Main content

"This is our responsibility as an industry!" - Salesforce CMO Sarah Franklin on why the tech sector needs to step up on equality and inclusion

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 20, 2022
Salesforce CMO Sarah Franklin has risen through the ranks over the past 14 years and is committed to breaking down equality barriers for the next generation.

Sarah Franklin
Sarah Franklin

When asked when she would be happy with the number of female judges on the US Supreme Court, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg is reported to have responded, ‘When they all are!’.

It’s an amusing anecdote, but one that makes an important point about the pursuit of equality and diversity that so many tech firms are embarked upon today. As Salesforce CMO Sarah Franklin told me at last week’s London World Tour conference:

There are no finish lines. There is none.

In an earlier article, Salesforce’s UKI CEO Zahra Bahrololoumi highlighted progress made on her watch at improving representation at senior level within the company. It’s a challenge that remains a corporate strategic objective across the firm globally, affirmed Franklin:

It has never been more important that we look at our employees and our society and we say that we, as an industry, have created this incredible opportunity. We've created all these jobs and created these technologies and it is our responsibility to scale people up into the jobs. We have the people and we have jobs that we're creating, so we just simply need to bring the people to the jobs. Just as much as we need to sequester carbon, this is our responsibility as an industry.

The tech sector has a reputational issue to address, she added:

The numbers show it's not representative of our population today, whether it's by race, gender, socio-economic situation, your level of ability, where you live, what language you speak, your sexual orientation - no matter what the measurement is, it is not representative. We have the opportunity to remove those barriers, to take them out of the way, to make it free, to make it democratized, to make it accessible and make you think, 'Hey, I can do it'. It is so important that we do that for not just our world today, but for our children as well.

Widening the net

This is why Salesforce created its free, online learning platform Trailhead, she said, focused on teaching the business skills, tech skills, soft skills that customers are demanding.

But once people are skilled up and armed with the necessary skills, the next challenge is getting people into the appropriate jobs. This has been an increasingly large part of the skills crisis problem, as the cost of living in areas such as Silicon Valley have soared. If you can’t afford to live in San Francisco, then having the right skills to work there isn’t the whole solution.

That said, COVID may well have delivered a kind of silver lining here as organizations have adapted to remote working on a scale not seen before. That has implications for recruitment going forward - if someone was able to work from home 50 miles outside of Boise, Idaho during the pandemic, then why does hiring need to be centered around San Francisco in the Vaccine Economy and beyond, for example? In other words, the recruitment net can be spread far wider than it’s ever been .

This is a trend being seen among customers, confirmed Franklin, as well internally at Salesforce:

Atlanta, for example, is a hub area now for Salesforce, where we've just done incredible recruiting and hiring incredibly diverse talent. Pre-COVID, we were more hiring in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley. Now, because of flexible work, because we align more on time zones than we do on physical location, it's about the teams agreeing, 'OK, this is how we're going to work together'.

That is why the Digital HQ has never been more important. You can really diversify your teams and you can find people that might not have the perfect skills, but they have the aptitude and you can teach them the specific skills that they need, because you have the tools to skill them. I'm excited about being able to do that, because people have the flexible work and we have the tools to re-skill them. We have the perspective change whereby we're going to open our aperture to be more open to people not being  physically in the same location at the same time.

She added that flexibility of approach is already delivering results:

When I look at our Salesforce administrators, our Salesforce developers, I see a population there and the numbers show me that it's way more representative. Salesforce admins are about half women. That's incredible. That is just incredible. That includes working mothers, that includes mothers who don't have to come into the workforce because they want to have the flexibility. I used to be a single mother myself, and [it’s important] being able to have that flexibility and have that one income…COVID has disproportionately impacted women and People of Color and so being able to have pathways for people to achieve these goals is is really great.

Equality drive 

For her part, Franklin has been at Salesforce for 14 years:

I started as an individual contributor. I got promoted to a Manager, Senior Manager, Director, Senior Director, VP, SVP, EVP, President and Chief Marketing Officer at this company. I had children during the process, I changed jobs during the process, and I fully attribute the leadership of Salesforce in empowering women to have incredible careers. There's a reason why equality is one of our top values.

In support of that, Salesforce execs are compensated on how they support and enable diversity and inclusion, but there’s a personal angle to this as well, argued Franklin:

It is absolutely important as a mother of two daughters. Equal pay for equal work. Not only do we need to have the representation, we need to pay fairly. And that is something where Salesforce has shown up with a checkbook and we have written checks when that [parity] has not been the case. We will continue to do that every year and it is work that is directly championed by our co-CEOs, Bret [Taylor ] and Marc [Benioff]. I could not be more proud to work at Salesforce.

As a company that we might not be there yet, but I have confidence that we will get there. What do we tell our children when they ask us about this? I look at my two daughters and I tell them, ‘You will be paid fairly, you will be paid equally and you will believe that you can be anything that you dream, because we're going to break that barrier down’.

My take

Both Franklin and Bahrololoumi are clearly passionate about both tackling the skills crisis and levelling up in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. There will always, inevitably, be those who raise a cynical eyebrow when these topics are aired. Salesforce’s efforts around equality and diversity recently attracted some critical attention after shareholder activists called for an independent audit into racial equity, arguing that that the firm’s “underrepresented” definition was too broad and meant that Black and Hispanic representation has not meaningfully improved. This followed the departure of two Black female execs who cited “micro-aggressions” as being among the reasons they quit.

To my mind, Salesforce’s actions, which have been extensively tracked by diginomica over the years, have sent out a strong message that other tech firms can take a lead from. The company has taken strong stands on issues relating to LGBTQI matters, race, ethnicity, gender and so on. Most recently it’s said it will assist employees with out-of-state travel in the event of Roe vs Wade being overturned and state legislatures imposing their own restrictive laws on reproductive rights, as well as recently expanding its Gender Inclusive Benefits initiative for transgender and non-binary employees.

As Franklin notes however, this is a very, very long journey and one without an obvious end. And as with any lengthy journey, it’s not necessarily always going to be undertaken at a speed that makes everyone happy. (Are we nearly there yet?) But it is a journey that is meaningfully moving ahead and that’s the really crucial thing. There may still be a way to go, but every step taken is a step forward.

A grey colored placeholder image