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Salesforce was supposed to become a diversity role model. Here’s why its Office of Equality has struggled to move the needle. (CRM)

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When employees arrive at Salesforce’s imposing 61-story tower in San Francisco’s South of Market district, it’s not uncommon to be greeted by Tony Prophet. The 58-year old executive, impeccably-dressed, regularly works the lobby like a proud owner of a new home, eagerly introducing himself to some of the enterprise software giant’s roughly 54,000 workers.

Prophet is Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer, and his passion and trademark pizzazz are visible in everything his group does, from sophisticated Twitter campaigns to high-wattage events with celebrity guests like Janelle Monáe and Mila Kunis.

The prominent emphasis on diversity is in character with the company’s reputation as the tech industry’s moral compass for social justice and progressive ideals. Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO and founder, pioneered the notion of donating 1% of the company’s equity, 1% of its employees’ time, and 1% of its product to philanthropic causes. He led tech’s charge against Indiana’s contentious “bathroom bill.” His latest book, “Trailblazer,” is a treatise on creating a fulfilling corporate culture.

But behind the high-profile diversity push is an inconvenient truth: Four years after Prophet was hired by Benioff to launch the new group, Salesforce’s employee diversity numbers have barely budged. Earlier this month, Salesforce released its latest equality report: The number of Black employees in Salesforce’s US workforce is now 3.5%, compared to 2% in 2015; The rate of improvement for Latinx representation is especially meager, inching up from 4% in 2015 to 4.5% in the company’s latest report.

People of color are underrepresented at the leadership level, as well, with Black representation clocking in just slightly above 2% for US execs at and above the VP level.

Salesforce’s mediocre diversity results are about the same as the rest of the tech industry, which is to say, abysmal. Google’s 3.9% Black representation in its US workforce and Microsoft’s 4.5% ratio are slightly above Salesforce, though both have much larger workforces, and Microsoft has been recruiting from historically black colleges since the late 1990s.

Prophet admits that progress has been slower than he’d like.

“We would be the first to acknowledge that there is much more work to do, and there are places where we could have gone faster in hindsight,” Prophet told Business Insider in an interview.

While Prophet says the pieces are now in place for diversity to accelerate, the track record of the last four years begs the question of why even a company like Salesforce — with vast financial resources, a publicly supportive CEO and engineers with the smarts to tackle artificial intelligence — hasn’t been able to move the needle more significantly when it comes to building a representative workforce.

Business Insider spoke to 18 current and former Salesforce employees, as well as several diversity and inclusion experts, to see firsthand how tech’s role-model company has tried to solve the industry’s longstanding diversity problem and why it hasn’t worked better.

Without a playbook to turn to, Salesforce’s Equality Office has had to learn a lot on the fly. Unlike some of Salesforce’s previous equality achievements, such as spending millions to close its gender wage gap, the deep-rooted inequities in society that reach into corporate America are not so easily fixed.

According to many of the people Business Insider spoke to, Salesforce’s celebrated equality project is beset by fundamental flaws that have blunted its impact — and for some, even raised doubts about the $240 billion company’s commitment to match fanfare with hard work.

As a pioneer for progressive values, Salesforce’s ability to recognize its shortcomings, and learn from them, is being watched closely inside and outside the company.

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