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The CEO of Salesforce Found Out His Female Employees Were Paid Less Than Men. His Response Is a Priceless Leadership Lesson

Marc Benioff doesn't believe you can be a decent CEO in 2018 if you're not committed to paying women and men equally.

According to a press release by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), new U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that women working full time on average "still make 80 cents compared to every dollar men make." At the current rate of progress in closing the gap, states the report, "women will not receive pay equity until the year 2119."

Fortunately, we are ushering in a new era of hiring and promotion practices led by conscious leaders intolerant of the existing gender pay gap.

One such leader is the CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff. The San Francisco-based cloud computing company that sells customer relationship management tools landed the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row in a prestigious list of "Companies That Care," while continuing to level the playing field regarding pay equality. 

Pay gap between men and women at Salesforce

According to a press release out yesterday, it was chief personnel officer Cindy Robbins who first raised the issue of a pay gap between men and women at Salesforce.

"We wanted to figure out what we could do to help other women at Salesforce," said Robbins. She brought it to the attention of Benioff in 2015, who was at first stunned and in denial but quickly stepped up to fix what would be a $6 million problem.  

As Quartz reported last September, an audit uncovered a statistical difference in pay between men and women. "It was everywhere," Benioff admitted in a 60 Minutes interview. "It was through the whole company, every department, every division, every geography."

Benioff fixed the problem by dedicating $3 million that year to correct the discrepancy, and then another $3 million in 2017 to correct compensation differences by gender, race, and ethnicity across the company.

He also created a new rule that would make it more likely that women would be promoted and seen as leaders.

"Like, we would have a meeting and I would look around the room and I'm like, 'This meeting is just men. Something is not right,'" he told 60 Minutes. So he announced he would not hold a meeting unless 30 percent of the participants were women.

As you would imagine, under Benioff's progressive leadership, Salesforce has become a strong equality advocate for its own workforce and in the communities it serves -- whether it is gender, LGBTQ, racial, national origin, or religious equality.

As a result, the firm has racked up several awards over the years, including an impressive list in 2018 alone:

  • Best Workplaces in Chicago 2018 (ranked No. 1)
  • Best Workplaces for Giving Back 2018 (ranked No. 1)
  • Best Workplaces in the Bay Area 2018 (ranked No. 1)
  • Best Workplaces for Technology 2018 (ranked No. 3)
  • Best Workplaces for Millennials 2018 (ranked No. 2)
  • Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 2018 (ranked No. 1)

"There's no excuse"

More and more executives at the helm of companies like Salesforce are being intentional about eliminating gender bias by implementing clear policies and guidelines against gender pay gaps, and making sure salaries are regularly reviewed for gender parity.

And that's what makes Benioff stand out. He believes you can't be a decent CEO in 2018 if you're not committed to gender equality. In his campaign to raise awareness, he's had to convince plenty of other male execs of not only its importance but also that the problem of a pay gap actually does exist.

"I've had CEOs call me and say, 'This is not true. This is not real,'" he told 60 Minutes. "And I'll say to them, 'This is true. Look at the numbers.'"

"CEOs, with one button on one computer, can pay every man and every woman equally," he adds. "We have the data. We know what everyone makes. There's no excuse."

Update: Salesforce has spent another $2.7 million on closing pay gaps to adjust the salaries of 6 percent of its global 30,000 person workforce, as reported by Biz Women.

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