Molly Q. Ford of Salesforce: We Do Equality Because It Feels Good, But Also Because There’s a Business Value

I’m just back from this week’s TrailheaDX developer conference put on by Salesforce.  But it’s like no other developer conference I’ve ever been to. That’s because in addition to the expected focus on coding, languages, platforms, integrations, etc, the whole event was infused with equality from a variety of perspectives.  And it wasn’t a bolt-on, side-show or after thought to just say we think equality is good. It was at the heart of the event, as many if not most of the presenters were women developers and people of color.

And as part of the event, Salesforce celebrated the efforts of the company’s developer community to extend the opportunity for underrepresented groups to get involved with building apps and participating in financial rewards that come with being a cloud developer.  

While I was there as an industry analyst to hear more about how the Salesforce platform is progressing and how the company is providing tools to make it easier for coders and non-coders to leverage the toolset, it was great to see a diverse group of people demonstrating and teaching the 10 thousand registered attendees how to build all different kinds of apps.  And even the inspirational stories were diverse, with my favorite being a fireside chat between Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, and the extraordinary Betty Reid Soskin, the nation’s oldest park ranger at 96 years young!

With equality being so central to the culture of Salesforce, I was glad to spend a few minutes talking with Molly Q. Ford, Senior Director of Global Equality for Salesforce.  Molly shared with me why Salesforce has placed equality at the heart of the organization, the business impact it is already having on the company, and why it is important to the future of the organization when it comes to attracting millennials to the company.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To see the full interview, play the video below or click the embedded SoundCloud player.

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Molly Q. Ford of Salesforce: We Do Equality Because It Feels Good, But Also Because of the Business Value of EqualitySmall Business Trends:  One of the things I wanted to talk to you about is the whole role of equality in Salesforce, but before we do that, maybe you could give me a little bit of your personal background.

Molly Q. Ford: I am seven years part of the Salesforce Ohana. Ohana is the Hawaiian term for family, so our chosen family, part of the employee base here. I started my career as a communications person. Throughout my years, I would always look for representation or opportunities to see people like me on stage, to see those people reflected back at me. I started organically during my PR tenure here at Salesforce to work on putting women on stage, people of color and really wanting to see that community reflected in the voices that we hear from Salesforce. That lead to me creating the Women’s Summit at Dreamforce. That was 2015 and that was taking Dreamforce, known as the world’s largest software conference, and spending one whole day dedicated to exploring women leaders, women thought leaders. So, you see these amazing conversations happening on stage and then you look up there and say wow those are all ladies. Really powerful. That grew into me creating my own role.

I moved into employee success or what we call HR here, working on diversity and within months, the company decided we’ve done things to advocate for LGBTQ in Indianapolis. We’ve done equal pay. We focus on high potential women and advanced in gender equality in Salesforce, but we really wanted a team that would be proactive and be accountable. Where’s the accountability? Who’s driving this strategy for the company?

So, think about Salesforce in that we have four core values: Trust; trust being our number one value, trust with our employees, trust with our customers. Then growth, innovation, and then equality. So we said, how do we really live out equality and manage that? With that, we hired Tony Prophet as our Chief Equality Officer. Tony had been a long-time customer of Salesforce from HP and Microsoft and he had the opportunity to move and to become part of our Salesforce Ohana and we built a team that said we need to focus on driving equality for the company.

How do we turn this into a core value? We actually want equality as if we’re a business unit, like we’re a cloud strategy for the company.  We have a V2MOM, as you know our guiding principle for the company.

Small Business Trends:  Just so folks know, what does V2MOM …

Molly Q. Ford: Yep, absolutely. Vision, and then your Values, Methods, Obstacles, Measures. So if we said my V2MOM is to lose weight, then we say, okay how do we all make that happen and what’s our vision for that, and what’s our methods? How are we gonna get that done? Is that drink water, exercise, run a marathon, and what are your obstacles and measures to have that happen? So we created the office of equality. I like to say that my day job is to sell equality, to bring our employees on this journey. I need 30,000 employees and our customers to join us on this path to equality.

The Business Value of Equality

Small Business Trends:  Salesforce has been a really successful company over the years. What role is equality playing in that ongoing success and what role will it play in the future?

Molly Q. Ford: Well, we know from studies from McKenzie that companies focused on gender and racial equality have the opportunity to outperform their competitors, that they can be more successful. So we do equality because it feels good, but we also do it because there’s a business value. We also think that our equality narrative between equality and giving back with our 1-1-1 model where we’re giving 1% of our employees time to schools, 1% of our equity to non-profits and NGOs [which] can use our products. That’s helping us to attract and retain talent. People want to come to a company that’s saying, wait, we don’t have all the answers, but we’re trying and more importantly we’re saying that we’re going to advocate and stand up for our employees and customers.

Small Business Trends:  You guys are doing a special award around equality tonight.

Molly Q. Ford: Yes.

Small Business Trends:  Equality has become a really central part of Salesforce only starting what, less than two years ago.

Molly Q. Ford: Absolutely.

Small Business Trends:  Why has it become so immediately a part of the culture?

Molly Q. Ford: I think it’s a time where we’ve seen Salesforce make some moves again in Indianapolis, standing up against discriminatory legislation advocating for women and equal pay and this became a time where we said, okay let’s have a concentrated focus. How do we do this and drive our business as well? I think also it’s a time where our employees … You know studies are telling us that millennials want to work for a company that gives them a greater sense of purpose at work, that is doing that advocacy. We saw Marc [Benioff] stand up a couple of weeks ago and talk about CEO activism. A responsibility to not only provide for our shareholders, but also be defenders of our values. And we’re really excited about tonight’s equality awards.

Salesforce Equality Awards will honor trailblazers in equality that have been advocates, that are standing up and using their voice. For example, that’s actress Evan Rachel Wood. She stood up and actually testified about #MeToo, and about harassment that happens within her industry.

Then we have the honorable former [San Francisco] Mayor Edwin Lee. Mayor Lee was strong partner to Salesforce. Especially in driving technology into education. Helping us with our program that’s simply called, Circle the Schools, where Salesforce executives go partner with a principal at a school, a public school and we said, what do you need, and how do we help you. Whether that means buying iPads for the classroom, or that means painting over graffiti and providing a principals discretionary fund. So, that partnership with Mayor Ed Lee was invaluable to Salesforce. He will be missed. So we want to honor his legacy and his wife will be joining us to celebrate his award.

Also, we have the honorable Stevie Wonder. How amazing is that? An equality trailblazer and activist whose music is like the soundtrack of the ’70s, the ’80s and even modern day times. Then we have Emily Chang. She’s also an anchor for Bloomberg, but also the author of Brotopia. So really bringing to light some of the conversations that are happening in Silicon Valley about whether that be a bro culture or about discrimination and how we can really draw gender equality and tech.

Last but not least, because we’re here at TrailheaDX, we want to honor our community developer folks. And that’s Shonna Hughes. And Saturdays she’s teaching Pop Up Tech. She’s taking underserved kids and teaching them how to code. She’s teaching them how to actively get involved in the Salesforce economy. So tonight, we’re gonna take the time to honor those heroes and sheroes of ours. There’s equality trailblazers that are in our community. To just recognize them for the work they’re doing and just let them know that they’re appreciated and part of our Ohana.

Small Business Trends:  If we look out five years from now, where do you hope equality will be, not just for Salesforce, but particularly when it comes to the tech community, where do you see equality being in five years if things that you’re doing catch on with other companies?

Molly Q. Ford: I think a lot of companies have joined us on this journey to equality. We in the valley, we’re sharing best practices, we’re talking. We’ve noticed that no company right now has the answers to solving this, but we’re all working on it. So one thing we’re doing is we’re working on making Salesforce more inclusive. We hope that spreads. How do you come inside our walls and be more inclusive and then how do we spread that externally? In five years, right now, it’s hard to say. There’s so many challenges with equality that we’re facing, but I hope that we evolve. We have those wins along the way and we can celebrate our successes.

Small Business Trends:  And where can people learn more about what Salesforce is doing with equality?

Molly Q. Ford: You can learn about that at We have our equality trailblazer information also in full transparency. We have our diversity data and stats there and reporting out what we’re doing as a company. We have a lot of information about Ohana groups or employee resource groups. Those are the 10 organizations that are employee volunteer lead, that are helping us drive equality inside Salesforce.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.