EPISODE 614: Why Salesforce is a Premier Women in Sales Employer with Jennifer Ward

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Today’s show featured an interview with Jennifer Ward from IES Premier Women in Sales Employer Salesforce. Read more about the PWISE designation and program here. the interview was conducted by Gina Stracuzzi, IES Women in Sales Program Director.

Find Jennifer on LinkedIn.

JENNIFER ON WHY SALESFORCE IS A PWISE:  “Always be learning and always leaning into being curious. I think that’s very important in our role and in all sales roles as well. For women, I would say believe in your own growth and potential and don’t let others define what roles that you’re going to be aspiring to.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Welcome, everyone. We’re very excited about these PWISE interviews because they give you a little insight into what makes a PWISE company a PWISE company. Welcome, Jennifer Ward.

Jennifer Ward: Thank you.

Gina Stracuzzi: You’re welcome. Jennifer is Vice President of Solution Engineering at Salesforce. Jennifer, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be at Salesforce and doing what you do, and then we’ll talk a little bit about being PWISE.

Jennifer Ward: I have been in technical sales almost my whole career. I actually started out doing implementations of technology in public sector. I switched over to doing technical sales. I didn’t really even understand what the role was that I was getting into when I was interviewing for it. I thought it was another flavor of implementation, but it turns out that there’s this whole career path around technical sales and solution engineering, as we call it at Salesforce, that I love and I’ve been doing it for the past 20 years. What I love about it is it’s super fast-paced. You get to always be meeting new customers. You always are learning new technology and applying them to our customer’s unique business challenges. I’m lucky enough to be leading the solution engineering team at Salesforce, covering our federal civilian and DOD customers. I’ve been doing that for the last five years. I’m loving it.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love how people get into sales. It’s always an interesting conversation. A hundred years ago or so when I first started my career, sales was just not something people actually talked about doing as a career. There’s just so many opportunities, especially for women now. I love that. Let’s dive into the questions that we have right now for you, including what does it mean to be a PWISE employer for Salesforce?

Jennifer Ward: For Salesforce, it’s really important. We are a company that is very driven by our values. We talk about our values, we talk about how we’re living our values all of the time. One of our most important values is equality, which does include gender equality. We have clear goals for representation, gender representation. We measure against these goals. We’re very public about how we’re doing and reaching our goals. We do very concrete things like evaluate equal pay on an ongoing basis. If we find inequality, we fix them. For Salesforce, I think this designation is a natural extension of who we are. It’s very important to who we are as a company, how we operate, and we’re very proud of being designated as a Premier Women in Sales Employer.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that goes into my second question, which was why did your company think it was important to achieve this? I’ve worked with Rob Stein quite a bit over the last couple of years as part of other pieces of Women in Sales program that we do. I have always been really, really impressed with the transparency that seems to permeate a lot of what happens at Salesforce. That for me was something completely new because quite often, companies, you just don’t get to ask questions about why something is the way it is, or why aren’t they fixing things. You don’t usually have that kind of open candor, and I’ve been really impressed with that.

Jennifer Ward: Yeah, me too. It is one of the reasons that I came to Salesforce. We’re publishing that we have a multi-year global gender goal to reach 40% globally by the end of 2026 our employees being women or women-identifying or non-binary employees. We not only publish that goal, but we publish where we are against it. The same with equal pay. We not only say that this is something we want to make sure equal pay is happening within Salesforce, there’s no pay inequity, but we also publish what we find if we find inequities and then we fix them. The transparency in this area I think is really great that Salesforce has. It’s, I think, one of the reasons that women are attracted to come to Salesforce.

Gina Stracuzzi: I really think it’s a gold standard, to be honest, because you don’t see that. When Rob participated in a panel discussion at our conference last year, and he told everyone that not only as a company were you fixing inequities, but that they were published, there was an audible, “Huh? Really?” That is not the norm, but that’s part of why you’re a PWISE company, because that should be the norm. It will become a best practice, I’m sure. What specifically does your company do to make it an attractive destination for women? How do you put yourself out there and let them know about these things?

Jennifer Ward: The culture aspect, the value that we have of equality and being public about it, and measuring, and publicizing, et cetera, as we were talking about, is really important to attract women and help women understand that this is a place where their contributions are going to be valued, where the company cares about equality, et cetera. But there are other things that we do. We make sure that women and everyone are going to have the resources they need to be successful. That includes fair compensation, it includes enablements on our technology and leadership. We have really excellent leadership programs that are available to everybody, and women take advantage of that at high numbers.

I would say that also, our technology and our innovation, another value is innovation. Women care about the products that they sell and they care that they’re relevant. The fact that Salesforce is always on the cutting edge of innovation and our technology is already taking advantage of AI and so forth, I think that’s very attractive to women sales professionals. Then the last thing I’ll mention is opportunity. I think opportunity for career growth is very important to women in sales, and I think that that’s something that Salesforce pays a lot of attention to as well.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is one of the things that we hear from companies quite often, that they have trouble retaining women in sales. When you talk to the women, it’s because they don’t see a future, they don’t see the career path. It may be there, but it’s not being shown to them. There isn’t that level of transparency, or there isn’t that level of mentorship or whatever it takes for really anyone, not just women, but to see their future, where they are, they’re going to move on. Let’s switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about some of the biggest challenges that you think women face in knowing success in sales. Then, how does Salesforce try to address those?

Jennifer Ward: It ties back into what we were just speaking about with career opportunity and retention of women. I think there’s this assumption that if a woman leaves a company, it might be because of the benefits or there wasn’t enough parental leave. Indeed did a study recently of a thousand women in tech and why they had left companies. The number one reason was because of lack of career opportunity or perceived lack of career opportunity. Parental leave was only 2%. I think we need to shift focus in terms of understanding what it is that women in tech are looking for, or women in sales are looking for, and then addressing the challenge as you were asking about.

I think the challenge is that we do have this, McKinsey calls it this broken rung phenomenon, where it’s you’re climbing a ladder, but there’s a rung broken. In business in general, according to McKinsey, for every 100 men who are promoted, 86 women are promoted. But in tech, for every 100 men who are promoted, it’s 52 women. That’s a big disparity, and of course, it’s driven by lack of representation overall. We really need to focus on making sure that women are getting the career opportunity that’s going to attract them to companies and then retain them at those companies as well.

The ways we can do that, and we do that at Salesforce, is we try to make the promotion process as transparent and as structured as possible. Having multiple people involved in a promotion process and evaluating that, clearly mapping the skills that are required for the position, helping people map their own personal skills to the skills that are expected for the position, and being really transparent and structured about that, is one main thing that Salesforce does, and that I think other companies can do as well. Then another thing is a strong mentoring program for everyone, but for women in particular, because there is this phenomenon where women will make sure that they check every box of every single characteristic that’s written in a description before they’ll even entertain or apply or make themselves open to a position. It’s not how men operate.

Women need, I think, strong mentoring programs to help them work through that and encourage them to make their aspirations known if they’re looking for a leadership position or a promotion. One of the things that women struggle with is it’s vulnerable to put yourself out there and say, “This is what I want,” and tell your leaders that this is what your goal is, but you really have to do it. You have to make the people know that this is the aspiration that you have. You need to work with them to understand how you’re going to work towards that. Then you need to stretch. You need to sometimes pull that position that you only have 80% of the experience that they’re looking for, but you still might be the best candidate.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is really the whole reason we devised the Women in Sales Leadership Forum, exactly for that broken rung group, because women get stuck in that middle management for all the reasons that you just outlined. As I like to tell people that go through the forum, job descriptions are a wishlist. If we could have everything that we wanted in a perfect candidate, it would be this. But you just go in and you show them how your skills align with what they have, and tell them what they need more than let them tell you, because they really are just a wishlist. These are the things I would love to have in a candidate, but guys know that, “Hey, I got three of those. That’s good. I could do that.” That’s brilliant, everything you said. What do you think that women in sales positions and tech and leadership are looking for right now?

Jennifer Ward: Every person’s different. Women are people and everyone’s different. From a technology perspective, what I was looking for and what I think a lot of my colleagues are looking for is the technology that allows us to have mission impact. Just during COVID and in recent years, we’ve really been able to do some things that I’m super proud of. Like helping get relief funding out to people, getting people vaccinated, et cetera, emergency response and relief activity. The ability to [have] purpose and not only your everyday life, but in your work life as well. I think for me, that’s very impactful. But also, women I think are like everybody and men are looking for this too, flexibility. I think everybody wants to achieve, at least the women that I know are very high performers. But I think flexibility in how that work gets done, when it gets done, where it gets done, is important for women. As is excellence. Most women that I know are looking for environments that value excellence and professionalism in the workplace. Again, that opportunity for career advancement as well.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about how Salesforce is working to attract top talent, and where do you think the industry overall is missing the mark in attracting more women to tech and tech sales?

Jennifer Ward: We talked about career advancement a lot. I think part of that is showing women in leadership positions. If you’re a woman with career aspirations, contemplating a move to a company, you want to see that there’s women in leadership somewhere in that company. At Salesforce we have really great female leaders, including our president and CFO, Amy Weaver. Showing that representation is part of what really helps attract top talent to your organization.

Then when you’re talking about retention, you want to have those strong support networks. Salesforce has a great women’s network that’s a very supportive environment. They have fantastic leadership programs that we encourage both women and men to take advantage of. I think those are the sort of things that a company can do to attract top talent in women and men. That’s maybe where folks are missing the mark too.

Gina Stracuzzi: I tend to think that it’s one of those things where you do have to have that representation. They have to see it. I also wonder if the way companies recruit, if that’s in their game plan enough. If somebody does the research and can see there’s this person, but if there’s a lot of people in between her and they see what amounts to a broken rung history, then you got to wonder, what are they putting out as they try to recruit?

Jennifer Ward: That’s a really good point. Who you show up with in your recruiting process, if you don’t have representation, it’s really hard to hide it. Because you do a series of interviews and at some point women might be wondering, “Well, am I going to be the only one if I’m in your organization, if only men are showing up in the process?” I think that’s a really important point and I don’t know how you solve that without actual representation. It’s a chicken and egg thing. You’ve got to hire women in order to hire more women. There’s always women trailblazers, et cetera, but I think we’re at a point where women understand they have choices in terms of where they work and what the culture’s like, and they’re just not willing to waste their time with a company that’s not aligned to their values.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is going to become even more obvious, I think, over the next five years or so. It’s going to be a challenge for companies that don’t have that representation because it will become very obvious. What do you think the next change will be over the next year or so? There’s been a lot of discussion about the semi-hybrid workspace we have now, and you alluded to it too, about where you are and do you have to show up basically at the office? Where do you think all that’s going to go?

Jennifer Ward: It’s hard to say. There’s so much influx right now. In one sense it’s really exciting and it’s interesting to see where everything’s going to go. Certainly, if you zoom out and look at the overall arc of progress with women in representation, it’s getting better all the time. That’s good. I think there’s also data that shows that with the tech layoffs that we’ve had in recent months, those are disproportionately affecting women, because of things like the positions that are being hit and tenure of women in leadership, et cetera. That’s something that I think we’re going to have to examine and we’re going to have to decide, do we really care about these things? Do we really care about representation, and what are we willing to do in order to make sure that we’re still retaining the women in the organization that we want to?

I think part of that is flexibility, but it’s not everything. Every woman’s situation is different and we just need to be empathetic as an organization and women will be too. Women understand that a company needs to have an in-office culture and be able to do in-office things. The extent to which they need to do that can vary. I think women are leaning in as well, but we’re expecting an empathetic performance-driven evaluation that does allow for some flexibility.

Back to the women won’t apply for any position that they don’t tick every box for, but men will, I also think men just take flexibility when they need it, and they don’t worry about it as much as women do. If you start saying to women, “Well, we’re going to be less flexible,” we’re immediately like, “Well, I’m going to follow the rules,” and that would be very hard and worrying about how you’re going to do that. Whereas men are like, “I’m still going to do what I need to do and it’s going to be fine.” Maybe I’m overgeneralizing a little bit there.

Gina Stracuzzi: I don’t think so. This is something we talk about in the forum too, that we can only control ourselves. If something is not the way you want it to be or need it to be, then you have to make it known. That doesn’t mean throwing a temper tantrum if you don’t get your way, but if you don’t speak up, if you don’t say, “This is what I need and I’m going to make it happen. I have to make it happen.” Just like a guy would. If you aren’t willing to do that, if you can’t find it in yourself to do that, then things aren’t going to change. It’s up to companies to provide the environment that allows for those conversations, but it’s up to us as women to find the voice and say, “This is what I need,” and not be afraid that someone is going to say, “Whoa, you can’t have that. By the way, there’s the door.” It’s not the way it works, usually. If it is the way it works, then you shouldn’t be there, because that’s not the company for you.

Jennifer Ward: I think we all understand we need to balance the requirements of the individual, what an individual needs, against the needs of the organization. Both are valuable, both are important, and I think that we can definitely do that. We just need to talk through what’s really important and what good performance really means, and how are we going to measure that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the ways Salesforce leaders are leading their teams to success right now.

Jennifer Ward: We are all about productivity and performance, as we were just talking about, like getting to really high levels of productivity coming out of the pandemic where there was one kind of productivity, which was a lot of online Zoom to Zoom meetings and balancing that now with getting back in front of our customers in person. How are we going to measure our time? How are we going to measure performance? That’s a big emphasis of leadership today in Salesforce. But while doing that, I think we’re not losing sight of our greater values. We still value authenticity and collaboration and we empower others.

One of the women that I mentor said to me recently that someone told her she might be too nice, or she might be too kind. I was like, “Kindness is not the same thing as weakness.” You can be kind and nice while still being focused on productivity and performance. I want to make sure everybody understands that. I mentioned Amy Weaver, who’s our CFO, earlier, but she is such a shining example of that. She always leads with kindness, but she is extremely good at the numbers and at driving performance as well. All of those things are important to leadership at Salesforce right now.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that idea, and women hear that, that you’re too nice, and on the flip side, you are too aggressive. There is that balance. I really applaud women who can find it to say, “Just because I’m nice doesn’t mean I’m weak and don’t mess with me to find out,” because we don’t have to be tough, and I think we do ourselves a disservice if we try to act like men, because that’s really not who we are. If nice is how you operate, and applause all the way around for people who are genuinely nice, because kindness is everything, when you can do that and still be formidable in your job, to me you’ve really made it, because you are 100% yourself.

Jennifer Ward: It’s about being authentically who you are as well. Don’t be overly sweet if that’s not who you are. But if that’s who you are, then it doesn’t mean that you’re not a strong leader.

Gina Stracuzzi: Do you think there’s any challenges to Salesforce remaining a PWISE company for the extended future?

Jennifer Ward: I think we will. I think this is an area that we are focused on and it’s part of who we are. It’s not something that’s just passing phase for us. But I think the challenges we may face is that we are hiring slower now. Less hiring, less promotion means less near-term opportunity. We were talking about how career growth is very important to women in sales and technology. I think that’s the challenge yet. Long term, I think our industry and certainly our company is really strong, we’re investing in all the right areas. We’ve got such exciting technology and AI coming out. I feel really confident about our long-term and medium-term and even short-term. But I think the challenges are the slower hiring and less promotion opportunity in the short term.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think if your company remains as transparent as it is, people will appreciate that this is just a factor of the times. There’s a certain amount of economic insecurity or uncertainty at least. If managers, if leaders are open about what is happening and where things might be headed, I think you can work around the medium-term lack of opportunity for promotion. I think people, if they believe in your company, they’ll stick with you. Not everybody handled those layoffs too well. I know some companies really hurt for it afterwards, but I think you have a great company, and if I was in the job market, I might come knocking. Because I admired every woman from Salesforce that has come through the forum and I admire so many of your leaders. I think you’re just a great company.

Jennifer Ward: I agree. Thank you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Jennifer, we like to leave our audience with one final action step that they can put into place today to take their career or sales to the next level. What would you give to them?

Jennifer Ward: Well, because I’m in solution engineering, mine is going to be focused on learning. I think it’s always be learning and always leaning into being curious. I think that’s very important in our role and in all sales roles as well. For women, I would say believe in your own growth and potential and don’t let others define what roles that you’re going to be aspiring to.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is brilliant advice. I really appreciate that. Jennifer Ward of Salesforce, thank you so much for joining us today and thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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