Diversity and skills - the challenges (and opportunities) facing Salesforce's new UK CEO

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett July 20, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Talking priorities for Salesforce UK and Ireland in the Vaccine Economy with Zahra Bahrololoumi.

Zahra Bahrololoumi

Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce’s new Executive Vice President and CEO for Salesforce UK and Ireland (UKI), has only been in the role since March 2021, but she already has a big challenge to take on involving some pretty hefty recruitment numbers.

The UK is the largest market for Salesforce outside the US, and one of its fastest-growing markets internationally. This level of growth means the company needs to recruit new talent, and quick.

Over the next two years, the firm expects to create over 1,000 new jobs, predominantly across sales, solutions engineering and professional services. Bahrololoumi is not concerned about the firm’s ability to fill these roles in the short-term - Salesforce gets lots of applications for vacancies as it’s an attractive organization to work for, she notes.

There are two more pressing recruitment challenges that Bahrololoumi is focused on. The first is how to ensure these 1,000-plus roles get filled in line with diversity and inclusion (D&I) targets.

Equality 

While Salesforce takes a holistic view of equality - its 12 different employee-led groups range from Abilityforce, for those with visible and invisible disabilities, to Outforce for the LGBTQ community - its two key priorities for recruiting new staff to the business are gender and underrepresented minorities, according to Bahrololoumi:

I absolutely need more women, certainly in my own team, certainly in Salesforce and in tech more broadly. Our equality board is prioritizing gender at this stage in a very programmatic way.

And for underrepresented minorities, I could say BAME, I could say ethnic minorities, but if I'm being very specific, it's our black community where we have a target market in the UK, and that is not represented at the extent that I would like to see within Salesforce and there's absolutely no reason for that. We should act, we should be driving a greater level of representation and inclusion.

That begs the question of whether she can be confident that the 1,000-plus roles can be filled while growing these two target groups? On this point, Bahrololoumi is adamant: 

It is non-negotiable and it is our biggest focus. If I don't do it, I'll be really, really angry.

Skills 

The second recruitment challenge facing Salesforce is a larger and trickier one to tackle. According to a new report from IDC on ‘The Salesforce Economy’, Salesforce and its ecosystem of partners and customers will create 81,500 jobs between 2020 and 2025.

Around two-thirds of those will be specialist technical roles, but the remaining third will be across sales, marketing, HR and finance - and the people that fill those roles will need to have a much-enhanced level of digital expertise.

The problem is, many people in the UK are still lacking the requisite digital skills: the report also noted that one in six UK workers have low or no digital skills. So it’s not the internal recruitment that’s a worry to Bahrololoumi, as much as the need to train up thousands more people to support the Salesforce eco-system as a platform technology base and a customer base:

Our customers also want to skill up and need to skill up. When we look at that 81,500 number, that's the one I'm focused on. We've all got some work to do. It's not just the next generation, the younger generation. They are digitally savvy, so we can assume that there is a digital capability that can be really built on. I can see how that is a continued pipeline of talent and we contribute to that with our apprenticeship program, helping build those skills in the next generation.

The bigger issue is the re-skilling of individuals. Think about the population that is unemployed today, many have adjacent skills that could be re-skilled for digital jobs. That makes us think about the role of all of us for lifelong learning. How do we come together as an ecosystem - a company, business, government and education - to grab that opportunity.

Part of the problem is the fear factor that remains when many think about technology as a career. Bahrololoumi didn't have a formal technology education, and was more focused on the creative side at school and through university. But her first job was coding, leading to a successful 22-year career at Accenture before leaving to head up Salesforce UKI, as well as sitting on the board of trade association techUK:

I absolutely plunged myself into coding, and that was a really painful transition. I don't think that is the pathway for everyone now, but I think tech is such a gateway for future jobs and people don't realize that there are so many opportunities across tech. It's not just about coding, we've got to remove that fear factor and help people understand the variety of roles that can be undertaken within tech sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also having an impact on the D&I ambitions Salesforce has when it comes to filling those roles across the partner and customer eco-system, she adds: 

That is taking up a lot of time for us because we're working with partners, with customers and we're exploring different partnerships to say, how can we really impact that 81,500 number. In terms of gender and race, we can see that the pandemic has disproportionately affected black, Asian and other ethnic minorities in the UK. The different unemployment rates are worrying. The pandemic has exacerbated the gap, we can see it, it’s troubling. Having said that, it is a widely acknowledged challenge. When I'm talking to customers, other businesses, it's a topic that we all care deeply about, it’s in our consciousness and we are all compelled to act.

Success

While the recruitment and skills aspects are high on Bahrololoumi’s agenda, customer success in the post-pandemic era is her number one priority. At present, the area customers are most focused on is the return to the office: 

They are really looking to us to understand how we're doing it, as their partner. We spend a lot of time talking about how we're approaching coming back to office and some of the things that are top of mind for us and where we're using data, because we've taken quite a data-driven approach.

When we think about what our offer in the market helps our customers with, really simply our technology and our capability enables our customers to be successful in what we call a success from anywhere world. So our technology helps our customers sell, market, serve and interact with their customers and employees from anywhere. We've seen an extraordinary level of growth and impact from that, and engaging with customers to enable them to help them on their own digital transformation journey.

The empowerment to work from anywhere has opened up a whole host of opportunities, and Bahrololoumi says she wants to ensure Salesforce is using this period to learn what is most impactful for people in different situations and what they need. It would be dangerous for anybody to mandate staff have got to work in the office full-time or got to work from home full-time, as everyone is still calibrating and learning:

We need to ask people about what it means to work in this new post-pandemic world. We have a lot of data from their return to the office, and we're using an opportunity to understand what they need.

The work from anywhere approach also offers an opportunity around filling the thousands of vacancies Salesforce and its eco-system will be creating over the next few years; it opens up access to a wider talent pool as businesses are no longer confined to the parameters of a specific geography or perimeter or different locations.

My take

With Bahrololoumi’s insistence that internal job roles are filled in line with D&I goals, and her frankness about the need for more women on her team and in the organization, it certainly feels like Salesforce UKI will be upping its already impressive commitments when it comes to equality in the workforce. Hopefully she’ll also succeed in encouraging partners and customers to apply the same diversity focus when looking to build up talent across the wider Salesforce ecosystem.