Salesforce Ventures Leadership Classroom
perspectives / Insights

8 Things Successful Female Leaders Do, and You Should Too

Lessons from Our First Women’s Leadership Classroom

Salesforce Ventures
May 22, 2019

Here at Salesforce Ventures, we constantly seek opportunities to support and develop women and underrepresented minorities, both within our portfolio and the greater Salesforce ecosystem. In April, we hosted our first Leadership Classroom, a boot camp-style learning experience for high-performing women from our portfolio companies.

Leadership Classroom grew out of observation (and data!) that there is a confidence gap for women looking to advance from middle management to executive roles, driven by a lack of tailored resources and support. According to a study by Bain & Co, women’s aspirations and confidence that they can achieve top management roles differ significantly from men’s. Only 35% of women in senior positions reported an aspiration to reach top management, compared to 56% of men. Their confidence levels in being able to do so were 29%, and 55%, respectively. Narrowing this gap is important to us at Salesforce Ventures, and I am a strong believer in activating progress — be it incremental or far-reaching. The Leadership Classroom is a step forward, equipping women who have a line of sight to executive roles with strategies, tools, community, and a space for open dialogue.

To achieve this, we brought together a group of exceptional women from Salesforce, female executives from our portfolio companies, and thought leaders. The day swirled with learnings, and I saw an opportunity for the greater community to benefit outside of the Classroom’s four walls. Here is a mini playbook of actionable wisdom to take with you into your workday.

Bring Your True Self to Work

Authenticity is critical

Stay loyal to who you are, says Ritu Bhasin, the author of The Authenticity Principle. (Easier said than done, I know.) Bhasin asserts that we have three selves: an “authentic self” (the real me), an “adapted self” (that meets my needs and the needs of others), and a “performing self” (that pushes us to conform and to mask who we really are). The performing self, she says, disempowers us and is often the one women present in their careers. When you thrive in a situation, ask yourself which selves are presenting. Recognizing the three selves are in play is an essential step.

Seek, don’t hide

Being an effective leader doesn’t require hiding behind a tough facade. It asks something even harder of us: seeking opportunities to be vulnerable in micro and macro ways. Revealing our personal side — our backgrounds, education, families, communication styles, etc — can be scary, because we don’t know how we’ll be perceived. Take mini leaps, share small tidbits that allow your team and colleagues to get to know you. Bhasin helps us get started by asking ourselves the question: “What is one thing about yourself you’re not presently sharing that after today you’ll start to share?”

Ask (yourself) questions

Bhasin argues that getting closer to a truer version of yourself requires digging deeper, and asking some challenging questions:

  1. “What are your ‘must do’ or ‘must be’ authentic behaviors?”
  2. “What are the dimensions in which you’re comfortable adapting, and what does your adapted behavior look like?”
  3. “How are you encouraging others to be adaptive and authentic?”

Own Your Career

Take chances! (Don’t just look like you are)

Molly Ford, the Senior Director of Global Equality Programs at Salesforce, and Leyla Seka, Salesforce’s former Execute Vice President of Mobile, observed that in the absence of a career roadmap, women and others from underrepresented groups often sit back while valuable opportunities get scooped up by more assertive employees. CEO of Helpshift, Linda Crawford, also offered her wisdom: working hard, being the first and last in the office, doesn’t make you appear competent…it only proves that you spend a lot of time working for the company. Instead, work smarter by embracing (sometimes scary) opportunities, making your voice (and work) heard, and being thoughtful about how you delegate.

Plan the next move thoughtfully

Edith Harbaugh, CEO and co-founder of LaunchDarkly, advised that when deciding on your next position, find the department that is most important and core to the business. Positioning yourself closer to the business increases your—and your team’s—ability to make an impact within the company.

Learn your blindspots

Natalie Abeysena, CEO of ScopeAI, asserts that practicing self-awareness is critical to advancement and effective leadership. She recognizes that leaders often do not have all of the answers, and believes that being aware of what you do know is equally as important as identifying your blindspots. This is where vulnerability again comes into play. Admission of your own limitations surfaces more honest perspectives from others. Seek people within your network, or beyond, who can help you hold up the mirror.

Make Room for Yourself (and Others) at the Table

Fitting in doesn’t equal efficacy

Being agreeable may be the path of least resistance, though it doesn’t necessarily make you a valued part of the team. How to take control? Ford and Seka offer three ways to succeed: educate yourself, ask questions, and be present. Create a space for others to feel a sense of belonging, and bring them along with you.

Know the difference between mentorship and sponsorship

According to Ford and Seka, it’s crucial to have allies in your career journey. You want both mentors and sponsors, though understanding the different roles they play is essential. A sponsor, like a mentor, will support your development, but go a step further. Sponsors will advocate for you and your ideas in rooms you’re not in. Ford and Seka also note that mentors do not need to look like you or come from the same background. Having diversity in these allies allows for access to different perspectives.

Onward and Upward

It was an incredible day with an even more incredible group. I was blown away by the talent and perspectives in the room. Introducing the right resources at the right time for future female and underrepresented leaders was the Leadership Classroom objective, and will continue to be an ongoing goal. As an investor on the Salesforce Ventures team, I look forward to activating more portfolio employees as part of this community, and adding to these learnings — 8 is just the start!