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This Is What Happens When A CEO Actually Cares About Equality For Women

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/11/2015 Emily Peck
ATHENA IMAGE © Bloomberg via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

The price of gender equality: $3 million.

That's how much cloud-based software company Salesforce has so far spent on adjusting the salaries of its workers so that men and women are paid fairly, Chief Executive Marc Benioff said at a conference sponsored by Fortune magazine earlier this week. To put it into perspective, the company did $5 billion in revenue for its 2015 fiscal year.

"We’ve looked at every single female employee's salary," Benioff said at the Fortune Global Forum on Tuesday. "So we can say we pay women the same as we pay men." 

"My job is to make sure that women are treated 100 percent equally at Salesforce in pay, opportunity and advancement," Benioff told The Huffington Post earlier this year when he announced that the company would audit everyone's pay.

Salesforce expects this to be an ongoing process that it will continually monitor, head of HR Cindy Robbins explained in a blog post in September. 

Plenty of companies analyze salary for pay inequities, but typically they're looking for red flags that would lead to discrimination lawsuits. And they're rarely public about the work. What Salesforce is doing -- trying to achieve pay equality and speaking loudly about it -- is different. The tech company has already inspired others, including Pinterest, to take a look at their pay practices. 

Salesforce's efforts send a strong message about what can be done for women in the workplace when leadership makes a real effort. 

Benioff's push for equality has also led to an increase in promotions for women at the firm. Thirty-two percent of female employees at Salesforce were promoted in a 12-month period ending in July, compared to 24 percent in the year prior, Robbins wrote in her blog post.

The gender pay gap is a problem both within companies and throughout the economy. Women make 74 cents to a man's dollar in the U.S., according to a report out this week from PayScale. Even when you control for job type, experience or college major, the gap persists, HuffPost reporter Shane Ferro wrote on Thursday.

"The message is pretty clear: Time to give women a promotion and a raise," said Ferro.

Benioff got that message from two of his own female employees -- Leyla Seka, a vice president, and Robbins. They approached him about the pay issue earlier this year, sparking the pay audit of the company's more than 17,000 employees.

Benioff was already thinking about encouraging women at Salesforce. He'd launched an internal program -- called Women's Surge -- in 2013, with an eye to putting more women in leadership positions.

Seka was one of those women who rose in the company because of the "Surge," she told HuffPost in April. "I feel lucky to work for a CEO that is passionately devoted to creating a workforce that we want," she said.

Seka and Robbins told Forbes that they hope Salesforce's efforts will inspire other companies. "We want an equal world," Seka said.

Like its peers in the tech industry, Salesforce has a male-heavy workforce, particularly on the technical side: Men hold 77 percent of tech roles at the company. And women hold only 19 percent of leadership position -- though that's up from 15 percent a year ago. 

“We have a ways to go,” Mr. Benioff told the New York Times in July. “If we started the company again, we would have a 50-50 ratio among employees, engineers and leaders. But once you get this big, it’s hard.”

You can't go back in time, but, as he's proving now, there's plenty of other things you can do.

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