How Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Is Leading The Way With His Attack On The Wage Gap

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By now most of you are familiar with the wage gap, the notion that women are getting paid less than men for doing the same job. Here in the US, statistics from the Department of Labor show women on average 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, that gap is even wider. It is a frustrating problem to have in the year 2015, to be honest.

There are a number of factors that create this problem. The US being one of the only industrialized nations in the world not to have mandatory family leave which makes it easier for companies to pay women less (if they even choose to hire them over men) especially if they are of child-bearing age because employers know there is a chance they will leave to have a family.

Another issue is women having different negotiating skills in the workplace compared to men. And of course there’s just good old fashioned and blatant sexism when it comes to paying women.

The myriad of issues presented means there is not just one solution to this problem, although if it were up to us, just simply paying each employee equally for doing the same job would be a start. That’s the approach now being taken by Salesforce, a cloud-computing company based in San Francisco.

In July the New York Times wrote an extensive article on how the company is making great strides toward gender equality, and essentially leading the way on this issue. And the person who is spearheading this change is its CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff.

In the article, Marc explained how a few years ago after his company had weathered the financial crisis and were making record sales, he noticed something that was still not right.

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“I was in meetings with managers and they were all men. I was really worried that there was something wrong with the company,” he said. And can we just point out that the fact he even identified the lack of women in the boardroom as as “problem” is a major step towards creating a solution. It all starts with awareness!

Among the company’s top 21 executives, only 5 are women. All 7 of the executive officers in the company’s annual proxy statement are men. Of the 11 members of Salesforce’s board, 2 are women. And across the company, 29% of employees are women.

It’s no secret that many tech companies have a diversity problem. With well-known brands like Facebook, Google, Apple and Intel releasing diversity reports over the past few years it has become evident that the average representation of women hovers at a high of 30%, and that figure is halved when it comes to women in leadership of engineering positions.

Initiatives to change this are a vital part of changing the statistics, and in Marc Benioff’s case, he believes setting quotas is also an effective measure. In 2013 he started ‘Women’s Surge’ whose goal it was to achieve 100% equality for men and women in pay and promotion, and to make sure that at least a third of all participants at any meeting were women.

Marc first reached out to the head of each of Salesforce’s divisions and asked them to identify their top executives who would then be eligible for leadership training. For those divisions whose lists were male-dominated, Marc instructed them to come back with a more “diverse” list.

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As a result, more women were actively becoming part of the leadership conversation, and two women in particular received promotions. Cindy Robbins became head of human resources, and Leyla Seka took over the Desk.com division, a customer service unit.

After becoming the head of HR, Cindy Robbins says she was inspired to come up with more ways to help women get an equal footing in the company.

“We surged. We got bigger jobs; we got promoted. That’s when we started to put our heads together. We wanted to help other women as well,” she said.

One of the things she found during her research was that women were being paid less than men for doing the same job, and she brought it to Marc’s attention.

“I didn’t know that there was a pay issue until they came to me and said so. My reaction was, ‘I don’t really think this is right. This isn’t how we operate’,” he responded.

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As a result, Salesforce is now undergoing the process of reviewing the salaries of their more than 17,000 employees. This process could take up to a year to complete, and the company plans to review salaries on an ongoing basis. In addition to this, an annual salary review will now be part of the company’s core principles going forward.

Marc also said if he were to start the company from scratch, knowing what he knows now about pay inequality, he would ensure that every male and female employee was paid the same from the beginning.

Now that Cindy Robbins is in charge of HR she is overlooking salaries and working with Marc to adjust salaries accordingly. The other woman responsible for the wage gap overhaul, Leyla Seka, told Business Insider what it meant to her to have a CEO who was actually interested in tacking the problem of wage inequality.

“Cindy and I went to Marc. We asked him, we wanted to go look at this. He thought it was a really interesting idea. That’s where we are right now, beginning the process. When Marc does something like this, it makes it hard to hide. Now the industry will need to answer this,” she said about the ripple effect it will make in the tech world.

“I was actually one of the first people in the ‘[Women] Surge’ when Marc started that program focusing on finding high-potential women in the organization,” she added.

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This is a great example of a successful trickle-down effect. When someone at the top level of a company is made aware of a problem and sets about to fix it, it can impact the lives of their employees, and in turn greatly profit their company.

“My job is to make sure that women are treated 100 percent equally at Salesforce in pay, opportunity and advancement. When I’m done there will be no gap,” he told the Huffington Post in an interview earlier this year.

We certainly hope this will be a benchmark for not just the tech industry, but every company in every industry. It’s one thing to identify a problem, release a fancy diversity report, and make sexy claims about wanting to change the wage gap issue. And it’s another to be someone like Marc Benioff and consciously evaluate salaries and give female employees raises where necessary. It seems it really IS easier than some may think.

And let’s be clear when we talk about the “trickle-down effect”. It’s not just how it affects people in all positions of a company, we’re talking about how the wage gap affects the younger generation in society.

The youth of today are well-aware of the wage gap and the fact that there are girls growing up today knowing they are going to be paid less than a man for doing the same job is heart-breaking. It is going to take deliberate action to change this.

In a recent campaign appearance, 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked by a young girl whether she would be paid the same as a male president if she made it to the White House. Take a look at the exchange right here:

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