Data is your most powerful tool. It can help you assess your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace, reveal areas of opportunity, and design more impactful programs. But we must be willing to reckon with the uncomfortable truths that data may reveal – and be ready to take action.
In 2016, the tech industry was confronted with a persistent lack of representation, particularly around racial equality. While Salesforce had made some strides on gender equality, such as by conducting the first equal pay audit in 2015, more needed to be done to advance equality for all underrepresented communities.
“I was one of the employees Marc called, and his first question knocked my socks off,” recalls Molly Q. Ford about an interaction with Marc Benioff, the company’s CEO. “He asked, ‘Tell me about your experience as a Black woman working here at Salesforce.’”
After their conversation, Benioff invited Ford to spend six months researching and delivering recommendations on how to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace at Salesforce. Ford returned and said, “We need infrastructure, a dedicated team leading this work, company-wide processes, a budget, and data.”
It’s been five years since Ford, now vice president, employer brand and recruitment marketing at Salesforce, started the company’s Office of Equality, and the team has learned and accomplished a lot along the way. While there’s still significant progress to make, data has been central to the team’s findings and pivot strategies. It initiated industry best practices that included setting goals, collecting data, and analyzing change over time. Creating a culture of inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s a business imperative. It helps companies innovate when they receive input from diverse perspectives. It also helps them build deeper connections with their customers and ultimately become a better company. Here’s how Ford uses data to fuel the equality strategy at Salesforce:
1. Make equality data visible to everyone
The first step in developing an effective diversity, equity and inclusion strategy is to look into your representation data – and make it transparent across your organization. Data visualization tools help you quickly detect gaps, understand the different stages of the talent life cycle, and clearly identify trends. “Be wary of getting caught up in analysis paralysis, but turn data into action,” Ford advises. Partner closely with your people analytics team to help comb through the data to identify opportunity areas. This can be done with an HR management software tool or through a customized dashboard on programs such as Tableau – whatever works for your company, as long as the data is clear and leaders use it to drive actionable insights.
When you’re driving diversity in the workplace, manage it in the same meticulous and data-driven way you manage the rest of your business. Use data to plan, track, set goals, and build an accountability process.
2. Ask leaders to turn data into actionable insight
“Just like being an active ally is not a one-and-done activity but a journey, it’s the same with evaluating your data. Data needs to be assessed on a regular basis,” said Ford. HR leaders at Salesforce have access to an equality dashboard powered by Tableau, which lets them see real-time data about representation, hires, attrition, and promotions by both race and gender.
To make that data more actionable for leaders, Salesforce launched an Equality Advisory Board, which meets quarterly with a team of senior leaders to address trends in the organization’s equality data. For example, the board reviews data fields such as the distribution of head count by demographic, rate of promotions, and rate of attrition.
“There is a saying, ‘Faith without work is dead.’ The same goes for data that goes unused,” Ford said. “Through an advisory board model, you’re driving insights into action and holding yourself – and your organization – accountable.”
3. Focus on intersectionality
Don’t overlook the nuances of intersectionality. The term, first coined by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the complex and cumulative way in which multiple forms of discrimination – racism, sexism, and classism – combine, overlap, or intersect. For example, if one of your goals is to increase the representation of women, you need to be mindful that a cisgender white woman’s experience is very different from a queer Black woman’s. “Be wary of lumping identities together, because each community has very unique, distinct challenges compared to others – and no community is a monolith,” advised Ford.
To create a workplace that looks like the world around us, we need to understand what makes us uniquely different. That’s why self-ID data is so important.Molly Q. Ford, VP of global equality programs, Salesforce
At Salesforce, we believe that representation matters. But we can’t address or understand what we don’t measure. “To create a workplace that looks like the world around us, we need to understand what makes us uniquely different. That’s why self-ID data is so important,” Ford said. ” Voluntary Self-ID, a capability often included in most HR tools, allows employees to identify across gender, nationality, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and military status, as well as share their pronouns.
“Building trust with your employees is paramount. Make sure you’re using self-ID data completely confidentially so that not even managers have visibility into it. Be sure to only share averages and not personal information,” Ford said. “You need to build trust into the process.” Voluntary self-ID helps us better understand our communities and gaps in representation to create targeted strategies.
Ford recounts a time when voluntary self-ID helped Salesforce proactively reach out to support employees who serve in the military reserves. “One of the things we learned from our data and feedback is that once an employee is deployed, their Salesforce benefits are disrupted,” Ford said. “Today all employees who are deployed maintain their paychecks and benefits. We never would have known this area of opportunity if it weren’t for self-ID.”
4. Share representation goals and progress
According to a study published in Inc. Magazine, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Communicating your goals helps to clarify them and motivates you to complete the tasks necessary for your success. The same goes for companies. When goals are made public, they provide an accountability mechanism that research shows makes us more likely to succeed.
“By sharing our representation goals publicly, we build trust with our employees and customers,” Ford said. Here are our company’s latest representation goals:
1. 50% of our U.S. workforce will comprise underrepresented groups (including women, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, multiracial, and LGBTQ+ employees, as well as people with disabilities and veterans) by 2023.
2. As part of our Racial Equality and Justice Task Force, we added two new goals: double the U.S. representation of Black leaders and increase U.S. representation of underrepresented minorities (including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and multiracial) by 2023.
Every year, Salesforce publishes its annual representation data. “By sharing it publicly, we build trust with our employees and customers,” Ford adds. “We also listened to our employees’ feedback and iterated by adding new levels of transparency over time, including intersectionality and historical year-over-year data.”
Rather than operating in silos, diversity and inclusion initiatives should be overlayed across all your company functions. Ford advises companies starting out on their DEI journey to, “Start early, set goals, and lead with data. Beyond that, collaborate with your people analytics team, HR, and your legal team to access and assess data. And don’t just stop at data analysis – it’s the actions that you derive from the data that matter most.”
By sharing [representation data] publicly, we build trust with our employees and customers. We also listened to our employees’ feedback and iterated by adding new levels of transparency over time, including intersectionality and historical year-over-year data.Molly Q. Ford, VP of global equality programs, Salesforce
By closely evaluating internal employee survey results, Ford’s team established a formal mentorship and sponsorship program for women of color at the company. According to a State of Black Women in Corporate America report, 59% of Black women said they’ve never had an informal interaction with senior leaders at work. This lack of access means Black women are less likely to be included in important conversations about company priorities and strategy, and they have fewer opportunities for advancement and promotion. “Through internal data and external research, we clearly identified an opportunity and set forth fixing it,” said Ford. “We are in the early stages and are guided by the voices of our Black women employees.”
When you’re driving diversity in the workplace, manage it in the same meticulous and data-driven way you manage the rest of your business. Use data to plan, track, set goals, and build an accountability process. To guide this, Ford said we need bold leaders who are committed to creating lasting impact.
”Diversity and inclusion initiatives should not work in a silo. Overlay them across all your company functions,” Ford said.