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Salesforce Chairman Marc Benioff to Receive Variety’s EmPOWerment Award

Proving it is possible to close the pay gap between women and men in the workforce, enterprise software company Salesforce, under chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, has effectively bridged that disparity for its 28,000 global employees.

Salesforce’s cloud-based, customer relationship management program allows businesses to manage their sales, service and marketing online rather than spending on IT infrastructure. The San Francisco-headquartered company has a market value of more than $66 billion; Benioff is not only an entrepreneur, but also a philanthropist committed to using his and his company’s business acumen for the greater good. He recently spoke at the U.N. and participated in the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit.

It was a concerted effort to accomplish parity, says Cindy Robbins, Salesforce’s president and chief people officer. Beginning in 2015, Benioff established a program within the company to identify female executives with promise and mandating that these “high-potential” women would be included in quarterly operational review meetings.

The next step became, “How can we be more overt about bringing women’s issues to table?” says Robbins, who along with a colleague broached the issue of equal pay. Benioff quickly agreed that equality had to be a core value of the company. “It turns out, getting his support was the easy part,” says Robbins.

A company-wide audit and evaluation began: compensation was analyzed by employee groups in comparable roles to determine pay scale differences. Initially the company spent close to $3 million to reduce salary differences to ensure that those employees performing similar work at the same level were paid consistently. In 2017, the company conducted a second assessment and spent another $3 million to address variances.

Robbins explains that pay gaps exist for a variety of reasons from hiring and promotional practices to women carrying a gap from previous employment. Per the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest stats, women on average earn 21% less than male counterparts in the same job.

Champions for equal pay include actress Patricia Arquette, who famously called for wage equality during her supporting actress acceptance speech at the 2015 Oscars. Benioff is among the first CEOs to address the issue.

“Our employees and company have responded really well as a whole,” says Robbins, who credits Benioff for doing the right thing. “The CEO sets the tone and vision and we could not have done this without Marc. He drives the message,” says the HR exec. She explains other companies can follow suit by closely examining compensation data; despite numerous variables (such as job level), an inspection will most likely yield discrepancies.

Notes the exec, “Employees want companies to pay them fairly.”

As Benioff confirmed to Variety via email, “We can create a world where every woman is paid the same as her male counterpart, where equality for all is not an ideal, but a reality.”

Variety’s EmPOWerment Award is given to a male executive who uses his influence to further gender equality in the workplace. Previous recipients include Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group, and Jim Gianopulos, Paramount Pictures CEO.

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