Upon hearing this, I’ll admit I started thinking like the CEO of a publicly traded company. What if they’re right? I wondered. Could it be a $10 million hit? Or $50 million?
I had always thought I was more progressive on gender equality than most male technology executives. Now I was about to get the chance to prove it.
“OK, I agree.” I said. “Let’s do this.”
We assembled a cross-functional team and developed a methodology with outside experts that analyzed the entire employee population to determine whether there were unexplained differences in pay.
When the results came back a few months later, they were tough to swallow. Salesforce did have a pay gap; glaring differences were scattered throughout every division, department, and geographical region. The virus, in other words, was everywhere.
I couldn’t help but hang my head. I was disappointed and, frankly, chastened. These problems were so close to home that I’d failed to see them clearly. That day, I informed my board and executive team that Salesforce would soon be incurring some additional expenses.
In all, we found that 6 percent of employees, mostly women, would need their salaries adjusted upward, and the total cost of these adjustments worked out to about $3 million. That’s not a small sum, but given how profoundly appropriate and necessary this was, it seemed like a relative bargain.
In the months that followed, I began to speak out about pay equality—everywhere from a dinner at the Los Angeles home of actress Patricia Arquette to an innovation summit in Tokyo to the White House. So you can imagine my astonishment and, to be honest, embarrassment, when Cindy came to see me again.
One year after conducting our first audit, we’d run the numbers again. Turned out we needed to spend another $3 million adjusting the salaries of employees whose compensation had fallen out of whack since the last audit. “How can this be?” I asked.
It gave me some relief to discover that these figures were largely a consequence of growth. We’d recently gotten about 17 percent bigger after buying two dozen companies, and it turned out that in the process we hadn’t just inherited their technology but their pay practices and culture, too.
Realizing that this had the potential to become a recurring problem, we decided to take more stringent measures. We devised a new set of job codes and standards and applied them to each newly integrated company, to make sure everyone performing similar work was similarly compensated from day one. From there, the Employee Success team began reviewing merit increases, bonuses, stock grants, and promotions to root out disparities there, too.
Equalizing pay wasn’t an easy process, or a cheap one: After our third pay assessment, we’d spent a total of $8.7 million addressing differences in pay based on gender, race, and ethnicity.
But it has already begun to pay off in incalculable ways, and its benefits will continue to accrue for years. Already, our commitment to equality has helped land us the number one spot on Fortune’s list of best companies to work for, as well as the top spot on People magazine’s list of “Companies That Care” two years in a row. And it has contributed to our ability to attract the very best and brightest talent in the country.
Since Cindy and Leyla walked into my office in 2015, I’ve learned a great deal about how a company’s culture can breed inequality in ways small and large. “Unconscious bias” is a big one, and unfortunately it’s also a swamp you can step into even when your intentions are good. And step into it I still sometimes do.
During a March 2017 event at Salesforce headquarters, I hosted a session to introduce our new product road map. We were also celebrating Salesforce’s 18th birthday, so my wife, Lynne, came along.