Dreamforce 2019 - previewing the top diversity and inclusion sessions

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 19, 2019
Psychological safety, ethical AI, allyship and accessibility will be the big themes at this week’s Dreamforce jamboree.


With diversity and inclusion (D&I) hardwired into the Dreamforce DNA, this week’s gathering in San Francisco has no fewer than 65 sessions focused on equality, and a further 30 specifically on women in tech.

Ahead of the show, I spoke to Linda Aiello, SVP, International Employee Success at Salesforce, to find out why the firm continues to give so much airtime to D&I, and what delegates can expect to take away from the event.

According to Aiello, customer demand plays a big part behind the D&I focus. She explains:

They are always asking for more information on what Salesforce is doing around equality. It's one piece to have values, then you have to think about the behaviors behind those. How do you actually operationalize those, and then how does that live through our product, our experiences, our workplaces

To be a successful organization, it's not just enough to have the right technology in place. You also have to have the right leadership, the right culture. This is a place to listen to different thought partners, to meet people along the way, to have these discussions, to be inspired on these pieces because it's not enough just to have the right product anymore.

At this year’s event, there will be particular focus around the concept of psychological safety - how to ensure people aren't alienated if they have a dissenting opinion, and instead encouraging people to have different views and express what they believe. Intersectionality will also be in the spotlight – an acknowledgement that nobody is just one single identity. Aiello adds:

If you look at what's going on globally right now, the political bifurcation that exists, it’s how we balance that and how we look for those voices when they can be very disparate and how we really respond to that. We have customers and employees who have very, very different points of view and there are some very heated topics going on in the world right now from Brexit to religious bifurcation, some things going on in the US. So this is a trend we're seeing globally. 

There's also an element that tech plays in that and has played. So how we think through what that looks like and how we make sure that we're responsibly using technology to make sure we bring people closer together instead of further apart.”

My choices 

D&I isn’t just something for leaders or HR to worry about, it’s something that everyone can make a difference on. So if you're reading this at Dreamforce itself,  here are my recommended sessions to inspire you to take a positive step towards equality for all.

Doing it for themselves – and others

Looking for some inspiration from individuals making a difference? These real-life stories of overcoming adversity and using your position as a means to drive change should offer some valuable tips for those wanting to understand the part we can all play in supporting D&I.

Trailblazer Story: How to Go From Stuck to Supermum

Wednesday, November 20, 12:00 PM - 12:20 PM

Westin St. Francis, Red Adler Amphitheater (Grand Ballroom)

After returning from her second maternity leave, Vicki Moritz-Henry was feeling stuck in a dead-end job and looking for a way to make more of a difference. Instead of accepting the status quo, she decided it was time for a change. Two years later, she made 2x Ranger status, got 3x certified and landed a job with Supermums, This is her story.

Real Life Stories from Women Finding Success in Technology

Wednesday, November 20, 2:30 PM - 3:10 PM

Moscone West, Room 2009

In this session, panellists will be talking about how they have got to where they are, in ways they never expected. They will share some of their challenges and struggles, how they have worked through them and why they think they are exactly where they need to be for the future.

From Athlete to Advocate with World Cup and Olympic Champion Megan Rapinoe

Thursday, November 21, 1:45 PM - 2:30 PM

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Keynote Stage

This session centers on Megan Rapinoe, the US women’s soccer team captain, and World Cup and Olympic Champion, who’s using the victory seen around the world to raise awareness around equal pay.

#MyTrailblazerStory: Scott and Miranda Talk about LGBTQ Inclusion

Thursday, November 21, 4:00 PM - 4:20 PM

Moscone South, Campground, Trailblazer Theater

Miranda Ragland, Founder & CEO at M7 Unlimited, LLC and Scott Luikart, Senior Salesforce Admin at Whole Foods, are vocal advocates for LGBTQ inclusion. They will share stories and lessons learned as they've risen, from being rejected for jobs due to their identity, to becoming leaders in their careers and the communities.

Access all areas

These sessions are ideal for those wanting to make sure their organizations are fully inclusive, and are accessible and user-friendly for all.

Be An Accessibility Ally: Build Accessibility into Your Org and Training

Tuesday, November 19, 1:30 PM - 2:10 PM

Moscone West, Room 2011

Accessibility is about making sure that everybody can have access to Salesforce - whether as a career or an end user. Vicki Moritz-Henry, Head of Training, Salesforce Supermums was not an accessibility ally until a trainee who is blind tested the accessibility of the training program at Supermums. This session is about lessons learned.

How Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Built a Business Based on Inclusion

Tuesday, November 19, 4:30 PM - 4:50 PM

Marriott Marquis, Golden Gate - Pinnacle Theater

Amy and Ben Wright founded Bitty and Beau’s with a mission in mind: to change the way people see, value and include others. Each of their shops are run by employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who not only provide a great cup of coffee but also deliver a customer service experience that keeps customers coming back.

Be an ally

If you’re keen to forge relationships and connections with a broader group of people, or have a specific area of diversity you’d like to target, these sessions highlight the importance of being an ally, and how to be a great one.

Ally is a Verb: Meet the CTAs Helping Grow Diversity

Tuesday, November 19, 3:00 PM - 3:40 PM

Moscone West, Architect Theater

Some Salesforce Certified Technical Architects will explain how they’re helping people from under-represented groups and discuss what they have personally gained.

How to Be an Ally: From Curious to Courageous

Tuesday, November 19, 3:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Moscone West, Trailhead Peak Theater

Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five-times more likely to perform their best. Everyone has a role to play in creating a culture of belonging and driving equality in the workplace. This session will focus on what allyship is and how anyone can become an equality ally.

Equality Ally Strategies in Action

Friday, November 22, 10:10 AM - 10:40 AM

Moscone West, Trailhead Peak Theater

This is some ‘eating your own dog food’ stuff as Princeton Miles, Manager, Sales Productivity presents on how a grassroots program in Salesforce's Portland, Oregon office puts the firm’s Equality Ally Strategies into action.

Building a diverse workforce

These sessions look to offer great insights into how you can increase diversity within your organization, and specific steps that have worked for others.

Powering Up: Women & Diverse Leaders of the Startup World

Tuesday, November 19, 12:00 PM - 12:40 PM

Marriott Marquis, Yerba Buena Salon 1-3

This panel of successful female founders and VCs will be discussing how embracing equality can be a true game-changer.

Diversifying Tech through Workforce Development

Wednesday, November 20, 10:00 AM - 10:20 AM

Moscone West, Surfside Theater

Workforce development organizations Hiring Our Heroes, Salesforce Supermums and PepUpTech will explain how they're using Trailhead to skill up people and help them land jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Leadership for equality - and excellence

Buy-in from the top is key for true D&I at any organization. If you’re a leader, you’ll get some vital tips for managing multi-generation workforces and empowering women in tech.

Leading and Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

Wednesday, November 20, 3:00 PM - 3:40 PM

Park Central, Commonwealth

The current and future talent shortage, coupled with the frustration and difficulty of leading Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and now Gen Z all in the same team, have many leaders wondering "how do I do this?" This session will explore the challenges of multi-generations working together, and the similarities and differences in leading today's workforce.

Equality Rules! How Women in Leadership Can Close the Gender Gap

Thursday, November 21, 2:00 PM - 2:40 PM

Marriott Marquis, Yerba Buena Salon 1-3

Women executives will be discussing how technology has influenced their roles as leaders in their industries and offer advice on how to use your own platform to drive gender equality as an individual, in companies and across society at large.

Trailblazing Women: Authentic Leadership - A Modern and More Inclusive Approach

Thursday, November 21, 2:00 PM - 2:40 PM

Marriott Marquis, Yerba Buena Salon 10-12

This session is due to explore how authentic leadership can define workplace culture, drive employee engagement, increase job satisfaction, and promote representation and inclusivity.

Ethical AI

Trailblazers in AI: How We're Building Inclusive AI at Salesforce

Thursday, November 21, 9:30 AM - 10:10 AM

Moscone West, Room 2006

If built incorrectly, AI systems have the potential to reinforce biases and perpetuate harmful behaviors in our society. So what are the measures that product owners, researchers and engineers are taking into consideration when building AI solutions?

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