Nabila Salem, President of Revolent Group, Board Member of Tenth Revolution Group
- Nabila Salem has a quiet confidence about her. She is calm, poised and eloquent when she speaks, but it’s clear she means business. The topic of confidence comes up several times as we’re talking. It’s what she believes got her to where she is today, and what others need to instil in themselves as they pursue their own ambitions.
As the President of Revolent Group, a leading cloud talent creator, she tackles the global tech skills gap and helps build a new generation of cloud professionals. “We recruit, cross-train, place and continue to develop ambitious people for the Salesforce ecosystem, but it can be applied across all cloud technologies as well,” explains Nabila. “So, we’re training the next generation of certified tech talent and making sure organisations have access to the skills that they need.”
Technology has been present throughout Nabila’s career in one way or another. Her first job was at an internet café in Spain. Then, after graduating from Brighton University she worked in Internal Comms at IBM before she made the move to a smaller company where she felt she could make more of an impact. At FDM Group, a professional services group, she worked alongside the founders for 12 years. She saw the organisation grow from 300 employees to 4,000. “What was a small, UK family-run business transitioned to become a FTSE 250 company that was operating globally,” she says proudly. “In the 12 years that I was there, I wore lots of hats… it was a fantastic part of my career.”
Now she is President of Revolent Group, part of Tenth Revolution Group, the arm that creates talent. “For me, launching careers in tech and diversity and inclusion in the workplace are two things I’ve always been passionate about and my role at Revolent encompasses both,” she says.
Nabila was the first and youngest woman to be appointed to VP at FDM. “It opens the door for others, but also it can be a lonely space, being the sole woman there. So, at Revolent I didn’t want to be the only person in this role. I wanted others to follow. Of the management team that reports to me, 40% are women. And I love the fact that two thirds are working mums.”
No two days are the same for her, although it was slightly more varied prior to the COVID lockdown. She still gets up early and does an hour’s exercise before she starts her day working from home in London, which is efficiently planned out. She makes lists of things to do the night before; so she knows what to focus on the next day.
“We use Teams and Zoom to conduct meetings now, so they go on as normal, but just virtual. We have various exciting projects in the pipeline, so I’m busy with those. But ultimately, my role is to make sure the team at Revolent is as efficient and productive as they can be. It’s about communicating targets and monitoring performance. I believe performance is driven by having the right people and the right processes in place.”
Backing women in tech
Nabila has always been an advocate for other women and minorities in business. In fact, she started the Women in Tech initiative at FDM. “In 2011, we had clear goals in terms of diversity. We grew the company to have 50% women on the management team. And that’s something I’ve always been really proud of.
“I thought at Revolent Group, we’ve got to do the same thing. So, we’re now at 40% women on the management team. But diversity obviously goes beyond gender, and if you look at Revolent Group, 63% identify as BAME [Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic]. So, it’s not just diversity in terms of gender I’m passionate about, also ethnicities and social mobility and giving people opportunities,” she says.
She (quite rightly) points out that leadership is not about you, its about others. “Once you’re a leader, your job is to help other people grow and progress. True leaders don’t focus on their role, they focus on the goal.” She says that working directly with two founders of successful businesses has in turn given her the confidence to push boundaries in her own career, which helped her to become FDM’s youngest VP.
“The tech sector has always been male dominated. I’ve been lucky because I’ve always had supportive managers. The big challenge I see in women is having the confidence to go for it despite being the minority –being the minority can give you a competitive edge. The barrier exists in our own minds. So, if we can overcome that, there aren’t any barriers. Women have to believe in themselves.”
Boards, summits and mentoring
Her confidence to push boundaries has not gone unnoticed. She was named in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 List 2019. “It was a nice surprise,” she says modestly. “Being recognised amongst so many other inspiring women was quite humbling. It’s important to highlight achievements and celebrate accomplishments of women in the industry, but more so to give others something to look up to. Wherever possible, showcasing the achievements of women is a good thing because there aren’t that many women in tech. But honestly, I’ve never chased awards for myself. I was usually the one nominating people for awards!”
Nabila is also on the advisory board for the NY Women in IT Summit. She was asked to help shape their inaugural New York summit two years ago. She moderated a session, sat on various panels and participated in workshops where topics varied from mentoring to cyber security.
One of the topics she spoke about at the event was diversity in Artificial Intelligence. “AI has some serious flaws because the majority of those developing AI are white men. A self-driving car was more likely to run over a black person when tested, because it hadn’t been tested with that group of people. Then AI on Google phones wasn’t recognising black males because the black community wasn’t involved in the development of this AI which is ludicrous.”
Even during her down time, Nabila likes to get involved in helping people. “There’s a group called Migrant Leaders, a non-profit that trains aspiring leaders from migrant backgrounds in the UK. “Generally, I tend to get involved in these sorts of things because I’m passionate about it. In the past [when she was based in the US] I mentored Veterans who wanted to launch a civilian career,” she says. But she does also find time to relax by losing herself in cooking or unleashing her creative side by painting with oils and acrylics.
The future is in the Cloud
“Almost everything digital is already connected to the Cloud. Companies used to keep data in local storage for security purposes, but we’ve advanced so much. Cloud will continue to become an integral part of our lives. And it’s just much more practical: it doesn’t take up physical space and you can access it whenever and wherever we want… It’s 100% the ‘now’ and the future,” she says.
“[Cloud] is the fastest growing industry in the world. The thing people misunderstand is that a career in tech does not have to be super technical. There’s a lot of people who work in tech, like myself, who aren’t that technical. There are opportunities for everyone.” Indeed, the tech space needs all sorts to work, people skills, creativity, leadership and management. It’s not all about building circuit boards and writing code.
And the velocity of this year will require more minds than ever to forge a path forwards. “All the tech trends that were predicted for this year have gone out the window now,” she says. “I think by the end of the year, 40% of jobs will be fully remote – if not more. The world has changed. 90% or more, I think, will have some sort of flexibility in their jobs if they didn’t previously. It’s a huge opportunity for business; you can save costs, target different demographics… the world has gone virtual. This is no longer the future, it’s the now. The next normal has arrived.”
Achieving a diverse culture will also become easier, which Nabila says is harder to create than it sounds. “People join companies and look for people like themselves. It’s difficult to be what you can’t see. So, we encourage and support all our employees with progressive ways of working…You can’t expect one size to fit all. In my experience, if you’re flexible with people they actually work even harder.”
“At Revolent Group, we built an inclusive culture that encourages meritocracy. So, we highlight role models internally and give others something to aspire to,” she says. Indeed, Nabila has made herself visible, and someone that women and people in tech can aspire to be like.
- Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Morning
- What music are you listening to at the moment? Cher – she’s taken me through lockdown
- Favourite film? The Green Mile
- What’s your signature dish to cook? Spanish tortilla
- Most used app? LinkedIn
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be? To be invisible
- Favourite holiday destination? Aruba
- Where do you do your best thinking? Kitchen
- Favourite gadget? Fitbit
- Favourite female icon? Oprah Winfrey