“You can just stand by the wall and be quiet, “I don’t agree, but I’m not getting involved.” And that’s the definition of privilege, ladies and gentlemen.”
Join Molly Ford, Salesforce Global Equality Programs Senior Director, and Leyla Seka, Salesforce VP of Mobile for actionable advice they have applied on their own journey. Here are their lessons learned on driving change in gender equality, equal pay and racial equality within Salesforce.
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FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Molly Ford – Sr. Director of Global Equality Programs @ Salesforce
Leyla Seka – EVP of Mobile @ Salesforce
Molly Ford: Good morning.
Leyla Seka: Good Morning. We are very, very sorry that we are late. Traffic in the Bay Area is a bit of a beast. What can we say?
Molly Ford: Absolutely.
Leyla Seka: Hi, I’m Leyla Seka. I’m the Executive Vice President of Mobile at Salesforce. I’ve worked at Salesforce for 11 years and this is-
Molly Ford: Molly Ford. I’m the Senior Director of Global Equality Programs at Salesforce. I’ve been there about seven years and our function of equality is about two years old. And SaaStr, you’re in for a treat today.
Leyla Seka: Yes. So Molly and I, we were actually on Twitter last week. Molly did a Ted talk earlier last year and I was tweeting about that, and Jason sent us a note and asked us to come here and chat with y’all. So we thought we’d tell you sort of the story of how equality came to be at Salesforce, because it’s a pretty interesting saga, right?
Molly Ford: Absolutely.
Leyla Seka: So let’s start back about five years ago. I was running what we call the AppExchange at Salesforce, which is like our app store, and I got a new job running a business unit called desk.com, which is customer service for small business. And Molly was my PR lead, so we worked together all the time.
Molly Ford: Absolutely.
Leyla Seka: So I’d been working at Salesforce for a while. I grew up in product, I was a product manager for the lion’s share of my time. And even before Salesforce, I’d had this feeling that the men were getting paid more than the women. It was just sort of a sense like when we were around the water cooler, they were talking about things they were buying and I was like, “Hmm, I could buy a Tesla, but that would be so stupid given how much money I make.” And they were doing this. So I had been talking about equal pay for awhile, and Molly and I were on a train.
Molly Ford: Yes, we were on a train ride going from Boston to New York for some Salesforce events, and I had this great PR presentation or an idea. And it was about two years old, it had been in some PowerPoint slides. And I basically said, “Envision this. You’re at a conference, and then one day all of the sessions, all of the panels, you look on stage and everybody’s a woman whether you’re talking about AI, leadership, anything.” And I had this idea for about two years on my laptop and I said, “Hey, we’ve got some downtime on this train ride. Leyla, I have this great idea. Do you want to see it? Do you want to hear about it?” And I started to show her my slides and she said, “Make some changes, do some things a little different. Send it to me.” And when I talk about this at women’s conferences, people go, “Oh, you gave your idea away. You gave it to someone.” And little did I know, I’ll let you have the rest of the story.
Leyla Seka: So Molly and I were on this train and she had this great idea, and now a women’s conference doesn’t sound so outrageous, but back then was a pretty outrageous idea. So I had been thinking about equal pay. I had been working with our head of HR, who’s also a really good personal friend of mine, Cindy Robbins, and she and I had been playing around with the idea that something we wanted to sort of approach equal pay. And then Molly came with this great idea for a women’s summit. And we’d also been sort of talking about a mentoring program for women inside of Salesforce.
Leyla Seka: So Cindy had a one-on-one with Marc, and she invited me, and we got all ready and we went to the one-on-one, and we sat there. And the crux of the conversation was about equal pay. And it really was us sort of saying to him, “Hey, we think there’s an issue here.” And his response was funny. He was like, “No, no way. We would never have that. That’s not our culture, that’s not our company.” And I was like, “Yeah.” And Cindy was like, “Yeah.” And then we said to him, Cindy said to him, “Look, if we look under the hood, if we pop the hood open and see like there are equal pay issues, we’re going to have to address them.” And he said, “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s pop the hood and see what we have.”
Leyla Seka: And then I very quickly was like, “Oh, and by the way, we want to do a women’s summit and we wanted to do this mentoring program.” And he had said, “Yes,” to the mentoring program. And then I said, “We want to do this women’s summit. Molly Ford has this great idea to do a women’s summit.” And he did a funny thing where he was like, “Yeah, yeah.” And then I was like, “Okay, so budget?” And he was like, “Yeah, yeah, go find it. But do it, make it happen.” So I called Molly, well first I called my mom because she was super fired up about the equal pay thing-
Molly Ford: I think I got a text that said, “Giddy up.”
Leyla Seka: Oh, right, I sent you a text that said, “Giddy up.” Right. So we got the approval to do it and then sort of began the real work. And Molly did the lion’s share of that. Why don’t you talk about that?
Molly Ford: The point I want to call out here is when we talk about mentorship versus sponsorship, notice what Leyla did for me. She actually took my idea into rooms that I wasn’t in. It’s about having that seat at the table. I wasn’t even in the room, but more importantly she kept my name on my idea. So it’s about advocating for people when they’re not physically in that room, taking their ideas forward and keeping their name on it, right? And making sure they’re getting the credit for what they did. And then that women’s summit, 2015 Women’s summit, Jessica Alba, Susan Wojcicki, Gayle King, Patricia Arquette, all these powerful women on stage. And again, today we know conferences struggled to get women there, but to think a whole day of programming and you’re just seeing women business leaders? That’s phenomenal and it doesn’t happen as much as it should.
Leyla Seka: Right. So this was a big deal for Salesforce. We stood up for equal pay, we did the equality summit, we did a lot of things on this, and we sort of, as we like to do as a company, started flexing our muscle around this. And in the flexing that muscle, which Molly, Cindy, myself, all of us were a big part of, the notion of hiring a Chief Equality Officers sort of came to fruition. And Molly, why don’t you tell the story of how that came to be.
Molly Ford: Yeah, so I was doing my little PR job and hustling on the side doing diversity work. And that work started to be noticed that I was the person behind some of our narratives, writing, kind of helping tell those stories. And so Marc Benioff reached out to me and said, “Hey, what do you think’s happening here?” But the very first question Marc asked me was, “What’s your experience as a black woman working at Salesforce?” That’s a powerful moment because not enough leaders are asking their employees, “We talk about culture, but what’s your experience with your identity? How are you moving through the company culture?” And that kind of led to, “We were going to do a big equality project or diversity project,” and that led to the hiring of our first chief equality officer, Tony Prophet, someone who had been in our ecosystem, but also doing some equality things in his day-to-day life and job. And that kind of led to becoming an actual official equality team.
Leyla Seka: Which Molly was the first member of. And there are lots of stories around allyship and equality. I wanted to tell you one other thing around this and that is when Tony came on board and Molly and Tony sort of formed the Office of Equality at Salesforce, which is now sort of become a core part of everything we do at the company … We have employee resource groups, which most of you do have or as your companies grow, you will have, and these are groups where people identify and self-identify and gather together to share experiences and to have different types of events. And we’ve always had them at Salesforce from for a long time. And we were looking for executive sponsors for those groups.
Leyla Seka: So Tony called me and said, “I want you to be the executive sponsor of BOLDforce, which is our black employee resource group at Salesforce. And I called him back and I said, “Hey, that’s cool, but I’m not black. So don’t you think I should maybe be like in charge of the women’s group or something? I am one, I’m a woman.” And he said, “No, no, we talked about it. We expressly want you to be the exec sponsor of BOLDforce.” So I said, “Yes, of course, I’m happy to do anything.”
Leyla Seka: And then I sort of did a very similar type of thing where I spent a lot of time listening to the black employees inside of Salesforce. How does it feel to be a black employee at Salesforce? How does it feel to be a black person in technology? How does it feel to be a black person in America? All things I cannot understand, but I can try really hard to have compassion and understanding around. I know what it feels like to be a woman in technology, and I know how hard that has been at moments, so I can consider how difficult it would be to be even more different than everyone else. And Molly has this great thing she says, which is the onlyness.
Molly Ford: Yeah, we talk about onlyness at Salesforce. When you’re the only person of color on your team, you’re the only woman in the room, it’s the loneliness of being the only. We call it the onlyness. So one of the messages that we’re really clear to not just preach, but also execute, at Salesforce is this community of allies and allyship. So Leyla saying, “Yes, I will be the executive sponsor. That means I’m mentoring, I’m sponsoring the careers, I’m leaning in for black employees.” And she’s saying, “I’m doing that as an ally.” And we’re very clear that we’re like, allies is not about hero worship or great white savior like the movie Blind Side. That’s not what we’re asking. It’s like me as a straight woman, how am I an ally for the LGBT community? How are you leaning in for other people? That’s really what it’s about. Building this community of allies that we’re asking folks.
Molly Ford: And then I want Layla to talk about language and why language is super important and kind of some flax she received. Because the hard part about being an ally … Well, let me stop and say what does an ally look like at Salesforce? We have four steps to being an ally. Ally is actionable. It’s ask people about their journey. What’s it like to be a black woman? Listen, listen with empathy and respect. Show up. So when there’s a South Asia force Diwali festival, show up, enjoy and learn about their culture. Show up to a BOLDforce meeting if you’re not black. And that last one which is super important is speak up. So if there’s that racist joke, that blonde joke, and in this era of #MeToo, you have to speak up.
Molly Ford: So it’s not good enough for men to say, “Well, if I never open my mouth, I never have to have my foot in it.” Being on this ally journey means you may mess up, you may say the wrong things, but you ask the questions. And so tell them about the language. People aren’t armed with the language for equality right now or diversity.
Leyla Seka: Right. So one of the first things I did when I became the exec sponsor of BOLDforce is I asked them, “What do I say? Do I say African American? Do I say black? What word do I use here because I’m confused.” And they said, “We’ve self-identified as black. That’s the word we use, that’s the word we want you to use.” And that was great, I was listening. And then I was in an exec meeting, these are good people, these are some of the best people in the world I’ve ever met. We’re in an exec meeting and somehow it came up, and I started talking about BOLDforce. And I said, “The black employees,” whatever I said, I said something. And I finished saying it, and then we had a break and we were all like walking to the loo or whatever, and maybe four or five different people, who are my friends, who are people I love, came up to me on the way to the bathroom. And they tap, tap, tap me, and they said, “Hey Leyla, you can’t say the word, ‘black’.”
Leyla Seka: And it was such a moment for me because all I could think was, “My word. If we don’t have the vocabulary to have the conversation about how we need to change, how the hell are we ever going to change?” And so with that, I really thought a lot about that, that was like a real moment for me. And to Molly’s point of you can’t get in trouble if you don’t open your mouth, those days are over. That type of leadership where you stand back and are like, “Hmm, I’m gonna see what happens,” you won’t be a leader in five years if that’s the way you decide to do it. You have to play in this.
Leyla Seka: And if you are a white person, and my God, if you are a white man, which I love white men, I’m married to one, I made two, I’m down with it, I like them … But you have the most important voice in this because no one expects you to say anything. You can just stand by the wall and be quiet, “I don’t agree, but I’m not getting involved.” And that’s the definition of privilege, ladies and gentlemen. And in this day and age-
Molly Ford: Wait, can we stop and clap for that?
Leyla Seka: I agree. I mean, I do think that that’s the definition of privilege, and I have a lot of privilege. I’m well aware of how much privilege and luck I’ve had in my life. I’m not sitting up here acting like I’m perfect by no means. But I do think that in the day of #MeToo, and in the day of diversity and equality, this was not a topic five years ago. We were weird in the corner being like, “We got to do something. Something about this is wrong.” And she’s a black woman, and I’m a white woman, and we work at a really amazing company that’s on the edge and thinks about things a little bit differently, but this wasn’t normal.
Leyla Seka: By the way, I’m old, but cloud computing wasn’t normal 10 years ago. I spent like most of my career telling people it was okay to put their data in the Cloud, now we act like that’s normal. It’s the same thing with diversity. Five years ago, we were talking about this on a train and hushed voices back and forth. Something’s wrong and how are we going to do this? And now we’re sitting on stage in front of all of you, like the leaders are silicon valley. You are building the companies that will be the next Salesforce. So as the leaders of those companies, how are you going to show up for people that don’t look like you? How many of you are mentoring a person of color? How many of you are actually sponsoring a woman, like standing up in the room and being like, “No, she should get the job.”
Leyla Seka: No, I don’t mean to sound preachy, but I just think we’ve hit a point in our collective history as the technology geniuses that are changing the world in which we need to take a look at the world we’re actually creating around ourselves as well. I got preachy, but you know how it is. Thanks. I think it’s important. Being an ally wasn’t easy. I’m not gonna sit up here and tell you that that was always easy to be the one standing up and saying things that were not necessarily the easiest thing for other people to hear. And I took some hits, definitely took some hits with all of this stuff. This is not work you do without understanding that some people are going to have a feeling about it. But if you’re not doing this kind of work, you’re doing a disservice to your company and your employees.
Molly Ford: And I also want to say don’t look back. Don’t sit up here and think, “Well, they’re Salesforce, they’ve got amazing tower, they have a megaphone and a CEO, that’s Marc Benioff.” Our message really for you is to start early and start soon. It’s easier to right a ship when you’ve got a couple hundred employees. To do that equal pay audit now, to think about diversity in your hiring and your recruiting practices now versus, “Oh, let me fix things when I’m 40,000 employees in.”
Leyla Seka: And Marc says that. Marc is the first one to say when we started, he started the 1-1-1 model which was giving back a percent of our equity, a percent of our time, a percent of our product to nonprofits, which has sort of changed the way corporations think about their social responsibility inside of communities. And he will openly say, “If I’d known, I would’ve done this in the beginning too. I would have done equal pay and equality and I would’ve had a Chief Quality Officer the second I hired the chief philanthropy officer.” This is Marc Benioff the legend sitting there saying, “My one I would have done over is I would have started equality at the beginning of my companies.”
Leyla Seka: So I think for me anyway, and I think Molly too, we’re here because we often can’t believe we did that. That was an idea on a train that two people were just sort of fed up with the way the situation was looking decided to take on, and we changed not just our lives, but we changed the face of our company, we changed the face of our industry, we changed the dialogue. I remember saying to Marc, I said, “If you say equal pay, like if you just say it as a white man, billionaire, amazing person that you are, if you say it, people will not be able to hide from it.” And boy was that correct. Imagine what you could say. Imagine what you could say in your team meeting, or your company meeting, or in your community, or in your family, or wherever it might be. Imagine a stance you can take that will shift the way you are perceived and your perception of how things should be equal or considered equal is? This is not an equal world.
Molly Ford: Right. And think about it, there’s no “Hey, happy Equal Pay Day.” This is not a positive thing, so it takes a lot for a company to say, “Hey, we had a gap and we’re not bragging about that. We’re saying that because we need other companies to take on this banner.” Studies are showing us that women bring a gap with them throughout their career. So if every major company says, “You know what, I’m going to do equal pay for equal work. I’m going to have an annual audit and processes in place that this doesn’t happen,” then we can get rid of this. So we need others to come along on this journey.
Leyla Seka: And an important point on that, so we did the equal pay out at the first year, and we found about a $3 million issue. And then we did it the second year and we found another $3 million issue. And then we did it the third year and we found another, I mean it’s north of $8 million now over the last three years. But it’s important that you note that we’ve found an issue every year. Now, we bought companies and we did different things, and you buy hiring practices, you buy a lot of stuff when you do that. But the simple fact is this is deeply embedded in the fiber of our society, so to change it requires all of us to lift our voices up and say, “No more.”
Molly Ford: And let me put it in two more points of specifics. That first year we did the audit, we almost paid as many men as we did women to balance the salaries, and no one actually gets a pay cut. So don’t be going, “Wait, they’re cutting my salary?” No, no one gets a pay cut.
Leyla Seka: Right. But I think that just shows you that like this is not a one and done. You can’t be like, “Oh, I went to the BOLDforce meeting, I went to the Martin Luther King March, I did one pay audit. We’re equal.” This is something that you decide to commit yourself to and commit your company to. And honestly, Silicon Valley needs this. We are a very, very homogeneous group of people making a lot of decisions that are affecting the entire world. I think that we would make those decisions much better if we had different people. I don’t know what I would’ve done without Molly. Molly gave me the confidence to stand up and say things that I didn’t think I could say because I thought about Molly. I wasn’t thinking about Leyla, I was thinking about Molly.
Leyla Seka: And Molly, we have now done that for many more people. Like you have so much more power than you think you do. You can be the CEO, yeah, that’s awesome. But you can be someone huffing PR, someone like huffing customer service software or whatever we were doing. What we did that was really interesting is outside of the jobs we were being paid to do, we took on a job that meant more to us than anything. And really it’s changed my whole life.
Molly Ford: Absolutely. And I got a new job out of it and I love driving equality. And it’s a formal practice, it’s woven into who we are as a company and what we do. And now we’re trying to figure out with every practice we have at Salesforce, how do we make sure equality’s woven into that? Whether that’s an event, whether that’s manager training, whatever it is, how do you lead with equality, how do we influence our culture? And it’s a company value for us, so we always have a north star. We know what we should be doing, how it should be acting as employees to drive our culture.
Leyla Seka: And as sort of a final thought, we are not perfect. Salesforce is not perfect. We have a lot of work to do, so does everyone. What we are great at is we are trying harder than anyone I know to do the right thing. And I think if we all as a community, as like you are the future of Silicon Valley, you are building the next Salesforce, I will work for you, I will not work on Mondays and Fridays, I want a lot of money, kidding, kidding.
Molly Ford: I was like, “Is she trying to get a job?”
Leyla Seka: If you are committed to working on this, we are willing to work with you too, Salesforce as a company and just in general. We can make a much better silicon valley. So we’re really sorry we’re late, but we really enjoyed spending the time with you. Molly, you want to say anything?
Molly Ford: Absolutely. Thank you so much SaaStr and let us know if you have any questions.
Leyla Seka: Yeah, we’re here. Go do your equality journey. Go fight for someone that isn’t yourself. You will like the way you feel at the end of the day. Trust me.
Molly Ford: Thank you SaaStr.
Leyla Seka: Take Care Y’all.