The driving force behind Salesforce’s $8.7M commitment to closing the gender wage gap, Leyla Seka built AppExchange from its earliest days, served as GM of Desk.com and is now EVP of Mobile and one of the most senior female leaders at Salesforce. Tune in to this rare interview along with Cloudflare’s Head of Product, Jennifer Taylor, and get Leyla’s advice on how to always ask for more, help others, and scare the crap out of yourself at least once a year.
Leyla Seka: Hi, Jen.
Jennifer Taylor: Hey, Leyla.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi guys. First I’m going to introduce myself. I’m Sukrutha, I’m the CTO of Girl Geek X. Thank you, Jen and Leyla for making time for us today.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: A few housekeeping notes because I’ve been following the questions, yes there is video being recorded. It will be available for you in a week. We also want you to share on social media all the wise words that these amazing ladies are sharing with us today so please tweet at #ggxelevate. So many great things also out of this event is that you can also see all the job listings on our website girlgeek.io/opportunities. Let’s not waste any more time and get started. I’ll introduce Leyla and Jen now.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Leyla is the Executive Vice President of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience enabling all customers to unlock the power of Salesforce from anywhere. Has been at Salesforce for 11 years now and held a variety of positions across product management, product marketing, and business operations. Fun fact, she mentored Jen when Jen was at Salesforce, as well, when Jen was the VP of Product at Search at Salesforce. Jen has had an amazing career as well, worked at Facebook, Adobe, and Macromedia, after which it was acquired by Adobe. Thank you ladies, again.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: They’re going to be talking to us about, always ask for more, so I want to make sure that you have all the time to ask the questions that you want to ask. Please use the Q&A button at the bottom and we’ll take Q&A at the end of this. Thank you.
Leyla Seka: Thanks.
Jennifer Taylor: Thanks. Leyla, how are you doing?
Leyla Seka: Pleasure to see you, how are you?
Jennifer Taylor: It’s good. It’s really fun and exciting for me to be spending time talking to you today on this topic with this group just because you’ve been such an instrumental part in my personal growth and I’ve learned so much from you about your experience.
Leyla Seka: I’ve learned a lot from you too.
Jennifer Taylor: Starting with the fact, you’re one of the most senior women at one of the most successful companies in the world. How did you get there? How did you decide to go do this?
Leyla Seka: That’s a good question. Look, there’s some luck, first off. Anyone that says they’re successful without acknowledging the luck of being at the right place at the right time, I think is a bit too much of a narcissist. [inaudible 00:02:59] luck. It’s Salesforce’s 20th birthday today, I’ve worked there 11 years, you worked there. A lot of the people I love the most in my professional life I’ve met there, so I was very lucky to go to such a great company so early.
Leyla Seka: I also worked my butt off and I pushed. It’s International Women’s Day. We’re on the Girl Geek X webinar, so I feel like this is a good place to say it, but I just didn’t settle for anything. I just pushed, and pushed and pushed. When I looked back on it all it wasn’t all easy, it was not all easy. A lot of it was really, really hard, but it was totally worth it. I don’t sit around and wish or wonder about what if I had asked for this or what if I had asked for that anymore, which is a nice change.
Jennifer Taylor: What’s surprised you on this journey?
Leyla Seka: I think that I probably was surprised about how lonely it was. The reality is, for a lot of women, the generation before me, specifically, they really yanked the ladders up after them because in lots of ways they were forced to make decisions like not having children, or not having relationships, or not taking care of aging parents, or not doing these things in order to have a career, which that’s a really terrible choice to have to make and I am truly grateful to all of them because I didn’t have to make that choice, and I credit them with a lot of that. That mentality existed a lot throughout my career, just women not helping women as much as they should. For me, I think that probably was surprising and also just how change is so scary for people. When you challenge the patriarchy, it’s scary for the people who the system is built for and it’s important to have compassion and understanding for them too.
Jennifer Taylor: You talk about challenging and one of the things that you did at Salesforce is you were instrumental in the push for equal pay. How did you decide to get involved in that?
Leyla Seka: I grew up in product management and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m a lot older than probably most of the people on this call. I’m 45, I own how old I am, I have no issue with it. But I grew up in product management so I always walked in the room long before Salesforce–my whole career, I walked in the room and I was the only woman. I used to make jokes, “Hello, gentleman and Linda,” because there was one woman named Linda in the room. I’d had that experience. Over time, throughout many companies and throughout my career I’d had the sense that the men made more money, just like shop talk in the kitchen kind of thing, nothing super sophisticated, but just a feeling. Then I got Salesforce, and I got raised up and I got this great opportunity to run one of our divisions called Desk. It was great times, probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my career, I had so much fun. I had a team of four people and we grew like crazy.
Leyla Seka: The first two years just unbelievable growth. I had a team of four people, two men, two women and it was bonus time. When you’re the boss you get the money and you decide who gets what money and what stock, and all that. I fought hard to get a lot of it for everyone. When push came to shove I really just thought they all deserved an equal amount, so I gave them all the same and I gave them a lot, a lot more than any of them had ever gotten before. I worked hard. Then you have the meetings with the people. My assistant set up the meetings, it just happened to be the two women went first. I sit with the first woman, “Great job,” this, this, and this, here’s your bonus. “Oh Leyla, thank you so much, it’s so amazing, oh my gosh. I love my job. Thank you for the money, thank you, thank you.”
Leyla Seka: Then second woman, “Great job.” “Oh thank you for the money, thank you so much, thank you, thank you.” Then the first man [crosstalk 00:06:55] I said it to him and he looked at me and he said, “I want more.” I thought in my head, “What? What? What? How could you want more? You’ve never gotten this much.” But I was like, “Okay, I’ll try to ponder that.” Then the second man who was really my COO and really my partner in running the business, my primary partner, I told him the money and he looked at me and said, “I want more.” He was a close enough partner that I could say, “Okay stop a second, what is this?” He sort of said, “We’ve always been taught to ask for more.” It was sort of like someone slapped me across the face because I thought of all the times that I had gotten a bonus or promotion, or a job, or any of these things and I had been like, “Thank you,” because that was the way my mother had raised me.
Leyla Seka: My friend Cindy got promoted to the head of HR, I’ve known her for a long time, like 20 years. She and I had both been raised up at the same time at Salesforce so we were talking about this. We were going back and forth, so eventually she had a one-on-one with our boss Marc Benioff, the CEO, and she invited me to come along and we made a presentation. We were totally nervous. I remember when we got out both our mothers were texting us like, “What happened?” But we gave him a presentation and we basically said, “We don’t think the women are being paid the same as the men.” Cindy said something really poignant then. She said, “If we look under the covers, we open the hood and we see a problem we can’t shut the hood and run away. We got to fix it and it could be very expensive.”
Leyla Seka: Marc Benioff is a pretty amazing person when it comes to being an ally and someone that’s not afraid to do amazing stuff so he was like, “Go for it. Do it.” We did that audit, then that was a year, then we also did the mentoring program. That was how I got you. I picked you because I wanted to become friends with you. Sometimes mentoring goes the other way. Then we did the first Women’s Summit with Molly Ford who was in PR for us at Salesforce. That was our big year where we really took a step out and were doing different stuff around the equality and women in the workforce. Not to mention, it led to the Office of Equality at Salesforce and our Chief Equality Officer and all of these things. It was pretty amazing.
Jennifer Taylor: It’s incredible. I’ll just say from having been at Salesforce at that time and a woman at Salesforce at that time, I really felt the surge. You mentioned mentorship and Sandra just a minute ago really drew, not only a distinction about mentorship but also sponsorship. A big part of what I observed you doing at Salesforce is really being a mentor and sponsor for women. Can you talk to me a little bit like how do you make times for that and why?
Leyla Seka: Sure. That, to me, is probably the most important part of the job. Honestly, I extended it, I’m now the Executive Sponsor at Boldforce at Salesforce which is our black employee resource group, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand what it feels like to be black in technology and black in America. I don’t understand it, but I try to be an ally. For me, and I think a lot of people have said it in a lot of ways, but if we don’t help each other a lot of these things aren’t going to change. I’ve seen great change in my career. I often am frustrated, feeling like it should be going faster and then I remember Rep John Lewis saying he walked across the bridge in Selma with Martin Luther King and then he introduced President Obama. Change is happening. I think that for us, making time to mentor people and help people, man, I wanted that going up. Man, I wanted someone to talk to that was a woman that could empathize with being a mother and wanting to be very professionally successful. I had great friends, like Cindy Pierce, people that I love, Susan, others, but to have someone that had done it, that was advising me, I really lacked that. I had made a decision early on in my career, I’m just going to do it. It’s just not something I negotiate on.
Jennifer Taylor: You talk a lot about the growth in your career and sitting where you are now. What do you know now that you wish you had known the first day you had walked into Salesforce?
Leyla Seka: A lot more about the product. No, I’m just kidding. I do think that everyone needs to learn the products of the companies they work at, no matter what their role, but that’s sort of an aside.
Jennifer Taylor: Spoken like a true product person. I feel yeah.
Leyla Seka: I think that I probably would have trusted myself a little more. I’m older than a lot of people on the call, probably, so the climate was different for me too, coming up. Maternity leave was not a foregone conclusion. MeToo was not something that was … So it was a different time. Probably I think I would have trusted myself a bit more. I think I probably self-doubted myself more than I needed to and was harder on myself than I needed to be. Had I been a little kinder to myself in the process, it probably wouldn’t have hurt so much at certain points. I’m a pretty extreme person. My emotions tend to be a big part of who I am, so that plays in as well. I see it with other women too, younger women coming up. Just so much doubt. Before the opportunity is out of someone’s mouth they’re telling you why they can’t do it. I did a lot of that too. I wish I had known better.
Jennifer Taylor: You mentioned motherhood. One of the things that I find when I talk to a lot of women is they’re very thoughtful about the path to the top and having it all, but also people acknowledge, and Sandra just talked about this a moment ago too, that path to the top requires trade-offs. Do you agree, and if so, what are some of the trade-offs that you feel like you’ve made?
Leyla Seka: I think there are lots of trade-offs. I’m really lucky because my partner stays home and he’s primary on our kids, so he picks the soccer practice, and the tutoring and does all that kind of stuff. But he and I have both been faced with lots of criticism like Leyla doesn’t care about being a mother as much, or Josh has no ambition to be a professional. It’s funny that in this day and age, even though these are roles we’re both very suited for and quite happy in, society in general is trying to compartmentalize us into ways or not ways. This again, I think is where we find strength in each other and in the fact that there’s … Serena Williams said recently, “You can’t define a woman one way.” I just thought that was pretty much as beautiful as it gets. We are redefining how people see women. We’re not in petticoats baking cakes anymore.
Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah, which is fun.
Leyla Seka: Which is fun, and if you want to bake a cake in a petticoat go for it.
Jennifer Taylor: Go for it.
Leyla Seka: But in general, we are all defining new archetypes of women beyond witch, crone, all the old ones that were around us, we’re now stepping out into a new world. I for one, when I look down at the millennials, and generation after them and the younger people whose expectations are at a different level where it comes to equality; it’s not something they’re hoping for, it’s something they’re expecting, that makes me super fired up.
Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.
Leyla Seka: I want to ask you some questions-
Jennifer Taylor: Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.
Leyla Seka: … because you’re pretty interesting too, Jen. I love you very much, you’re one of my favorite people. You went to Harvard Business School which is the best business school in the world. Then you went into product. How did going to Harvard affect going to product, was that related?
Jennifer Taylor: I think it is. I think one of the criticisms and piece of feedback that I got when I was a kid was why do you ask so many questions, stop asking so many questions. One of the things that I realized when I got to Harvard is this thing that I had been treating like a bug for a long time was actually a feature, and it was actually a unique feature of me. I realized when I was at Harvard that I had a unique abundance of curiosity. I had a unique interest in helping identify the problems that people were facing as they were running their business, as they were trying to grow things. I think that’s where the core of what I think makes a person successful in product is, which is customer empathy.
Jennifer Taylor: The other thing I realized at Harvard and, I think throughout my career as I played sports growing up, is I really love to collaborate. I really love cross-functional collaboration. Product is a really unique place because you get to think about the customer, you get to think about the business, but in order to actually be successful, you’re managing through influence, so it’s really about how do you bring together a diversity of engineers, designers, marketing, PR, to really bring this thing to bear.
Leyla Seka: I love the idea of managing through influence, that is the perfect product manager, 100%. How do you think managing through influence and learning how to do that skill has helped you just get things done and professional, how do you do it?
Jennifer Taylor: I think it’s the theme of what we’re talking about here today is asking for more, and we talked a minute ago about trade-offs and some of the trade-offs that people make. I think figuring out how to manage and influence, figuring out how to ask people to bring their best to the table and using that as a way to give you an opportunity to focus on your best. You don’t have to do it all yourself, but there is a team and everybody has different and diverse perspectives, and different strengths to bring to the table and finding ways to leverage those and to ask people to do that, I think really does lead to not only, I think for me personally, a richer experience and a more interesting career, but I think it’s really additive for the product and for the business.
Leyla Seka: Totally, totally. I want to switch gears with you for a second. You worked at Salesforce, you were my mentee, you were head of search, you read data and then you left.
Jennifer Taylor: Yeah.
Leyla Seka: I’d love for you to chat a bit about that because I think we all face moments in our career when we’re thinking about making big changes and doing interesting stuff, and that was a big change. I would just love some feedback from you on why that happened and why you chose to go to Cloudflare and what you’re finding there.
Jennifer Taylor: It’s interesting, I had a phenomenal experience at Salesforce and it was such an intense point in my career in terms of personal, professional growth. It was really an opportunity to work with you and the culture around advocacy and really growing people was really powerful. I think I had a bunch of interesting opportunities along the way. One of the things that happened right around the time that you and I started working together in a mentoring capacity is there became a unique opportunity to basically run Data.com. It’s a unique opportunity to run a business unit and to be in charge of those things. I remember sitting with you in a conference room and being like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And you just being like, “Just go ask for it. You want it, go ask for it.” So I asked and that was terrifying, and I got it and that was even more terrifying.
Jennifer Taylor: I think that role was transformative in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It was really an opportunity, I had been growing within a big organization, I’d spent most of my career in mid to large size scaling companies, working with the team at Data, I was working with a team of 150-250 people that were all rowing in one direction and I was working in a way that was much more cross-functional. The opportunities I had and the challenges I faced as a leader were much more dynamic and challenging, it gave me exposure and opportunities to leadership at Salesforce that I hadn’t had before, and through that I learned a lot. As we made the decision to fold that in to Sales Cloud I started thinking to myself what do I want to do next? What I realized is that there had been something, a kindled curiosity and a desire to take risk in that small business unit. I realized I wanted to go do more of that.
Jennifer Taylor: I continued to think about opportunities at Salesforce, but I actually got connected to Michelle who’s one of the co-founders here at Cloudflare. We immediately found a connection. Over the course of several months I got to know the team better and I was like you know what, I think this is the right opportunity for me to come in and run product, to have a seat at the table with a management team reporting to the CEO, thinking about how you take a successful but still startup-y company and really scale that, and to have that be more squarely on my shoulders, I felt was the challenge I was ready to take.
Leyla Seka: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. What was the biggest change going from such a big company to such a little company that you noticed?
Jennifer Taylor: I think the biggest thing I noticed was just the rate of change and the ability to go from saying I think we should, how about this?The time to impact was much shorter because the organization was small, it was scrappy, it was nimble. There was a certain amount of energy that was happening surrounded here today with many of the same people who have the same orientation I do, which is how do we move fast, how do we experiment, how do we do things? I think that’s been really exciting. I now think about and have responsibilities for parts of the business that I’ve never had responsibilities before. I think now I have responsibilities for product design, I have pricing, I have program management. That’s also stretching me as a leader because as a product leader I’ve grown up as a product manager and it’s easy for me to say, “I know how to product manage and I’m going to coach you in being a product manager.” Here it’s much more, I am a leader within the organization and I am coaching, mentoring, and working with people who have leadership capabilities in areas where I know nothing, not nothing, I shouldn’t say nothing, that’s a little extreme.
Leyla Seka: Not your [crosstalk 00:21:24].
Jennifer Taylor: I haven’t been there done that. It’s been a really wonderful opportunity for me to figure out really how do I delegate and empower.
Leyla Seka: Right, that’s awesome. You’re a working mom, you have little kids, how do you manage it? What do you find working … You run a product at a super fast growing company and have little kids, what kind of trade-offs do you find yourself thinking through or making as you do that, or do you?
Jennifer Taylor: I think one of things that really hit me when I became a mom was how important it is to intentionally choose what you do because otherwise, you have an interesting career, you have a team, that will consume you. As a mom you have kids, they have needs, that will consume you. You have a relationship, you have friendships. I look at life as a portfolio investment like here’s your career, there are your kids, there are your friends, there’s your personal interests. I think at any point, and it’s changed so many times over my life, is you just need to rebalance that and make those choices. For me, I love what I do, but I leave, and I go home and I have dinner with my kids and I put them to bed, I choose that. Similarly, I need to work. I need to go to the office to work my yayas out. I’ve chosen to continue to pursue a career. It’s about that portfolio and rebalancing that portfolio constantly.
Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think work/life balance is … I never liked that term because sometimes different parts need different levels of attention, sort of like making conscious decisions. I completely agree with you, I think that makes a ton of sense.
Leyla Seka: Okay, so let’s think. I have one more question for you. You and I were mentor and mentee, but we also became really good friends, so it has evolved past that. I’m sure a lot of people on this call are like, “How do I get a mentor? How do I get a sponsor? How do I figure out…” What kind of advice would you have for folks on the call when they’re thinking through that?
Jennifer Taylor: Ask. I think that’s a theme that I’ve consistently heard through some of the conversations today is ask for it. When you go, and you ask and you seek a mentor or a sponsor, come with specific ideas and goals. As the mentee or the sponsoree, bring the agenda. You’re taking time from this person, help them help you. Then also challenge yourself when you select the person that mentors you. Find somebody who’s a little out of the box. Find somebody who’s a little outside of your comfort zone because oftentimes I personally have found that’s actually what I need in the mentorship is to get out of my own way sometimes and have somebody really bring a different perspective in to how I’m thinking about things.
Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think another important thing that is not discussed enough is you need male sponsors and male mentors.
Jennifer Taylor: Yes.
Leyla Seka: The world is still very much a patriarchy. We’re all trying, but I see a lot of younger women, “Oh be my mentor. Be my sponsor, be my this.” Everyone wants to help out, but I do think you need to cultivate the relationships. We got to bring the men with us in this process and ask for their help.
Jennifer Taylor: I think also don’t be afraid, especially if you feel like this person is a sponsor, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Don’t be afraid to ask them to help you think about how to do things.
Leyla Seka: Right.
Jennifer Taylor: The thing I often find when I’m working with people, whether it’s men or women, is that I think people sometimes forget that hearing no is the beginning of a conversation. If I had gotten up and walked out of a room every time I heard a no, I think I would have missed a lot of opportunities for growth, both part and [inaudible 00:25:22].
Leyla Seka: I agree with you, 100%. [crosstalk 00:25:24]. I think we learned a lot of that at Salesforce, right? It is a company that definitely teaches us all to push, like keep trying for the next goal and I do think it’s so funny how many things I didn’t ask for that I would have gotten and once I did ask I did get. The dialogue we have inside of our heads often hurts us more than what’s actually going on.
Jennifer Taylor: Exactly, exactly.
Leyla Seka: Which is an interesting part of that. All right, what’s your last piece of advice Jen? You need to think of some really poignant last thing you want to leave everyone with because you have BOT management meeting up next, I can see [crosstalk 00:26:01].
Jennifer Taylor: I do have a BOT management meeting. That’s my life, man. That’s what I do next. I think my advice is ask and put yourself on that journey. Take those risks in asking because you will learn and grow no matter what the response is. How about you, what parting words of wisdom would you…
Leyla Seka: This would be mine. You have a platform, whether you think you do or you don’t. I would actually even challenge you further to say, how are you using your platform to help people? Are you sponsoring a woman of color, are you trying to mentor a woman of color, are you thinking even beyond just our own flight? Equal pay is super important, but the work I’ve done with Boldforce in many ways is probably some of the most cutting edge and interesting stuff we’re doing because we’re really trying to tackle the notion of allyship inside of corporate America. We all can be allies, there’s always someone that can use your help, so it’s important to give that forward. I think that really helps you find your path as well.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Ladies, that was amazing. I was making notes while you were speaking. When you said no is the beginning of a conversation, that really resonated with me. Leyla, the number of times I have just said, “Thank you,” when I’ve been given a raise and not really proceeded with the conversation, I feel like I know what I’m going to go do when I go back to work.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just take one question from the Q&A. Jen, when you talked about managing through influence, how do you acquire the skills to be able to do something like that? This question is for both of you.
Jennifer Taylor: For me personally, I’ve found curiosity. I come back to curiosity and empathy as the core of my initial tool set. A lot of the managing through influence is identifying the problem I’m trying to solve, identifying people who I think could help and then going in and asking them questions. In doing so, getting them to be like, “Wait, hold on a second, that’s what they’re struggling with? Let me tinker with that for a minute.” Getting them invested in and having a shared vision of the problem that we’re trying to solve I think has been really powerful. It’s interesting when you do that across a team that has a lot of diversity because you need to be thoughtful about the different kinds of questions and the asks of the different people, and how do you bring that back together.
Leyla Seka: I completely agree with Jen. I think the other thing I would say is there’s a lot of intuition in it. You can feel in the room in a meeting when people are not communicating well. You can either let it go and have the meeting go this way or you can be like, “Okay, hold on, hold on, hold on. You’re saying black, you’re saying white, we all really mean gray, everything’s okay.” Too often we don’t speak up, if you see people going awry you should speak up, you should say, “Wait, I think we’re not communicating correctly.” So many of the problems we face in business and our professional lives is based on miscommunication, so often.
Jennifer Taylor: Completely agree.
Leyla Seka: So often.
Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the time you spent and we got some great comments there, such as you two are so relatable, so inspiring. I feel like you’re going to get a lot of Linkedin requests to be mentored.
Leyla Seka: Bring them on, bring them on [crosstalk 00:29:41]. Thank you for having us.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.
Jennifer Taylor: Thank you so much.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much.
Leyla Seka: Love you Jen.
Jennifer Taylor: Love you Leyla, bye.
Leyla Seka: Bye.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Bye ladies.