiatives at Salesforce was a insightful experience. My friend Cindy Robbins and I were both part of a program called Women’s Surge that gave us more access to leaders within the company, and we started talking. Equal pay was something that had always been on my mind, and once Cindy and I had achieved more elevated status, we knew we needed to leverage that opportunity and both felt an obligation to do more for other women inside of our company. So even though it took some courage to actually bring up pay disparities with our leadership, we knew it was the right thing to do and we needed to try.
The pay-off ended up being huge — Salesforce spent more than $6 million correcting pay disparities — and I realized just how important it was to ask for what you want. You may not always get yesses, but what’s the harm in asking? Someone needs to start these conversations. That’s how I look at it now.
Women in Enterprise Technology: Leyla Seka of Salesforce AppExchange was originally published in Inside the Salesforce Ecosystem on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.