Skip to Content

Benioff to CEOs: Pick One Thing

Salesforce sure knows how to throw a party.

Last night, Salesforce hosted an Equality Awards Gala at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., ahead of Equal Pay Day and announced some news of their own. Billie Jean King, Lilly Ledbetter, Patricia Arquette and Mary J. Blige all received “trailblazer” awards, and a resplendent Nancy Pelosi kicked off the event. “Look, I want to elevate equality in the world,” CEO Marc Benioff told raceAhead after playing host and emcee. “Companies have a role in this and business is the greatest platform for change.”

Salesforce has made pay equity a thing and is correctly proud of their efforts to remedy unexplained gender gaps in employee pay. Last year, in a first-ever assessment, the company analyzed the salaries of more than 17,000 employees. They found that approximately 6% of employees required some sort of adjustment, an equal number of men and women. It cost them about $3 million to fix it.

According to Cindy Robbins, Salesforce’s executive vice president of employee success, it started when Benioff first raised the question of where the executive women were. “It was during one of our quarterly business review meetings—with top management and extended teams—and Marc asked, ‘why aren’t there more women here?’” The conversation was initially about pipeline and making sure that high potential women weren’t skidding off the path somewhere at Salesforce. “Going forward, he wanted to have at least 30% women in attendance,” she said. It fell to Robbins to figure out why it wasn’t easier for women to get ahead at Salesforce.

Working with her friend and colleague Leyla Seka, an executive vice president at Salesforce, she brought three options to Benioff to consider: Increasing maternity leave, revamping their programs for high potential women, and making sure women were paid on par with men. “I told Marc I didn’t know if we had a problem with pay equity,” she said, “But we can’t look under the hood and see a big dollar sign and not fix it.”

This morning, Robbins announced that a second equal pay adjustment has been made, affecting 11% of employees, costing another $3 million to remedy. This go round, they looked at bonuses as well as salaries. And, the second analysis also included the race and ethnicity of U.S. based employees. From her statement:

“The need for another adjustment underscores the nature of pay equity—it is a moving target, especially for growing companies in competitive industries. It must be consistently monitored and addressed. Salesforce will continue to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels, and we plan to review employee compensation on an ongoing basis.”

But they’re keeping an eye on the pipeline. Changes to their leadership development programs resulted in a 33% increase in the number of women who were promoted last year. The company also extended parental leave to 26 weeks for primary caregivers at 80% pay and instituted a gradual return program.

Though the business case for inclusion is discussed internally, the company’s diversity numbers don’t differ widely from the rest of their tech titan peers. Still Benioff deserves credit for emphasizing the moral case with such public fervor. When I asked the Salesforce chief for advice for his CEO peers, he answered right away: Pick one thing and do it. “I’m trying to motivate people to follow our example and equal pay is just one thing, it’s easy to do,” he tells raceAhead. “Every CEO can do one thing. Whether it’s investing in your K-12 public schools—because education is equality—or pay equality, or LGTBQ equality, but they can do one thing.” But keep it real, CEOs. “They have to pick the thing that they feel passionate about, and it has to be authentic to them.”