Main content

Dreamforce 2019 - Salesforce equality push aims for 50% workforce target for women, under-represented groups

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett November 21, 2019
A progress report and a to-do list from Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet.


On the eve of Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce released its latest equality stats. Fortunately for a company that professes to live and breathe diversity and inclusion, the numbers all show movement in the right direction.

Women now account for 33% of the global workforce, up 1.4% from last year, while more than 37% of new hires were women, up 2%  from last year. Since 2014, there are over 9,300 more women working at the company.

Fifty percent of new college graduate hires across the US were women or from underrepresented minorities, up three percent from last year, while underrepresented minorities represent 10.5% of the workforce, up 0.3%  from last year. The latter might be a small shift upwards but since 2014, 1,770 more people from underrepresented minorities (black, latinx, indigenous and multiracial) now work at Salesforce in the US.

Salesforce has also taken the step to share data on three additional groups this year for the first time - LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and veterans, who make up 2.1%, 3.2% and 1.9% of the workforce respectively.

More to do 

For Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet,  the numbers are a useful reminder of the amount of work still to do:

We're never satisfied. The undertone, the subtitle to the whole thing is really, it was always humility and reaching for our aspirations, but never being satisfied. So the number speaks for itself, more work to do, but it is material progress objectively.

For LGBTQ+, for the first time now we're disclosing that. We've been working hard to collect it, we know we don’t have a comprehensive data set yet. We want to begin being transparent, but while we continue to work hard to make sure that folks can feel comfortable on a voluntary basis, it's confidential disclosing that data.

The latest equality report also cross-references people across different groups, so you can drill down into how many women there are at the firm, and then how many of those women happen to be a certain race or sexuality. Prophet explains: 

That’s just a recognition, our awareness and acknowledgement of how important people's intersectional identity is - identify as a black male, heterosexual, cisgender person, that's my intersectional identity - how important folks’ intersectional identity is to them. So we're beginning that step of transparency.”

Another important milestone for Salesforce is that the firm has now set itself a public equality target: for the workforce to be at 50% women, under-represented minorities, LGBTQ+, veterans and people with disabilities by 2023; currently those groups account for 43.9% in total. That number will be deduped as well, so an employee who happens to be a black veteran with a disability would only be counted one time.

Despite much heated industry debate about whether targets are the right way forward, Prophet maintains they are vital for equality efforts:

One is, it's a testimony that this is important. For large institutions, publicly traded companies are an example, but any large institution, they set targets and timeframes for things that are important, whether it's revenues and so on. So it’s a testimony that it's important. Two, it's an obvious benchmark of progress and of competence in having the infrastructure and the methods. You're confident you'll be able to achieve those targets because you're holding yourself up against all your stakeholders.


So how is Salesforce working to ensure it meets the 50% target? In two ways, mainly. The first is constant measurement, month by month, quarter by quarter, year by year, around all areas of diversity in its workforce, including measuring progress around women and underrepresented people in leadership.

Equally important is making sure leaders have the data to empower them to make great decisions around recruitment, retention and promotions. Prophet adds:

I always emphasize hiring the most qualified person, but doing it from a slate that looks like society and doing it with a panel that's diverse.

It’s not just the make-up of its workforce Salesforce is targeting to create its ideal culture; the firm is also focusing on safe spaces to have important conversations.

The idea is being able to have courageous conversations [a term coined by Glenn E. Singleton in his book Courageous Conversations About Race], allowing people to speak their truth and there's many, many examples of that. It has to happen obviously at scale but then it also has to happen when you're having a one-on-one interaction.

Prophet points to the 2017 US travel ban, which related to majority Muslim countries, where people were concerned about what it meant for them and their family, and the ability to come into work and just express their views and its impact on them:

Importantly for it not to be a debate, which makes it safe, not to be a place for social media, not to be a place for attribution. Just the ability for me to speak my truth, you to speak your truth, and to speak hers and no perception that we necessarily agree or we're not debating.

We had the horrible tragedy, a heinous act in Charlottesville and so we had a moment like that, a sort of circle where folks got together and had this off-the-record conversation just to process. Otherwise, you're coming into the workplace and naturally there's been this terrible, terrible tragedy happening and you're processing it, but people around you maybe aren't or they're ignoring it and how are you really engaged and focused to do the best work when you're wondering, does anyone even recognize that this thing happened to be an aspect of my identity?

The Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the mosque shooting in New Zealand elicited a similar response:

You find these moments where people are just looking for a sense of people to stand with them, grieve with them, it’s not trying to convert anyone to their identity, but just acknowledge what happened and that they're there in support and grieving with them.

However, while Prophet is keen for everyone to have a safe space to express their views, this still needs to be done within the realms of Salesforce’s values and culture:

Everyone’s welcome, there’s no litmus test for ideology that we’re holding up saying you must agree with certain ideology in order to work here. But the company has values and principles, and those transcend time and elections. It’s making sure that folks feel welcome but likewise, if the views are misaligned or could create a workplace that’s hostile or feels unsafe, that people are checked in their ability to express those views.

That must be done in a way that's constructive, not intentionally provocative, that doesn't create a hostile workplace for others. It’s not to change anyone's views, not to ensure that people agree on particular issues, but just making sure that the climate in the workplace is one that's respectful of everyone's identity and welcoming for all.

My take

As ever, wise words - and most importantly, words that are being translated into action. 

A grey colored placeholder image