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IWD 2022 - how Salesforce's Chief Equality Officer Lori Castillo Martinez is continuing the push for female representation in tech

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett March 8, 2022
On International Women's Day 2022, diginomica talks to Salesforce's new Chief Equality Officer Lori Castillo Martinez.

Lori Castillo Martinez

Growing up in San Jose, Lori Castillo Martinez watched the rise of Silicon Valley right in front of her eyes, and was fortunate to attend a diverse girls school. These two things set her on a path to a career in technology from an early age, she says: 

I was at an all-girls high school, and it starts in places like that. For me, technology wasn't something to shy away from, it was something to lean into. I joined the workforce thinking women ruled the world.

Once she entered the workplace and started to look around however, the reality set in. Her first role was in technology at Intel and Castillo Martinez quickly realized the male-dominated tech workplace wasn’t reflective of her school environment:

Because I walked in with some of that confidence, I quickly tried to find my people, those mentors, sponsors, champions. There's this immeasurable power in representation and advocacy. One of my first organizations I worked for was led by a woman and the second one was led by a Black woman.

Now working at Salesforce as its new Executive Vice President and Chief Equality Officer - AKA CEO -, Castillo Martinez has taken over the role from Tony Prophet, who retired in 2021 after five years at the company as its first formal equality chief. Under Prophet’s leadership, Salesforce became a more diverse organization on all fronts, including global women employees increasing from 32% in 2018 to 36% in 2021; and US under-represented minorities growing from 10% to 14% over the same period.

Castillo Martinez says she is fortunate to have so many of Prophet’s team still with her, along with the employee success and equality teams, and the equality groups:

There really was just this amazing foundation. Equality's been a longstanding value of Salesforce so we have a platform that is unique from that perspective. I'm not convincing people equality is important, we've already made that decision. For me, it’s how do we take this forward. Here is where my vision becomes really simple - how do we continue this work and become the most inclusive workplace possible.


Castillo Martinez argues that Salesforce has a powerful opportunity to make the workplace better for all women, but in particular recognizing the intersectionality for Women of Color:

Over the last couple of years, we have to take into context what happened in society globally, and also what's happened in the US around social injustice and racism, and all of us globally endured this pandemic. There have been times during this period where we have seen Women and People of Color disproportionately impacted.

Our learning has been this notion of flexibility. It’s thinking about this more as an opportunity to empower women with flexibility in an environment where you can have success from anywhere. How do you create this trusted relationship with your manager to be able to have a really frank dialogue. These are the ways, when people have expressed that they need greater support, we lean in to support them.

This support includes the introduction of specific benefits to retain women within the organization like expanded family care leave, and global backup childcare and elder care.

The Warmline is another initiative that was really important during the pandemic, an advocacy program for women of all races, as well as Black, indigenous, Latinx and LGBTQ+ employees. It connects employees with advocates who can help them in whatever space they need, whether connecting them to the new benefits on offer, navigating career events, or planning conversations with managers. Castillo Martinez explains: 

It was one of the most powerful things because it gave us and the people impacted by the pandemic a channel, and for us as a company the channel where we could really listen and deeply understand and take very quick and agile action.

We have to keep doing those things and keep asking the questions, because through the pandemic what we've realized is what people needed in the beginning was one thing, what they needed as we made it through was a little different, what they need today is even different from that. The world doesn't look the same as it did, and we all have to be able to pivot. Otherwise, this will continue to get worse at large and worse for the tech industry.

Salesforce is also putting equality at the center of the hiring process, enabled by new initiatives like a diversity recruiting team, a more equitable referral process, and the Insiders Program, offering job candidates the opportunity to speak to other employees and understand from their point of view what it's like to be inside Salesforce.

Beyond the US

While those are all important elements, Castillo Martinez said the most significant one that the firm is making this year is around how this all works outside of the US.

Much of the current DE&I work across all businesses is focused on the US, as that is where many multi-nationals are based. However, the requirement exists all around the world, and it doesn't look the same in every country as Castillo Martinez observes: 

From my experience living in Europe, and traveling and supporting global teams, I've really come to appreciate that you don't always lift and shift out of the US. Amazing perspectives are grown all around the world and these programs are most powerful when they're localized to the personal experiences that resonate with people in the countries and cities and community where they live.

For this reason, many of Salesforce’s big DE&I investments and strategies this year will be pivoting the focus outside of the US and in particular to Europe. From a gender perspective, the focus will be on how the firm can provide the flexibility to work how, when and where it’s best for female employees and their families, enabled by benefits around leave, childcare and elder care.

Castillo Martinez added that already having women in leadership positions in some European regions is an advantage here. One of these is Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce’s Executive Vice President and CEO for Salesforce UK and Ireland, who is similarly intent on filling new roles in her region with more women:

Women see this as a place where women can have careers in the organization. We are going to provide that multi-layered support to make sure that not only do we attract women into our workplace, but they also want to stay here and be part of our organization.

We need to do more to demonstrate that companies like Salesforce are a great place to be and a great place to build careers.

Salesforce is already seeing success on this front. Castillo Martinez noted that Q3 was the firm’s highest ever quarter for hiring women, 41% of all new starters. For the year, 37% of new hires were women.

When asked about any potential 'resistance to change' within the business to any of its diversity initiatives, Castillo Martinez states that the company is keen to show its equality strategy benefits all employees.

That's probably the toughest question of this work. One of the most important things is we need to make sure we don't create environments of fear and exclusion, but one where we're creating a wider tent that includes all.

When we talk about being the most inclusive company, it doesn't mean at the exclusion of others. With equal pay for all, men are adjusted as well as women if they're underpaid against their colleagues.

While all its programs are broadly inclusive, the firm still listens to people’s concerns to ensure they understand the value of equality isn't raising one group at the expense of others.

My take

Salesforce’s plans to focus on expanding its equality strategy outside the US are certainly worthwhile. The firm’s equality data reveals that the global number for employee representation tracks below the US one across all the various groups. It will be interesting to see how well the firm manages to replicate its US programs across the European market and then see Salesforce expanding its equality values in regions where women’s rights are far behind those in the US and Europe.

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