Salesforce's Chief People Officer explains how and why the company has spent $8.7 million to close its gender pay gap

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Cindy RobbinsGettyCindy Robbins

  • On Tuesday at Business Insider's IGNITION conference, Salesforce Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins shared the story of how her company became committed to equal pay for its employees.
  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was initially surprised by Robbins' request, but ultimately he agreed.
  • Over the last three years, Salesforce has paid around $8.7 million to close its gender pay gap.
  • "Unless you have flawless systems and flawless processes, you're going to have to run the audit every single year," Robbins explained. "This was not a one-and-done thing."
  • Robbins says Salesforce's effort around equal pay is a call to action for other companies to start doing the same.

On Tuesday at Business Insider's IGNITION conference, Salesforce President and Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins shared the story of how the cloud software company became committed to equal pay for its employees. It's a story that she first brought to the public's attention on 60 minutes earlier this year.

Robbins said it started around 2014, when CEO Marc Benioff held his quarterly meeting with 60 to 70 top executives at Salesforce - and realized there were hardly any women in the room. Benioff knew there were strong female leaders within the company, and decided that moving forward. at least 30% of attendees to that meeting would be women.

"He gave us a seat at the table," Robbins remembers. "Our job was to stay invited to those meetings - which we did."

Read more: Match Group's CEO audited the company's payroll to make sure she was paying women equally and was surprised at the results

Robbins rose the ranks at Salesforce and became the head of human relations - or officially, Chief People Officer. Soon after the promotion she starting thinking: "Why isn't easier for women to elevate at Salesforce?"

Here's the story of how Salesforce became a company committed to equal pay, as shared at Business Insider's IGNITION conference:

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Salesforce's Chief People Officer explains how and why the company has spent $8.7 million to close its gender pay gap
Robbins (second from the right) teamed up with Leyla Seka (far right), an executive VP, and formed a list of how to help women grow in their careers at Salesforce. Equal pay was a concept they could not ignore. Robbins and Seka met with Benioff and — without any data — said they wanted to investigate whether Salesforce had a pay gap between men and women.

Benioff was surprised at the request given the efforts he and his team had made to make Salesforce a place of equal opportunity and benefits. But ultimately he agreed and supported the initiative.

Since an audit like this had never been conducted at Salesforce, Robbins and Seka had first to assemble a team of internal and external experts and define their methodology. They then assessed all of Salesforce's some 30,000 employees and made the necessary adjustments to their compensation to close the gap.
Salesforce has run its equal pay assessment for three years now, and spending less on compensation adjustments each time.

Salesforce acquires lots of companies, Robbins explains. In 2017, it acquired 14 companies. And, as she points out: "When you acquire 14 companies, you acquire not just their technology and their people, but also their pay practices."

Also, Robbins says the audit is a continuous learning process, and their methodology wasn't perfect from the start.

In total, Salesforce has paid around $8.7 million for equal pay over the last three years.
Robbins says she gets questions about why Salesforce has to run an audit every year. "Unless you have flawless systems and flawless processes, you're going to have to run the audit every single year," she explained. "That's one thing I aligned with Marc [Benioff] very early on, that this was not a one and done thing."

One of the most significant process changes Salesforce made was during the recruitment process. Instead of asking candidates about their current compensation, Salesforce recruiters and hiring managers now ask: "What is the compensation you expect?"

Otherwise, Robbins explained, new employees are simply bringing in their pay gap from their previous employer.

"One thing around equal pay is the tremendous impact it has around culture," Robbins said. Since implementing the equal pay audit in 2016, employee sentiment around whether they thought they were paid fairly rose from 80% to 92%.

Salesforce has also increased the number of women employees by 2,000 in the last year and increased the number of female in leadership roles by 34% since instituting the assessment.

Robbins says Salesforce effort around equal pay is a call to action for other companies to start doing the same.

She also reiterated that the equal pay initiative couldn't have happened without the buy-in from their CEO, Marc Benioff.

Robbins closed by telling attendees, "The power is in the data. Every company, no matter the size of your company, you have all the data. There's really no excuse not to look at it."
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