Ebony Frelix is on a mission to do good. She leads more than 25,000 employees in community service opportunities, and administers millions of dollars in grants to improve communities around the world. She and her team set the example of all the good that can happen when tech, philanthropy and progressive organizations collide.
I originally joined Salesforce in 2008 to work in IT and became immediately inspired by Salesforce’s philanthropic mission. I had grown up volunteering and was excited when one of my first projects was to manage interns from Year Up, an organization that provides young adults in underrepresented communities with the skills, experience and support needed to excel in their education and professional endeavors. When a position opened up at Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, the president at the time encouraged me to take the role and I’ve never looked back.
What can today’s tech leaders do to inspire the next generation of the tech workforce, specifically women and minorities?
There are three key ways all business leaders—not just in tech—can both inspire and prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future:
- Adopt a school. Through our Circle the Schools program, we’ve adopted more than 45 schools globally. Each school is matched with a Salesforce executive and a team of employees who participate in volunteer activities throughout the year. We help with all types of projects from school beautification projects like playground builds to helping with IT and infrastructure. It’s not just about writing a check, it’s about wrapping all our services—technology, people and grants —around the schools and organizations we partner with. With people specifically, it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to meet professionals whom they would otherwise not have access to. It breaks down the barriers and helps expose them to new possibilities. And the same goes for our employees. They can meet and build connections with new and diverse communities, which they may not otherwise have been exposed to. It’s truly a win-win.
- Partner with nonprofits and education institutions focused on driving diversity in tech. Partnerships can accelerate change. Over the past five years we’ve donated $5 million to workforce development programs at incredible nonprofits like Genesys Works and Year Up. Since 2008, Salesforce has hosted more than 250 Year Up interns with about 50 percent of them going on to be hired. Through these programs, we’re giving students who wouldn’t have access to a big tech company, extensive, real, work experience.
- Create programs that will inspire the next generation. At Salesforce, we have FutureForce, a set of diverse programs dedicated to training and hiring for the jobs of tomorrow. These efforts, all of which stress equality for all, include university recruitment, computer science curriculum in K-12 schools, training for thousands of veterans and their spouses, an interactive learning platform for technology skills, and hundreds of apprenticeships for urban youth.
What do young women need to be doing more of in the workplace to set themselves up for success?
Find a mentor. Whether it’s someone within your organization or someone you admire outside of your company, mentorship can be crucial to success. I have benefited greatly from the mentors I’ve had throughout my career and I continue to build relationships with people I look up to in the workplace. A good mentor can help change the trajectory of your career for the better.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Work hard and focus while you’re young. If you get behind early in your career, it’ll be harder for you to catch up to your peers later in life. My dad gave me this advice at an early age, and it has helped push me toward reaching my goals. It’s now the advice that I give to everyone I mentor.
Many! Both men and women. All of whom have helped shape my career path by giving me strategic advice, coaching, and honest feedback. The value of having a strong network of trusted individuals is that I’ve never felt alone when making career decisions. My mentors help me get clear on my short and long term goals, and sometimes give me a needed push when I need motivation or reassurance. I am a huge believer in surrounding yourself with people who inspire and encourage you, both professionally and personally.
What’s a personal “career hack” that you would like to share with our readers?
I have two:
- Always be prepared. I keep Shout Wipes and a pair of back-up heels in my desk drawer. You never know where your day will take you, so always be ready!
- Track your successes. I keep a record of my professional successes, which I update on a regular basis. It’s hard to remember all your accomplishments, especially as you get further into your career. Keep track, so you can draw from them in any situation.