How To Enact Your Company Values: Lessons from Salesforce

Salesforce’s Gender Equality Solution: No More Empty Talk

Last month, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced that his company had enough of all the Silicon Valley empty talk about gender equality. Not satisfied with a values statement everyone ignores, the cloud computing company shattered a gender pay gap it once said didn’t exist. How’d they do it, and how can you follow their footsteps to break out from the crowd?

“We can say we pay women the same that we pay men. We looked at every single salary.”

By every measure most use, is a success story for the ages. But a couple years ago, Benioff looked around at company meetings and noticed that all the executives were men. The Women’s Surge was born. Benioff set out to create a climate of genuine equality at Salesforce. He committed to providing better training, more opportunities for advancement, and a greater level of participation in leadership decisions for women in his company.

Two women who benefited from the surge caught Benioff off guard with a claim he couldn’t believe: despite the company’s efforts at equality, women still weren’t being paid the same as men at Salesforce. How’d he respond?

“We looked at every single salary,” Benioff said at this month’s Fortune Global forum. One by one, they painstakingly compared every man’s salary with the equivalent woman’s salary for the same job. What’d they find? In many cases, women were making less than men.

How are they responding? Salesforce is currently raising the salaries of the women making less than men to close the gap and raise the bar. While others deny the pay gap exists and hide behind payroll secrecy, and others spout vague, complicated rhetoric, Salesforce ponied up over $3 million (so far) to end the company’s discrimination against women on payday.

Do you have the guts to stand out and lead? If so, here are four takeaways from Benioff’s approach to running Salesforce that you can incorporate into the script for your startup success story.

Define success the right way.

“Early in my career, during my first few years at Oracle, I defined my success by making money and achieving power. By my early thirties, however, I realized that these superficial achievements did not provide real meaning or true happiness. Despite a list of impressive titles and a pile of material possessions, I felt that something was missing, and began to consider my place in the world and how I could make a difference.” – Mark Benioff, Behind the Cloud

What’s your most important business objective? Everyone has a spotlight on the bottom line. But Benioff decided early on that a company worth billions of dollars wasn’t going to bring him anything more than superficial success.

What’s the greater purpose for your startup’s existence? How will you make the world around you a better place, beyond providing an awesome product and winning the hearts and minds of your target market so they’ll line your pockets?

Everything flows from what you value most. When you value others, it shows in your actions and in the performance of your company. Benioff is well known for his  1/1/1 model, where his company donates 1% of its employees’ time, 1% of its technology, and 1% of its resources to give back to the community.

What about you? Beyond your bottom line, how will you make a difference in the lives of those who don’t get the same breaks you’ve gotten? Once you’re clear on how you can contribute, expecting nothing in return, you’ll naturally become known as a company others want to do business with.

Establish your non-negotiable values right now, and filter every choice through those core standards. Create a legacy worth remembering.

Show. Don’t just tell.

Benioff did more than blow hot air about diversity. In male-dominated Silicon Valley, he could’ve pointed to platitudes and vague generalizations about equality without much backlash. Every tech company believes in diversity, fairness, and equal opportunity. Just ask them. They’ll tell you all about the core beliefs they say guide what they do. Look around the boardrooms of those companies. Check out their payrolls, if you can find them.

Actions show what drives a company. Even someone with a reputation for equality refused to accept that women made less in his company than men. The principle was worth more than the image he projected, and he took action. Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day details that you forget to take action on the most important things. Show what you believe in, and gain a following of people who want to buy from you (and follow in your footsteps).

Become the best listener you know.

When executives approached Benioff about Salesforce paying women less than men, he could’ve easily dismissed such a suggestion out of hand. He had every reason to doubt such a claim and shrug it off, because his entire culture was built around attracting, hiring, promoting, and training women on par with men. And he didn’t believe what he was told.

But he listened. He took it to heart and promised to look into it. His company reviewed every salary individually and found that he did have a problem. The change in salaries came as a result of Benioff listening carefully with an open mind to people he thought were dead wrong.

What advice have you received recently that you think is dead wrong? What’s the worst that could happen if you carefully consider it? You might discover, like Benioff did, that you’re violating your most important values without even knowing it.

Take the long view.

Many startups are short-lived because they’re short-sighted. It’s not enough to ask where you see yourself a year from now or a decade from now. Who do you want to serve? How can you serve more, give more, offer more, listen more, and learn more?

With the long view, you’ll naturally innovate. You’ll naturally attract the best ideas, the best people, and the best customers. Isn’t that a legacy worth chasing? If so, and you’re not sure what step to take next, give us a call. Let’s craft a clear, concise, compelling message together so your brand gets the attention it deserves.


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