Heather Black is Managing Director of Economic Change CIC, a Salesforce Consultancy, and Founder of Supermums, a workforce development programme.
She is using her training and recruitment consultancy to help parents to redesign their life and achieve flexible well-paid careers working within the Salesforce ecosystem. Here is how.
Gender discrimination is something that Heather Black knows all about, having experienced it early on in her career.
While working for a professional consultancy, supporting social entrepreneurs across the UK, her manager would hijack her ideas and make them his own. Despite her proven abilities, she was denied promotion. Being in a workplace that was unfriendly to women prompted a switch to coaching. She then spent eight years helping young people to access business and career coaching and is now Managing Director of Economic Change. It has a team of 18 who help small non-profit clients to acquire the digital tools to operate more effectively.
Heather, what inspired you to set up Supermums?
I needed a flexible career that I could juggle around my life commitments, but also that paid well. And, having spoken to lots of other mums, they didn’t know about technology as a career. A lot of them go into teaching as assistants, or they go into admin jobs. So that’s how the Supermums programme was born; it was that realisation that we could get more women working in this space, they just needed to be told about it, inspired and given a way to get up to speed quickly through a whole mix of resources.
When you implement Salesforce for an organisation, you redefine that organisation’s processes and what they report on. Basically, you help them re-energise their business in a new way. If it’s done correctly, you’re giving them a whole new set of powers.
Powers, I believe our Supermums can help unleash, as they are typically people who can multi-task and have that flexibility around how they work. Supermums is about giving women the tools to help them live the life that they want but in a flexible way.
How does it work?
Supermums is a training and recruitment company, with a core team of 10. The Supermums training programme usually comprises a cohort of 20 to 25 in EMEA, and 12 plus in the US, working on non-profit projects run by consultancies. For instance, my consultancy Economic Change provides up to 20 volunteer placements at any one time on projects, and we work with five other Salesforce consultancies to also provide our mums with work experience.
Where do you find the mums?
They come through Facebook, LinkedIn and word of mouth. I’d say the most powerful and easiest conversion has been when that person already knows somebody who works in Salesforce. Somebody who is their mate, wife, husband or another relative, who can sit with them and share all the case studies, and show and tell what the system does.
But we’ve supported those who don’t necessarily have that direct contact by doing putting them through our five-day career challenge where, among other things, we get them to listen to a keynote given by Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff at a Dreamforce conference. His speeches are very inspiring and show the Salesforce journey.
We help them to understand what the product is, and get them to complete tasks on the Salesforce learning platform Trailheads. We also provide information, insight and inspiration throughout the five days to help them decide whether it is a career for them.
Do you need to have a STEM background to have a career in this field?
No. At university, I studied the business/charitable impact or performance of a non-profit and how to measure it. It then became clear to me that that was what Salesforce was.
When you implement Salesforce in a business, you’re redefining their processes, looking at the data they capture and building a system to support that. So it’s nothing to do with being a techie as such. With Salesforce, you can learn clicks, not code, so it’s very much like building a website.
If you understand the logic of what an organisation is trying to achieve, then you can put that into place within a system that supports that organisation to be more efficient and able to analyse their data much more readily.
Salesforce Careers now recruits based on your industry knowledge and professional discipline rather than the necessity of a STEM degree or training. They want to hire people who have got experience in their key verticals and understanding of a particular industry; for example, manufacturing or retail.
For me, it’s my industry knowledge of non-profits that make me a good Salesforce consultant; knowledge I have built through extensive experience working in that field.
Did Salesforce help set up Supermums?
No, but, when I launched it in November 2016, they helped by giving me a platform at the World Tour in Manchester. They gave me a voice, which is great, and enabled me to give a second keynote at the World Tour in May 2019, which boosted us again. We’ve also had support from a handful of people from Salesforce who have volunteered as part of their pro bono hours.
Since COVID-19 there has been much more flexible working. Do you think it will continue?
I think people now feel differently about flexible working. At the start of the lockdown, I launched Empower Women Leadership lunches to discuss how you don’t need to travel around the world or be on-site with customers five days a week. This was what some of the Salesforce consultancies required from our Supermums talent, but COVID-19 has forced companies to work differently.
I’m now hoping that companies that perhaps weren’t as flexible in what they could offer women, and mums particularly, do not default to the old ways of working, and can see the cost savings for both parties in having a remote or flexible workforce. Fortunately, we have been able to prove that the ‘new normal’ works and we are still actively placing our supermums into completely virtual job roles.
We believe that Salesforce will create an ecosystem that offers more flexibility than perhaps other job roles as the tech industry has to attract more talent, based on the number of positions that are going to open up. We all need to be mindful of the core shift to flexible working.
Do you think it will harm inclusion if we continue to work remotely?
When I decided to launch my Salesforce consultancy, I wanted a team that was quasi in the office and quasi virtual. And I didn’t appreciate the challenges that would give me in getting that balance right so that everybody felt included.
So now, whenever people join my company, I say we have teams that work remotely so if you’ve got something to celebrate and share, use our online channels so that everybody feels included. I make sure that the new people I hire accept and support that ethos as well.
It took a few years to get that right, but I am confident that we have made strides to ensure everybody feels included and fully embraces the way we work.
How have women, particularly mums, traditionally been treated in STEM environments?
If I go into a Salesforce consultancy partnership meeting, it will be 10% women, who are female leaders that are going in to pitch.
Typically we are being hired by charities with a board of trustees which may or may not comprise influential women – but most likely will be made up of 50 to 60-year-old men.
I tell our supermums that they need to get trained in the disciplines. When I got started in this, I did the Salesforce admin course, but I quickly realised that I had to upskill and train in related fields that allowed me to feel that I was professionally qualified to operate in this industry.
I trained in business analysis, change management, agile project management and Salesforce consultancy skills, which is a programme I now offer even though Salesforce no longer do.
What about Superdads?
The mission of Supermums is to support more women into tech and women returners; tackle inequality in the workplace and the gender pay gap. But if somebody came to us and said they want to do our course, we don’t discriminate as their enrolment on the programme will help us fund and achieve our mission.
Our programme does not have any eligibility criteria, and we have had dads and women who are not mums on the course as well.
Dads can now have the same amount of time off as mums, so the whole issue about being a woman returner and being out of work for a while and having the confidence and everything else that comes with it could apply to dads as well.
Earlier this summer, you spoke at the Empower Women Leadership session. What was your key message?
The first was that business should give women a voice, listen and respect their views and for women to influence and lead on changing equality issues in the workplace. Supermums very much advocates giving women a voice to champion and sponsor other women in the workplace.
I also spoke about the importance of reward, recognition and career progression, and female
Leadership. It’s imperative we have female leadership at the top of the organisation to support all the initiatives I have spoken about.
Finally, what’s next for Supermums?
We’re expanding across EMEA into other countries and have joined up with a German partner. We’ve hired a couple of mums in Germany, and we’ve hired three or four mums in Spain to build our presence in those areas, alongside the UK. We also want to grow in the US, and we’ve had sponsorship from rb.com to launch a global podcast.
My mission is to tell more mums across the US, Australia and New Zealand about what a career in Salesforce could hold for them and support more people along the journey. It’s important to recognise that women and mums have a lot to offer in the workplace from the leadership level down and the bottom up.