For women in technology and IT, mentoring and support from peers becomes an essential part of career advancement and can often determine the decisions to continue to stay in the workforce despite personal commitments.
In this interview with SHEROES, Padmaja Kota, Director at Salesforce, shares her experience as a woman leader in technology for the last 17 years. She also touches upon the shifts in perspectives she had to make while working overseas, the importance of continuous learning in our times, the role of empathy in team building and more.
Juggling personal priorities on my journey to Director, Engineering
While I had the amazing opportunity to start my career as a software engineer in one of the largest tech companies in India, I eventually migrated to New Zealand after my wedding.
During this period, is when I learnt the difference between product development and service engineering. The exposure to building a product to scale, serving multiple customers with a global mindset further enhanced my skill set too.
Moving back to India after my stint of working abroad, I had the chance to experiment and apply my learnings and expertise in a service-based company in the transport and locomotive space.
In subsequent roles hereafter, I gained practical knowledge behind all the steps involved in product development – from conceptualization to the research involved for relevant market fit beyond a particular project and the critical role of a product manager in the entire process.
It takes a different level of maturity to start thinking of a product beyond what you’re being asked to code. Joining Salesforce back in 2014, gave me the opportunity to further expand my capabilities on various fronts, both personally and professionally.
As I grew from an Engineering Manager to a Senior Manager and now a Director, I intentionally work on leveraging my experience over the years to manage my priorities and my team efficiently.
I believe, that as a leader, you are responsible for the team’s success first. Once they are successful, your own success follows.
It is our responsibility to provide the right opportunities to the team, make the right business decisions and manage multiple priorities while sticking to your commitments.
The equal opportunity mindset at Salesforce
At Salesforce, equality has always been a core value and we’re committed to building a more diverse and inclusive workforce that mirrors the communities where we live and work.
We have always been dedicated to promoting inclusivity at the workplace in all its forms — gender, LGBTQ or racial by empowering, supporting, and investing in our global community.
The value of inclusivity is embodied in our Equality Groups, which are employee-led and employee-organized groups centred on common life experiences or backgrounds, and their allies.
Currently, there are 9 separate diversity networks, the first of these was the Women’s Network which is a community that helps drive awareness around gender equality.
Salesforce supports all the different backgrounds people come from and I’m very proud to be part of the Salesforce Women’s Network which does a lot of work with regards to improving diversity, enabling networks, as well as individual career development.
One of the main reasons many women drop out of the workforce is because they couldn’t manage both work and family priorities. In such a scenario, it helps to have a support system in place, with people to take care of things when you are unavailable, as you plan your day or week.
When I joined Salesforce there were very few women. I was one of the first few members of the Salesforce Women’s Network in Hyderabad. Today, we are able to discuss ideas as well as address concerns as part of this growing network within the organization.
For instance, when we realized that the office space was not conducive for women just coming back from maternity, we ensured that we ensured that we had designated rooms for new mothers, such that they could return to work comfortably.
Mentors can play a key role in forging a successful career
Mentoring is a very under-utilized concept primarily because individuals have this notion that you need to get mentored only when you’re in trouble, which is the biggest misconception.
A mentor can be anyone you can trust to give you unbiased and valuable advice. People generally stick by their mentors throughout their career or move on from one mentor to another seeking to learn from their experiences to implement themselves.
I have also been a mentor to my juniors, and I see this as an opportunity to share my knowledge and learn something from them as well.
At Salesforce, mentoring programs are run every six months, wherein individuals are paired with leaders across teams and regions. The response so far has been extremely positive as everyone has the freedom to prioritize their goals and accordingly decide how much time they can invest in the program.
In addition to this, speed mentoring programs are also organised as part of the Women’s Network, where women leaders and male allies nominate themselves as part of the initiative.
If you’re stuck at a particular level or don’t know how to resolve a conflict or move forward in a particular engineering problem, talking to a mentor can show you a different perspective.
Raising your hand and saying, “I need help” may not be comfortable, but I have grown to realise that people are extremely willing to help when you reach out, and that’s one of the main reasons I’ve been able to build a career of over 17 years.
Advice for women who want to pursue a career in technology
The one thing I would advise younger women is to be very clear about your goals and understand why you choose a certain role or a particular company to work at. I’ve come across a lot of talented students these days who lack a sense of direction in terms of what they want to follow.
Step one towards achieving your goals lies in stepping out of your comfort zone. Today, we have the resources and the opportunity available to learn and discover the right fit according to your skill sets and passion.
Finding and building a support system, be it through a mentor, alumni, or through your network of friends will play a significant role in your career growth.
Salesforce has had a very exciting journey in India. While we started out very small, we now have over 2500 employees across India with offices in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai and Gurgaon, across engineering, sales, support and Business Technology teams.
Personally, it’s extremely gratifying to know that I have been an integral part of this journey and have had the chance to share my expertise and years of experience with my teammates and grow along with them.