If he could go back in time and change one thing, Marc Benioff says he would have placed a focus on diversity and women in leadership when founding Salesforce. Sixteen years later, he views the exclusion of this focus as a mistake, but has added the topics of equality, equal pay and diversity to his “transformation zone,” according to a fireside chat at the inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit at Dreamforce 2015.
Benioff, along with Salesforce co-founder Parker Harris, was interviewed by Kara Swisher, executive editor for Re/code, who spoke with the executives on what they’re doing to change the status of women in technology.
Benioff was quick to admit that he’s not trying to solve a Silicon Valley problem or a technology problem – he’s first solving a Salesforce problem. And he’s taking it to heart, making it clear that gender equality, diversity and equal pay aren’t HR issues, but something that needs to take priority in the C-suite.
“We have to set a good example…and try to be the change we’re seeking,” he said, noting that the change needs to start at the top. “Anything that requires transformation requires a CEO to take it personally and prioritize it. It’s got to be a top down approach.”
It’s an approach that was reinforced by Cindy Robbins, EVP of Global Employee Success at Salesforce, in her introduction of the panel.
“CEOs have a responsibility to make their company a better place,” she said, describing the path to presenting Benioff with a proposal around equal pay. Robbins joined forces with Leyla Seka, SVP and GM of Desk.com, and the two spoke with Benioff together.
“I didn’t want it to be an HR initiative,” Robbins said. “I wanted it to be bigger.”
One of the first outcomes of this meeting was the inclusion of the Women’s Leadership Summit into Dreamforce programming.
“Will we ever do a Dreamforce again without a Women’s Leadesrhip Summit? Absolutely not,” Benioff said, to which Swisher replied that hopefully one day it wouldn’t be needed.
The Women’s Leadership Summit programming included presentations from female leaders like The Honest Company’s founder Jessica Alba, YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki, Academy Award-winning actress and activist, Patricia Arquette, and CoderDojo CEO Mary Moloney.
If you didn’t get a chance to tune in live to Dreamforce, you can watch the session recordings here: https://www.salesforce.com/video/