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Salesforce to the Business World: We Can Do Better

After speaking with Tony Prophet, Salesforce’s charismatic, first-ever Chief Equality Officer, I always feel energized. “We’re really, really excited,” he says – and always says – of the work he gets to do.

Now 10 months into the job, I asked him how he’s feeling about the role, which didn’t exist before he joined the firm. “I’d been 40 years in the traditional business world, where we were told that creating shareholder value is what we do.” For the first time, he gets to think bigger. “We’re learning so much about what equality means to our employees and how important it is to use data to help convince executives, inside and outside of the company, that business has an essential role to play in shaping society.”

Prophet was really, really excited about a new Salesforce study on values-driven leadership trends. Released today, it found companies that actively work to make their culture more diverse, open and inclusive have more loyal customers and engaged employees. Compiled via surveys with 1,500 executives, the research shows Prophet’s mission is also good for a company’s bottom line.

There’s a lot to parse in the study, but three stats stood out. First, 80% of customers and employees believe businesses have a responsibility to make a positive impact on society. And yet some 64% of employees say their company is not actively working to be more diverse. Finally, less than half of those surveyed say their company is engaged with the community in a meaningful way. It’s an opportunity to help business do better, he says.

Research like this is also part of Prophet’s grand vision to bring the rigor of business planning to the notion of culture change. Every month he launches a new campaign. “The first was around self-ID,” he said, which aimed to help the company better understand how its 26,000 employees self-identify. The Proudly Me campaign, which rolled out last June, promoted an update to internal demographic forms so employees could share their many intersections, including veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender pronouns. Preferred pronouns now show up as part of e-mail signatures and profiles on internal collaboration tools. “We’re normalizing the idea of having a pronoun preference, which is powerful,” he says.

This month’s campaign is about creating allies, an opportunity to drive executive engagement around equality. For that, he’s relying on Salesforce’s nine Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which are called Ohanas at the company. One in three employees currently participate. “This month, we’re making sure that all the top executives are connected to one, particularly as an ally,” he says. “We’re looking to get to one in one.”

ERGs are an important part of Prophet’s overall strategy. He suggests they become an important part of yours. “ERGs are one of the best investments you can make,” he says. For allies, the experience is immediately beneficial. “There is no better way to increase empathy and understanding than to spend time with and listening to people from another walk of life.”

That said, getting resistant potential allies on board for a campaign can be challenging. Here’s his best advice to you:

  • Remember, everyone has a story. You can no longer presume that a person is a member of the majority culture. “Many aspects of diversity are invisible,” he says. Encourage resistant allies to share their personal story. “The armor tends to come off,” he says.
  • Help people learn the vocabulary. One of the challenges of stepping into a group that is not your own is the fear of saying the wrong thing. Find ways to help people understand the terms and concepts so they can join the conversation with confidence.
  • If you’re seeking allies, “find a measure of grace and forgiveness.” In order to pull off numbers one and two, “you really have to be gentle at times,” he says. “Otherwise it will make it hard for people to acknowledge their fearfulness and come back from their mistakes.”
  • Data, data, data. The vast majority of leaders are well-intentioned people, but they need proof. “If you show them dismal diversity numbers over time – current staff, hires, promotions and attrition rates, etc – most people will respond,” he says. “Ask them questions about the data. ‘Does this company look like America to you? Are you proud of this?’”


On Point

Trump administration intervenes to grant visas to young, female Afghan robotics studentsAccording to Politico, the president personally pressed U.S. officials to allow a group of Afghan girls who had hoped to participate in a robotics competition next week into the country. The six students had been denied access to the U.S. as part of the latest version of the president’s travel ban; their story of struggle and denial has created an international wave of criticism of both the president and the travel order. “The State Department worked incredibly well with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that this case was reviewed and handled appropriately,” said Dina Powell, Trump’s deputy national security adviser for strategy in a statement. “We could not be prouder of this delegation of young women who are also scientists,” she said. Politico

Gay Chinese man wins legal battle over forced conversion therapy
A man known only as Yu has won a landmark case in China, complete with a public apology and small settlement for being admitted to a hospital against his will, where he was forced to take medicine and endure injections. Yu was admitted to the hospital in 2015 by his wife, where he was diagnosed with “sexual preference disorder.” The ruling is an important victory, as awareness of LGBTQ issues are on the rise in China. Last month, for example, a gay pride parade was held in Shanghai. At the same time, stigma remains a potent force: millions of Chinese people are opting for sham heterosexual marriages, rather than live openly.

Everything you need to know about reporting sexual harassment
BetterBrave, an organization aiming to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, has published a must-bookmark guide for any U.S. based employee. It offers a clear and unflinching definition of sexual harassment and a helpful set of talking points to help anyone feeling unsafe make it clear that you want the behavior to stop. But it also offers an important reminder: Human resources is often tasked with protecting the company, not you. BetterBrave’s advice? Talk to a lawyer before you kick your issue upstairs. (Most employment rights lawyers will give you a free consultation.) Either way, document everything. The guide offers a handy tool for organizing your thoughts and creating a thorough timeline of any relevant events and transgressions. “Reporting sexual harassment the right way sends a clear signal to your employer that you are informed of your rights, taking steps to protect yourself, and that retaliating against you would be a big mistake.”

Florida state’s attorney Aramis Ayala is a person of interest for all the right reasons
A video of a police traffic stop is going around, but this time, it had a much different ending. After two Florida police officers pulled over a black woman driver, it became pretty clear that they had no actual reason for doing so. How did she survive? The duo had stopped Aramis D. Ayala, the only black female state attorney working in Florida. Things got awkward as she identified herself and calmly asked the officers for their rationale, then their business cards. “Although the traffic stop appears to be consistent with Florida law (my) goal is to have a constructive and mutually respectful relationship between law enforcement and the community,” she said. This isn’t the first time Ayala has made news. Take a few moments to read this important opinion piece published after Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, punitively removed her office from 21 murder cases after she announced she would no longer be seeking the death penalty. It doesn’t deter crime or protect police officers, she says. “Punishment is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly. Neither describe the death penalty in this state.”
New York Times

The Woke Leader

Diversity in leadership means a better understanding of our shared history
Not that long ago, a foundry located hard by the James River in Richmond, Virginia was filled with hundreds of slaves, tasked with making weapons for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After Richmond burned, Tredegar Iron Works survived. Telling the stories of the enslaved people is part of a broader mission embraced by Christy Coleman, in her role as CEO of the American Civil War Museum. She is one of the few black women to head a civil war museum, which is the first to provide programming from both the Union and Confederate point of view. Despite protestations that she would be “bashing the Confederacy,” Coleman says that diversity in leadership means that new questions and perspectives are embraced. “My job is to lay out stories you may not have considered or heard before and provide an environment where people can learn and explore. And that’s what I do and I do that fairly well.”
NBC News

Could capitalism be the problem here?
An opinion piece by anthropologist Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk, the cofounder of an anti-poverty activist collective, wonders aloud of the future of business might mean the end of capitalism. They make a good argument, though often, in different terms than most business people would. When polled, millennials tend to feel that capitalism is unfair and contributes to inequality, but so do plenty of other people – like 77% of polled Germans. Why? “It’s because they realize—either consciously or at some gut level—that there’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has a prime directive to churn nature and humans into capital, and do it more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment we depend on,” they write. And even good people are hamstrung by the quest for shareholder value. “[That] prevents even well-meaning CEO’s from voluntarily doing anything good—like increasing wages or reducing pollution—that might compromise their bottom line.” A good, philosophical read ahead of haiku Friday.
Fast Company

When work tests your sobriety
For anyone who is newly sober, boozy work functions – a staple of modern corporate life – can be a test for the ages. This poignant and funny essay takes on the culture of drinking, how challenging it is to stay healthy, and the hard, cold realization that you’re surrounded by misogynistic jerks at work. When you turn yourself into the minority, the transition can be sobering.


Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We shortchange ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.
—Sherry Turkle