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The challenge of closing the equal pay gap

Cindy Robbins Profile picture for user crobbins September 24, 2018
Cindy Robbins, Salesforce's Chief People Officer, on the pursuit of equality and the closing of the pay gap.

Achieving equality for all is one of humankind's greatest challenges. It is a complex problem with many facets.

Gender equality is just one aspect of equality, and today it directly impacts more than half the world’s population.

It took hundreds of years for women to earn the right to vote. Women in the US and the UK, for example, have had the right to vote in national elections for less than 100 years, while women in Saudi Arabia were only recently allowed to vote in their country in 2011.

That brings me to another aspect of gender equality: equal pay. A disheartening study from the World Economic Forum in November 2017 reported that the global gender pay gap will take 100 years to close, which increased from last year's prediction of 86 years. While achieving universal pay equality seems like a far-off dream, I have been encouraged to see the topic become a more visible part of the equality discussion.

In the tech industry specifically, I've seen more and more companies looking at their pay data and claiming to have reached pay parity. While I applaud their efforts to look at the data and close gaps where they may exist, it's important to remember that equal pay is not something that can be addressed once. It's a continuous journey and must be monitored on an ongoing basis, especially at high-growth companies.

The Salesforce example

At Salesforce, for example, our journey started in 2015 when my colleague Leyla Seka and I raised the issue of equal pay to our co-CEO Marc Benioff to see if we had a problem. We had both benefitted from Salesforce's initiatives to advance high-potential women into leadership, and we wanted to figure out how to help other women at Salesforce succeed.

We raised the issue not as the head of HR, but as two women who benefitted from the steps Salesforce has taken, and continues to take, to provide equal opportunity for all. With Marc's blessing and encouragement, we conducted our first equal pay audit later that year, which found that approximately six percent of employees required a salary adjustment. We spent nearly $3 million dollars to eliminate any unexplained differences in pay — for both men and women.

From that point on, we pledged to evaluate our workforce on an ongoing basis to ensure that employees are paid equally for equal work — and closing any pay gaps where they do exist. In fact, after a year of record growth in 2016 — adding more than 7,000 employees and acquiring 14 companies — we again assessed employee pay globally. This time, we looked at both gender globally and race in the U.S., and we found another $3 million gap.

In 2018, we completed our third equal pay assessment and spent $2.7 million to adjust compensation — $8.7 million to date. We're encouraged that despite growing at nearly 20% year-over-year, the gap is shrinking. In fact, the percentage of employees impacted was nearly cut in half (from 11% in 2017 to 6% in 2018).

But the truth is, we still have work to do.

Moving forward

It's unrealistic to think that equal pay is a one-and-done fix. There is no finish line to equal pay.

It's something that needs to be reviewed and addressed regularly given the complexities and nuances of equal pay. Every year we conduct these assessments, we learn more about the numerous factors that contribute to pay inequality, such as legacy industry practices, acquiring companies, external changes in the job market.

It's important to not only evaluate the data, but to look at the root of the problem and how we can continue to improve hiring and compensation processes. For example, what questions are being asked in interviews? How are promotions and bonuses being evaluated? What practices are in place — or are missing — that could be contributing to a pay gap?

As we continue to grow rapidly, we're looking at new ways to level the playing field, including how to create a standardized compensation system for new hires, resetting our job architecture to ensure everyone performing similar work is categorized evenly, and reevaluating pay ranges to further eliminate bias.

It’s not enough to address equal pay annually — our ultimate goal is to close the equal pay gap for good.

More importantly, equality cannot be an afterthought. Equality for all — acting on the principle that all people are created equal — must be part of the company's DNA and the tone must be set from the top.

I was fortunate to have support from our co-CEO to address equal pay at Salesforce and make a commitment to evaluating it on an ongoing basis. For Salesforce, equality is a core value, and we're taking action across four key pillars: equal opportunity, equal rights, equal education and equal pay.

We cannot wait 100 years for pay equality to become a reality. It's up to every business leader to take action and ensure that every employee is compensated fairly.

We're looking forward to continuing the dialogue at this year's annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco with industry leaders discussing equal pay and other matters of equality.


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