Why creating a more diverse organisation is a journey every business should be on

In your opinion, what should diversity mean to a business today?

At Salesforce, we believe that the business of business is to make the world a better place. This is best expressed in our drive to establish Equality for All, which means working together to create a world where everyone has equal rights, equal pay for equal work, equal access to education, and equal opportunities for success

A diverse workforce is also critical to the development of the most innovative products, attracting and retaining the best talent, and providing the best experience for customers.

Alongside creating a diverse workforce, it’s vital to also look at the root causes of the diversity issue and ensure that companies develop an inclusive working environment; one where all employees are empowered to voice their opinions and feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the table. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand and focusing on diversity alone can only take you so far.

Where do you think some organisations go wrong with their approach to diversity?

Organisations are mistaken if they see diversity simply as a project or campaign with an end-date. It’s not an issue that can be put on the backburner.

To achieve real change, the tone must be set from the top. Diversity needs to be an intrinsic part of the living, breathing culture of the organisation. Businesses that are driving change are those that consider it every day, at every level of the company and throughout their programmes and processes.

At Salesforce we give our senior leaders diversity ‘score cards’ every month. We’ve found it helps our leaders keep the issue top of mind, and provides insight into where their teams can improve. We’ve also introduced inclusive hiring practices that aim to remove any unconscious bias from the recruitment process. No matter the initiative, we’re also always learning and updating the steps we take.

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From purely a business perspective, how important is diversity of people in a technology organisation?

The technology sector, like almost every other industry, faces a diversity gap. This is an issue that’s felt across all organisations and all sectors and it crosses so many threads from gender and race to religion, sexuality and socio-economic backgrounds – each of which contributes to the cognitive diversity of a team.

Creating a more diverse business brings with it countless benefits. Having that cognitive diversity can improve a team’s performance by highlighting a range of views on how to assess or solve a challenge. A more diverse workforce also enables companies to better reflect their customers and therefore better understand them. In my experience customers come from all walks of life, and they want to see their partners reflect this diversity and breadth of background. A commitment to diversity helps businesses attract and retain the best talent too, ultimately delivering better results for customers.

Looking more specifically at gender diversity, research indicates that companies with women in senior management positions outperform those without. In fact, according to research from McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.

How does Salesforce approach diversity and how has that approach evolved over the last few years?

At Salesforce, equality is one of our core values and an important part of our culture and we make a conscious effort to ensure Salesforce is an equal workplace that fosters diversity.

Under the stewardship of our Chief Equality Officer, we’re working hard to create an environment where all employees have equal rights, equal pay for equal work, equal access to further training and equal opportunities for success.

Our culture is based on the ethos of ‘Ohana’, the idea taken from the Hawaiian culture, that families – biological, adopted or ‘intentionally’ are connected and responsible for each other’s well-being. We host a range of Ohana Groups where employees celebrate and bring together diverse team members and their allies.

We’ve also adopted a top down, bottom up approach to tackling the issue. For example, we’ve introduced a policy of at least 30% women in all major meetings. Not only is this having an impact on gender imbalance every single day, having that ‘critical mass’ of diversity in the room is also leading to better outcomes as we increase the cognitive diversity and level of inclusion in the room.

There have been many large efforts in the last few years to tackle technology’s gender imbalance, yet in terms of the numbers that come from studies of the industry, female representation in the industry seems to have changed very little. Why do you think this is?

There are many reasons for this lack of female representation, but I think at its heart is the fact that for many people – girls in particular – there is still a perception that the tech industry is not for them. This is putting girls off studying STEM subjects, considering a career in the sector, and believing that they can reach the top.

Equal access to a quality education and training is critical to set up the next generation for success in the future workforce. At Salesforce, we engage with our local communities by adopting schools, volunteering in classrooms, promoting STEM education, and creating job training programs.

What ultimately needs to be done to shift these stubborn numbers?

Encouraging more girls to study STEM subjects at school is a good first step. However, it’s everyone’s responsibility to address this issue, not just universities and schools. Businesses can support in a variety of ways, from providing funding to STEM charities to volunteers giving up their free time to mentor and support students. The industry can also show girls what they can achieve through a career in technology. Highlighting the solid career paths and remuneration that the technology industry provides is one part of this. Another is showcasing female role models. Programmes like the Vitesse Media Women in IT Awards have a key part to play in changing the perception of technology as a ‘boys club’, by drawing attention to the contribution of women to the industry.

Addressing unconscious bias can also help to shift these stubborn numbers. For instance, Salesforce provides all managers with access to unconscious bias training – from understanding how unconscious bias affects employee performance to recognising bias within the workplace and during the recruitment process. With Salesforce’s Trailhead program this training is open to all not just Salesforce employees or managers.

>See also: EXCLUSIVE: How to achieve diversity and inclusivity within the office environment 

Women in technology are urged all of the time to step forward and be role models to other women, but how can they actually go about doing this?

There are plenty of opportunities now open for women of all levels to be role models to other women and girls. These range from mentoring – something many senior executives at Salesforce do – to supporting non-profits in this area or even working with your local community. For instance, colleagues of mine often go back to their local high schools and colleges and speak with students about their experiences.

Another avenue for senior female role models is through projects that support tech skills. One such initiative I admire is Stemettes. It offers support and training for those entering into the tech industry. To date they’ve already helped more than 17,000 young women across Europe and provided training for those as young as five and those just weeks away from entering the workplace.

What, in your view, is the future of the technology industry when it comes to its diversity?

Diversity is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for the technology industry and for the British economy as a whole. We’re now in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where rapid evolution of technologies and disruption of regional job markets have the potential to either widen equality gaps or bridge them. As a result, equality becomes an increasingly important consideration in how we design our technology products, develop our workforce and educate our future generations. In this new era, leading for business and leading for society will go hand in hand.


Salesforce is a premium sponsor of the Women in IT Awards, the world’s largest tech diversity event

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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