Dreamforce 2017 – banishing cultural biases from the hiring process


Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet outlines Salesforce’s latest steps on ongoing journey to equality.

It’s been just over a year since Salesforce appointed its first Chief Equality Officer. At Dreamforce 2017, I had the chance to catch up with Tony Prophet to hear about how much impact he has had.

Quite a lot, it seems. The firm has just launched its Inclusive Hiring program, aimed at making sure there are consistent recruitment procedures across the entire organization.

There are five principles to the new scheme: always hire the most qualified candidate; make sure the slate of candidates is diverse and looks like society at large; ensure the process is fair and ethical; make sure everyone is an ambassador for the business; and remove biases around cultural fit from the hiring process. Prophet explains:

Really make sure that the questions being asked and the qualifications being sought are actually directly aligned to the job and not an overstatement or not relevant, and that these candidates are being asked the same questions.

In some cases in an interview, cultural fit can be do they feel like me, is this someone I’d like to socialize with. These are some of the more subjective elements of cultural fit, that we really want to make sure we extinguish those from the hiring process.

Another new initiative Prophet has introduced are monthly demographic scorecards. Each of the leaders who work directly with CEO Marc Benioff or are EVP level and responsible for 500 people or more, now gets a report every month listing the demographics of their team. This includes data on all underrepresented minorities, including how many of each group are now in the department compared to last year; how many each leader has hired; how many left the company from each team; and how many were promoted.

Prophet said that just three months into the scheme, the insights are already making people think; he is confident the scorecards will be a driver of progress going forward.

Prophet’s arrival has also heralded a huge leap in signups for the firm’s Employee Resource Groups, also dubbed Ohana Groups. There has been a “systematic campaign” to increase the membership of the groups covering all aspects of diversity, both among those naturally aligned to the group and those outside it being encouraged to come on board as advocates, for example more men joining the Women’s Network.

The campaign has been a success so far – year on year, Ohana Group membership is up around 200 percent, and a third of employees are now active members. Prophet’s plan is to get everyone involved, with 25,000-plus people on “Team Equality”.

Still work to do

Even if Salesforce achieves this goal, there will still be work to do around equality, Prophet maintains:

It’s a timeless process but you want to temper it with – you have to pursue it with urgency. If you say there’s no timeline, it can give a sense of lack of urgency and I think clearly at Salesforce, you can see across the tech industry there’s a super high sense of urgency and a need to make progress. I don’t see a time on the horizon when all the work is done.

Prophet was also clear on the impetus behind his role. The focus on equality certainly fits with the ethos of Salesforce and its founder’s approach, back to its early and ongoing decision to balance the interests of shareholders with the interests of employees, customers and society at large. Prophet adds:

It’s simply the right thing to do. We’re living in a world where decades ago, the role was largely defined between government and citizen relationships. Increasingly we’re living in this polycentric world where corporations, NGOs, governments and citizens, you have this quadrangle – there’s at least those four entities – and there’s this dynamic between them and among them.

Increasingly you’re seeing corporates have to step into the breach either because of the scale or the impact of their platform, or because there’s a responsibility to do the right thing.

So lots of change internally since Prophet has joined, mirrored by some huge changes in the outside world, one of which is a new president in charge of the US. Donald Trump and his views on the equality issue have not affected the focus on this area at Salesforce, Prophet explains:

We spend more time thinking about our culture than any company I’ve worked for by far. We have management meetings where the very first thing we talk about is our culture – trust, growth, innovation and equality.

When geo-political events come, when elections happen, we think of our values and our higher purpose as being timeless and aren’t swayed by any cross wind or head wind. We’re unwavering in our view of what true North is here in terms of standing for equality and trying to make the world a better place.

Under Prophet, Salesforce is likely to have its eyes opened to equality challenges outside of the US though. He has been busy visiting various countries where the firm operates, on a tour taking in Ireland – where women’s rights are hot on the agenda right now- the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, India, Japan and Australia, a country currently debating same-sex marriage. Prophet says:

It’s about looking at the world through the lens of those countries versus let me take my San Francisco lens and focus it on Australia and let me see the issues that I’m looking for versus let me come with a beginner’s mind and understand what are the equality issues going on in Australia today.

At Salesforce and many tech companies founded in the US, there’s a very sharp lens on the issues of equality as they relate to what’s happening in the US and less focus on what are the issues outside the US. One of the things I’ve done in the first year is not to pre-suppose that I know what’s going on and really to just go out and listen.

Prophet says that while Salesforce is determined to support all staff across all regions, this has to be within the constraint of available resources, and picking the right battles to fight:

Our desire and intent is to stand for the rights of our employees and to work to ensure that our employees live and work in societies and communities that are non-discriminatory on every basis. We are an advocate for marriage equality in Australia. In the US, we are an advocate for fair immigration policies and on the record about those things.

The challenge with limited resources and time is you have to be thoughtful about where you engage and where you invest in. Much of this is often organic, where we’re hearing from employees their concerns about fears and discrimination in places where we have a nexus of people and customers and partners. We’re watchful.


Image credit - Salesforce/Twitter

Disclosure - At time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica,