Role Model: Vanessa Gentile

Role Model: Vanessa Gentile

Every month we ask one individual in our network a few questions about their way into tech, their motivation and their lessons learned.

Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us about where you’re from!

That is already a tricky question to begin with. I grew up in Switzerland, in the north-eastern part to be precise. But my roots are spread out much further across the world. My mother comes from Brazil, and a large part of my family still lives there. So I go visit them when I can. My father, on the other hand, is from Italy. If you think about it, I am quite multicultural as a person!

I love having homes in different parts of the world and being able to immerse myself into other realities when visiting my relatives. Every culture has its own distinctive features and beauty. My advantage is that I speak Portuguese and Italian fluently, so, of course, I get to experience and understand a lot more.

As my nanny was Spanish, I was able to learn this language as well. This language diversity led me to interesting positions at the beginning of my career: Parallel to my studies at school, I worked first for the criminal police as a simultaneous translator and later for the courts. Afterwards, I held a position in the travel and holiday department of an insurance company.

I then moved on to a large software company as an account manager and was responsible for customers in the French-speaking and Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. I spent a total of 13 years there and was fortunate to gain a lot of experience within sales and marketing positions. I also built up the Software Asset Management department, starting with 3 employees and ending up with a team of 10 people at the end. After my second maternity leave, I moved to the partner ecosystem. My strengths are certainly building new things from scratch and exploring new ways of working.

Following this position, I took over the development of the partner network in the cloud area at Oracle. And for the last 3.5 years, I have been responsible for alliances and the channel at Salesforce Switzerland. Now I will be transitioning back to marketing, as I have decided to take on the role of Head of Marketing at Salesforce for Switzerland. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and excited about what will come next in my new role.

What valuable advice did you get from your parents?

It was my grandmother who gave me the best advice. She always said: “you are the only version of yourself in this world and this is exactly your superpower. Use it!”

How did you become interested in tech?

I entered the Tech Industry by coincidence. Actually, my neighbor suggested to me that I should apply for a role at a software company, as they were looking for people with several language skills. So, I applied and got the job. It was an interesting and exciting experience as the Tech Industry is one of the most interesting industries due to the continuous development and innovation of the technology. The most interesting part in Tech is that we are connecting life and work in our lives and therefore building and defining our future.

Later on, when I decided to have kids, I discovered another advantage in Tech. As a mother of two sons, the tech industry allows me to balance my job and children well. I am very flexible with my working hours because I am measured by my performance, not by specific working hours. If my kids need support during the day, I can move my tasks into the evening hours. This helps me and gives me the freedom to combine my private and professional life without feeling guilty all the time. This flexibility is a tremendous advantage that other industries do not have to this extent.

You are the creator and basically the brains behind the program “Bring Women Back to Work” – can you tell us what this program is about?

Bring Women Back to Work (BWBW) aims to increase the percentage of women in Tech and addresses females who took a longer career break and now want to enter a new Industry in a part-time position. Why is that? Because, in Switzerland, it is literally impossible to find a great job within this constellation. It is not only extremely difficult to re-enter into the workforce after longer career breaks, but also almost unthinkable to begin within a new Industry without expertise.

Additionally, in Switzerland, the number of great part-time positions is small. I wanted to combine the impossible and be able to incentivise and motivate companies to hire diverse women, while seeing the advantages this may bring to their workplace.

The partners of #bwbw have committed to opening positions under these requirements which makes this collaboration for both parties very attractive and is a WIN-WIN for all of us. 64% of our women have a Masters’ degree and a lot of experience. We have partners who already have hired 10 applicants through the program and they already committed to hiring another 10 this year.

This is exactly what I want to achieve: changing the DNA of companies by diverse thinking and consequently diverse hiring.
Vanessa Gentile

But to come back to the program; basically, it consists of a one-year program women can apply to for free. They have to commit to dedicating about 95 hours throughout one year to the program. During this year, they learn many skills on our Trailhead learning platform, get certified on our Admin Certification, are given insights into the working life within the Salesforce ecosystem and also receive coaching, mentorship and access to a huge new network. We also work a lot on the confidence of these women, which primarily is the biggest barrier for them to overcome.

During the program, they also have the opportunity to apply, connect with our hiring partners  and find a job in the ecosystem. In fact, 65% of our participants already got hired by the ecosystem of Salesforce.

Before launching the program, I needed the commitment of our partners to participate. Without them, it would not be possible to run this initiative. I started out with 10 partners, and now we have 35 companies within the program. It is fantastic what we achieved in less than 2 years.

Tell us more on how the idea was born and what motivated you to bring it to life.

The motivation to do something for women following a longer career break came from my own experiences in life. My parents divorced and I saw the struggle that my mother went through financially – with a child and without a job. BWBW is the result of my own personal up-and-downs in life.

That’s how it is for too many women in Switzerland as well, and I wanted to change something, or at least make a small contribution. I would like to give every woman the opportunity to return to work if they want to pursue their career, stay independent, learn something new etc.

Furthermore, I would like to see more women in Tech, while changing the DNA of companies by building equal opportunities. Did you know that every 7th woman in Switzerland loses her job after maternity? It can’t continue like this! We all know that the only way to come into this earth is through a woman, therefore companies have to build a clear strategy on how to retain them. Otherwise, not only will we continue to have stereotypes in the workplace, but also less innovation and a huge gap in the workforce, as we do not have enough employees to sustain our workplace in the future.

Another issue is that the main caregiver today is still the woman. Women also have the highest gap in the pension fund. It is our mutual responsibility in society to work against those problems.
Vanessa Gentile

What aspects of your work are you proudest of?

I have proven that building this kind of program, finding the right partners and building a network with the same interests can change the world for many people.

If you believe in something, then go for it regardless of the obstacles you may face. Challenges are part of the game and at the end also part of the success. Big visions and bold initiatives take time and do not happen overnight.
Vanessa Gentile

What drives you at work?

The fact that we have more power in our fingers than ever before is so exciting. The innovation with which we are shaping the way others buy, live and work is absolutely amazing. Generating impact and purpose to the life of others is what drives me the most at work.

What has been your toughest challenge you faced while working in tech?

Life is a constant challenge, leading to your own personal growth and evolution. The biggest challenge I faced was the day I came back to work from maternity leave, finding out that my position was taken by somebody else – this was just a couple of days after my father had passed away. I literally did not feel the ground under my feet anymore.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast?

I love biographies: I read the biographies on Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Anna Wintour. And I recently started following Masterclasses by great leaders which I find fantastic.

What advice would you give other women in tech?

You have a voice, so use it while sticking to your values and executing them accordingly!

Women should better work together than against each other. Every woman in the tech industry can be a role model and blaze the trail. Furthermore, our male leaders who are occupying 80% of the workplace today, should own the responsibility to support their female talents now more than ever and build a culture of diverse thinking and trust. We are still a long way from where we want to be and with cumulative power, we can still achieve a lot more. We rise by lifting others.

And what advice would you give women not yet working in tech who want to enter the field?

Empower your network, delegate and trust! That is my general advice. Some doors will always open and if one does not, it was never yours.

Women should throw any prejudices about the tech industry overboard. For Salesforce, e.g., equality is one of our key values and this also means equal pay and creating an inclusive workplace and diverse workforce. And don’t forget: technology companies don’t only need programmers, but also experts in sales and marketing, for example, or consultants and customer advisors. According to the motto “Hiring for attitude and training for skills”, it doesn’t really matter which industry you come from.

Bring your knowledge, your experience, and your enthusiasm to learn something new to Tech. Be open to failure and ready to learn and grow for a better version of yourself.

And we are always happy to receive applications from motivated women. So, check out the BWBW program and see if it fits.

What can companies do to make it easier for women to return to work or attract them in general?

Currently, there are far too few jobs below a workload of 80%, but they are essential for re-entry and the reconciliation of family and career. However, there has to be a change within the thinking of companies in general if we really want to achieve equality. Primarily, equality should be a core value of a company which should be lived by the leaders and then scaled down.

Companies have to have programs, processes and guidelines in place to ensure equal opportunities for all employees.

It is not about a women’s quota, it is about equal opportunities, for example with promotions, equal pay for equal work, childcare support, family leave and more - this is the big difference.
Vanessa Gentile

Want to know more about the Bring Women Back to Work program? Don’t miss out on the blogpost about our collaboration with #BWBW or check out the website of the program.


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