Tony Prophet on Why Business Must Embrace Equality

Tony Prophet on Why Business Must Embrace Equality

Description: No other major company even has a “chief equality officer.” What does it mean at Salesforce? How can business bring genuine humanity into the workplace?

The following transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading. 

Speaker: Tony Prophet, Salesforce
Interviewer: David Kirkpatrick, Techonomy
(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)
Kirkpatrick: Thank you both, really good. Well, this next session is going to follow on, I think, kind of elegantly from this last one because if you want to look at a company that has sometimes made decisions that would not seem to be necessarily in the best interest of its short-term profit. I have to think that is an extremely interesting and good example. For example, the time when Mike Pence signed the law to legitimize discrimination against gays in Indiana and Marc Benioff basically said that day that if the state didn’t rescind that law, he was going to move his employees out of the state—and there were 3,000 of them I believe—and also cancel a major conference that was scheduled to take place in Indianapolis shortly thereafter.
So what we have now is Tony Prophet, who is the chief equality officer at the company, who has arrived since that incident, actually. But let me just quickly give you—this guy has been in many, many positions of authority in big companies for a long time. He was at Honeywell—wait, what was the next one?
Prophet: United Technologies.
Kirkpatrick: Well, also—
Prophet: Carrier Air Conditioning.
Kirkpatrick: But Honeywell merged with—
Prophet: Other way. AlliedSignal.
Kirkpatrick: AlliedSignal.
Prophet: AlliedSignal when Honeywell combined.
Kirkpatrick: Then you went to United Technologies and become head of operations at all of the Carrier Air Conditioning business—
Prophet: That’s right.
Kirkpatrick: —with 30,000 employees. Then you went to HP as head of operations in the PC division. Then you went to Microsoft and you were the head of business—
Prophet: Windows marketing.
Kirkpatrick: All Windows marketing. That’s a big job at Microsoft. And somehow you ended up at Salesforce. So how did you get from Microsoft to Salesforce being chief equality officer?
Prophet: In fact, it intersects with the story you were just telling. But basically, in my time at HP and later time at Microsoft, it became increasingly core to how I got satisfaction at work and how the mission I saw for myself and broader society of the impact that you could have at a big company, a scale company, with a platform on society. At HP, it was generally around workers’ rights. The rights of young workers, educating women workers on their healthcare choices. Conflict minerals, if you’re not familiar that, that has big, big impacts on what’s happening in society and the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict regions. And the ability for a scale business, like HP with a big supply chain, to make an impact on the world, on the environment, and on—
Kirkpatrick: That was a priority of yours when—
Prophet: It absolutely became.
Kirkpatrick: Yes.
Prophet: And so then when I was at Microsoft, this was kind of in the heat of the convergence of both social media and the power of having a a camera on your smart phone really beginning to shine a light on what was happening in terms of the use of deadly force on our city streets against young people of color. And it was a bit of an awakening for me, just seeing that and kind of a reminder of some of the early days of my youth—you know, I was born in the 1950s and grew up in the 1960s—and harken back and saying, boy, how much progress have we made? You know, asking those questions. Just really not more than five years ago.
At the same time, I was on a journey with my middle son. And my middle son is LGBTQ and just this journey of awareness of what it was like to see the world through his eyes and the challenges and the discrimination that he faced and I saw Salesforce standing up in Indiana. And I wrote Marc an email. And it’s like this tear stained email and just explaining to him—
Kirkpatrick: I didn’t know emails could get tears on them, but maybe.
Prophet: Yes, Yes. It was like a tear emoji. I don’t want to make light of it, because it was a super, super important chapter in my life for me and my son and just say, “Marc, hey, you know, you’re standing up in Indiana and North Carolina and Georgia and Texas, and you’re standing up for tens of millions around the world. Hundreds of millions. It could be a billion plus people that you’re standing for their rights and their right to their identity, of their sexual orientation, of their gender identity. You will never know all the stories. You may know few of those stories. Let me tell you the story of one person. That person is my son. And the doors that you’re opening, you’re literally opening those doors for him.”
And that began a dialogue between myself and Marc. He was at a point in the growth of the company that he felt he needed someone to focus on this full time and I put my name in the hat through an arduous process to ultimately become the company’s first Chief Equality Officer.
Kirkpatrick: So had he already decided that he wanted to have a quote unquote “Chief Equality Officer” or was that something that arose from your dialogues with him? Or how did that—
Prophet: I can’t speak for Marc. I can’t speak for Marc. I think it’s contemporaneous. I certainly wasn’t the genesis of this idea, the spark in Marc’s mind. It was Marc’s genius of this notion that there was a time to broaden the focus of these institutions inside companies beyond diversity and inclusion and think more broadly about equality. And the stands that you take both inside the company as well as in the community at large for your employees and your customers, and your partners, all of your stakeholders standing for equality and using your platform.
Kirkpatrick: And now I remember too, Marc had been right around the same time on this journey with gender equality in pay at Salesforce. I believe he might have spoken about that on this stage the last time he was here. But certainly, that was a big project that Microsoft—I’m sorry, that Salesforce went through to really try to commit itself to equal pay for men and women. And when the study was done, it was found they weren’t equal and he committed a couple million dollars a year to adjust that. So that’s another key element to this, clearly. So—
Prophet: And absolutely essential. And really, those two stories—
Kirkpatrick: Yes.
Prophet: Those are now two of the defining stories of the culture of Salesforce. And you think about it, the company in March will be, March 2019, will be 20 years old. And so these things happen in the last five years. And so relatively recently in the history of the company, these defining stories and this notion of, hey, here we are in 2015 and two executives came up. Cindy Robbins, Leyla Seka, to Marc, and saying, “Hey, we have a problem that we don’t believe that there’s pay parity for people based on their gender identity. And Marc empowered them to go get the data. And to your point they did, they found a gap, and the company made folks whole. No salaries were adjusted down, only up.
Kirkpatrick: So you’re a guy that, you know, you’ve had a long career. You probably don’t even have to be working anymore. You certainly have done so many things. What are you doing in this job and now and why is it so—why, I mean I guess you’ve told us why it’s important for you, but what does it entail? What do you do as chief equality officer?
Prophet: Okay. So we think about driving equality both in the company and broadly. Think about two vectors. And for all of the leaders in the room, the first is you’ve got to have a grass roots base. And I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’m sure if you have a company of any substantial size, you have something called employee resource groups. And so we really focus on making sure these employee resource groups, which represent various aspects of identify. So for example, we have an employee resource group cold BOLDforce, and that’s for the black folks at Salesforce. And we have an employee resource group called OUTforce and that’s for LGBTQ folks at Salesforce.
We have 10 of these employee resource groups, making sure that there is a sense of community, a sense of inclusion, a place to have a conversation for folks that have a shared journey. You can find yourself even if you’re underrepresented. But likewise, importantly, to invite in allies. Because if you just take folks that are underrepresented and could be marginalized in a relatively small group and set them off to the side, you know, it’s harder to have an impact and change in the culture. But really inviting in folks as allies who don’t share that same identity and just come along for the journey and see the world through my eyes and open the aperture or the empathy that you have. So we have 10 employee resource groups. I think that is absolutely essential for a healthy culture. Today at Salesforce, about 50% of the employees, about one in two, are active in one of our employee resource groups.
The second vector is executive engagement and accountability. Making sure that every top executive in the company sees their role in this regardless of how they identify. How do you do that? One of the ways is making sure that the top executives are actually sponsors of these employee resource groups. So we’re connecting those two vectors and making sure that there’s sponsors, mentors, advocates for these groups and likewise holding them accountable for their representation on their teams.
Kirkpatrick: Right.
Prophet: And so every month, every executive that works for the company that has more than 500 folks working for them gets a scorecard. What’s on the scorecard? How many women work for you today? How many women worked for you one month ago? How many women worked for you a year ago this month? How many women did you hire? How many women did you promote? How many women left the company for any reason? And in the US and US only, we do the same for underrepresented folks as well.
And then because we want the entire company, not just the broad cohort but right up to the board, we want the company to look like society, there’s a second scorecard for executives. Same litany. How many women executives? How many did you hire? How many did you promote? How many left the company? Same exact set of data and there’s, you know, for any well-run company, the fuel of management is data. And so providing these data has been super powerful to encouraging people and them seeing things that the optics, where you don’t have to encourage them there’s an issue, they can see the numbers, they can see the reality right there in front of them.
Kirkpatrick: Well, this whole thing is one additional example of how Salesforce is a pioneer because I don’t believe there’s any other company that has a role comparable to yours. How have other companies responded? Both your customers and the general business community now that you’ve been there, what, about a year and a half, right?
Prophet: Two years.
Kirkpatrick: Two years, okay.
Prophet: Yes.
Kirkpatrick: What’s the response been in the broader business community to Salesforce taking this stuff?
Prophet: Yes. I want to give credit. Many large companies have roles. They’re often a diversity and inclusion leader. Maybe one of the differences is those roles are often part of human resources. I report directly to the chairman in this role, so I don’t want to diminish the great work that’s being done by many, many companies. I’m sure folks in the room have these leaders in their companies as well and so broadly—
Kirkpatrick: But language counts as a writer. To call you a chief equality officer is different. So what do they think of that in these other companies?
Prophet: One of the things I had a chance now in the two years to travel around the world and meet many CXO level folks and we were in—we have these world tours and it’s where we take Dreamforce and we go on the road to major cities around the world. And on the evening before the world tour, one in Amsterdam, one in London, the local sales leader said, “Hey, we’re going to have an equality dinner. And rather than talk about product and talk about the cloud and talk about productivity and talk about the fourth industrial revolution, we’re going to invite CEOs to talk simply about—” I’m like, “I don’t know if folks are really going to show up for that.” And then—
Kirkpatrick: That’s what you said?
Prophet: I was concerned, going, “Uh oh.” We’re putting front and center and I have been surprised, pleased, impressed with the level of interest of CXOs, CEOs in these issues in every venue around the world. And you think about, any well-run company, any CMO, any CEO, any board of directors, if you’re not thinking about these issues of diversity and inclusion and equality, what’s happening inside your company, and what it means for your brand, you ultimately are going to have a problem.
Kirkpatrick: Yes.
Prophet: Because these are the things at the forefront of the minds of all of your stakeholders. Certainly your employees and your customers, as well as what it is it that your brand stands for? And so the short answer to your question is there’s been a very, very high level of interest and engagement with CEOs, whatever venue, whatever part of the world I travel to.
Kirkpatrick: One of the things I said at the opening of the conference is that, in my mind, one of the key themes of this conference is to explore this sort of respective role of business and government, right? And if we look at the world right now, I think we’d have to say, and it’s not by any means as US issue only, governments in general are not doing a very good job on equality. I mean look at Bolsonaro. This guy is like a crazy racist basically and also sexist and all kinds of other things “ist.” And he’s becoming president of Brazil. And we have people running a number a number of countries that are similar. When you think of the world at the scale, you know the world, and the relative role of business in society, does doing this job give you any thoughts about how society can move forward regardless? I mean is business capable of playing a bigger role than it has historically in an issue as central as this? I guess that’s what I’m trying to ask.
Prophet: And that’s a great question. You know, for folks in business, it’s really the essential question that we should be wrestling with right now.
Kirkpatrick: Right.
Prophet: What is our responsibility? You know, at any point in history, you can look and say, “Well, this is like unprecedented.” Well, naturally, every point in history is unprecedented. But I honestly feel we’re at an inflection point in the history of civil society and you see, you know, in many parts of the world these forces rising of populism and nationalism and xenophobia and islamophobia and homophobia and transphobia and all of these terrible dark forces in society rising and finding a voice and coming out of the shadows and folks talking about these things. And then, what you see simultaneously, and if you look back at several decades and you saw a world where it was a dipole of you had the citizens and you had government and hopefully balanced by a free press.
And today, you see a polycentric world where businesses increasingly have influence and power and sometimes larger platforms. People are comparing them to the influence that are nation states—small nation states might have. And then you see NGOs, likewise. In this polycentric world, you know that term has been coined as notion of polycentrism, and the increasing importance of the role of businesses to fill a vacuum that has formed in leadership in broader society and that is being darkened. This dark cloud of all these -isms that are rising. Not uniformly. Not uniformly, but you see that happening in many parts of the world.
Kirkpatrick: So business can play maybe a much bigger role. Well you said all of us must be thinking about this kind of thing. That seems to be the implication that, you know, whatever we do, we have to be playing a positive role in what we do. And I think Marc, who I happen to know fairly well, really does look at his responsibility as the leader of Salesforce in that way, which I think has resulted in an extraordinary series of positives for the company and also some social impact.
Prophet: Absolutely. Not only can business play a role, I think business should play a role. You have a platform, it’s a force in society, and a unique opportunity to influence the course of human history at this juncture in this polycentric world. You know, business leaders, I believe, have an inherent responsibility if you’ve been blessed with a platform by your stakeholders, you’ve got an inherent responsibility to use that platform for the betterment of society. You know, at Salesforce, one of the beautiful things about it is right back to the founding. This notion that the company had a higher purpose, literally to make the world a better place.
If someone came and did an archaeological dig of Salesforce a hundred years from and would it be all about how many dollars or how many Bitcoin or how many euro are you in, or whatever your favorite currency is were made or big IPOs. Hey, those things are certainly important and you’re certainly the interest of your stakeholders and shareholders and investors are important, but also what impact? What impact in terms of making the world a better place, a more equal place, did your enterprise have the world? And I think we all as businesses, as business leaders, we all share that responsibility, today more than ever.
Kirkpatrick: Well it’s interesting to be the Equality Officer when inequality at large is really one of the central challenges that we face across the board in pretty much every dimension of our lives. And it’s really an honor to have you here and thank you so much for coming and talking about your excellent work.
Prophet: Thrilled. Thrilled. Grateful. Grateful and thrilled. Thank you, David.
Kirkpatrick: Thank you so much, Tony.


Tony Prophet

Chief Equality Officer, Salesforce

David Kirkpatrick

Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Techonomy

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