This article is part of our Essential Guide: Top 50 Most Influential Women in UK IT 2015

Melissa Di Donato: Having a daughter changed everything

The Salesforce vice-president shares how her daughter has given her a new sense of responsibility to pave the way for more women in tech

For Melissa Di Donato (pictured) , the Salesforce vice-president of Europe and Asia-Pacific for independent software vendor (ISV) and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) programs at Salesforce, having a daughter has been “a huge catalyst” in shifting her efforts towards the next generation of working females.  

Di Donato recently took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with Computer Weekly about how her daughter has changed her perspective.

Since having her daughter (now nine-months-old), she has shifted her time working with animal welfare charities to encouraging more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem), after a new-found sense of responsibility.

Di Donato also sits on the corporate board of iDEA, the Duke of York's competition for young people with digital business ideas.

Speaking with Computer Weekly, she said: “It has been a huge catalyst in having a girl. Now I ask what are my responsibilities for my daughter, her friends and her generation? I don’t want her to have the same challenges – I want her to have a new set of challenges.

“I have to do more to pave the way for more opportunities for her in tech. If I wasn’t trying to change the landscape I would be doing her a tremendous disservice and I know I will pay it back to her in dividend.”

An American based in London, Di Donato started her career by taking a BA double degree in Russian linguistics and political science, before gaining her master's degree in business from American University.

“I can speak seven languages, so back then I wanted to be a doctor or a translator,” she said.

However, Di Donato worked at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) and IBM for 10 years, before joining Oracle to run its services in the western US. She joined the Salesforce team in 2010 to build and lead the ISV team across Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Speaking about her own experiences of sometimes being the only woman in a meeting, Di Donato said: “It can be a challenge being the only woman sometimes, but I loved that and you need to learn to embrace it. Pressure makes diamonds, and I believe that.

“Women need to make themselves more visible. You can't be what you can’t see, so women need to be more aligned with schools to help in the process of hiring more females in tech.”

Staying put and growing

Furthermore, those women who do join the industry fail to stay put for long, causing issues with both talent retention and encouraging females to move up into leadership roles, said Di Donato.

"There are lots of women who sit around the mid-management level. We need to encourage females not just to be in it, but to stay in it and grow," she said. 

There are lots of women who sit around the mid-management level. We need to encourage females not just to be in it, but to stay in it and grow

"Technology means to change, so to women with families change is not great. Change does not always mean instant change and, if approached right, you can take the risk out of change."

Di Donato mentors five women and two men in her current role to help with staff retention and to encourage women to move up the career ladder. 

“It’s about what they want to be," she said. "They may want to move up to senior leadership roles or they may not. They may just want to know how to be really good at their current job.

“Mentors are so important to have at all stages of your career,” she added.

Research released this week from ICM, commissioned by income-protection specialist Unum, found two in five women in the IT sector (39%) plan to move jobs in the next year, compared with only 15% of men.

An important factor as to why women are making such decisions is workplace wellbeing. Only 39% of women in IT said they feel looked after by their employer, compared with 67% of males.

Discussing the report, Unum CIO Matt Fahy pointed out an average staff turnover cost of £31,808 per employee in the sector.

“This research shows IT companies face the very real risk of losing talented female workers if they don’t take steps to improve perceptions of wellbeing,” he said.

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Kudos to you, Melissa, for focusing on your daughters future. It's essential. And it's what parents do. After all, that's essentially our job, isn't it...?

While women certainly have some leveling to do on the proverbial playing field, I fight as hard for all my children, the boys and the girls equally. I want them to succeed. Period. I want them to have the best possible opportunities for whatever it is they want of their lives.

I actually don't care what my children want - well, I do, but I don't tell them that - I really just want to help them achieve whatever it is that they want. I can rarely, very rarely, bulldoze a path for them, but I sure can help show them how to find the path ahead....
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