There are a lot of changes happening in the workplace. Some of them positive and long overdue, as companies work to attract and retain candidates from underrepresented populations. And some of them brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and a new normal of increased remote work.

In conjunction with TrailheaDX 2020, Jennifer Stredler, VP of workforce development at Salesforce, sat down with me talk about what companies should be doing to build a diverse workforce. And the programs Salesforce has put in place for training, re-skilling, and hiring people for the jobs of tomorrow. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for readability.

SEE: Diversity and Inclusion policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Change happens when we hold employers and colleagues accountable

Bill Detwiler: So let’s start with just diversity. And talk a little bit about this new normal and what are some of the best practices. What are some of the ways that companies can hire, attract, retain talent from underrepresented [populations]?

Jennifer Stredler: Sure. So I think we are at, obviously, a pretty extraordinary time in the history of our world and a convergence of crises, economic, health. And I think with that comes, obviously, so many challenges. But I see an extraordinary amount of opportunity. And I think when we think about, or when companies think about talent, often there is an instinct to think exclusively about who we hire.

And that is super important. The idea of how we source talent, who has access to opportunity, who has systemically been left behind is a critical question that I think we all need to really dive deep and look at. But I think there is an opportunity and a need to think much more broadly. And so we absolutely need to source talent differently, rethink about whether roles need college degrees, and why historically we’ve said college degree required. But we also need to think about inclusion and a culture of belonging once people join our company.

So how promotion decisions are made. How a culture of acceptance, and inclusion, and difference is fostered across an organization. What our leadership looks like. So we can’t just bring in junior level talent from underrepresented backgrounds, and not see a progression of opportunity for folks. And I think one thing that I’ve also been really excited to see that Salesforce is doing is that we are, of course, thinking about all these things related to our people. But as we think about our response to COVID and to racial justice, we’re also thinking about a variety of other ways that we can and have an obligation to re-look at our practices. So how are we looking at affecting policy? How are we implementing changes to some of our philanthropic work? How are we looking at purchasing decisions? And so I think the response to all of this needs to be comprehensive and not just focused on one particular dimension.


Bill Detwiler: How much of a challenge is that for companies to think holistically about inclusion, about diversity, about creating a positive environment for their workforce, as opposed to just focusing on one or two aspects. Like you mentioned, hiring. So a lot of companies may focus on that, as like you said, the bringing people in. But if they don’t have a promotion strategy that promotes people from underrepresented populations, then the hiring doesn’t matter at all. So how difficult is it for companies to think more broadly about the issue, and not focus on one aspect of the problem?

Jennifer Stredler: I think that by and large people all want to make positive change, but I’m not sure that folks have known how? Or I think, actually a lot of companies and individuals may have not been aware of some of the challenges or some of the leaks in the pipeline, until they’ve been more exposed over the last several months. So I think there’s probably a lot of organizations that have said, “Look, I’m recruiting from really diverse places. And so I’m doing a great job.” And all very well-intended, but hadn’t necessarily been aware of some of the gaps. And I think that’s also a silver lining in the challenges that we’re facing today, is that really important issues are being exposed to some organizations for the first time. Employee activists, so there’s so many amazing people using their voice to say, things need to be different. Holding employers, and colleagues, and each other accountable for really wanting to change practices. And so I’m optimistic that this new normal that we’re in or headed towards, will really create lasting change that’s probably long overdue. But no time like the present to seize the moment.

How Salesforce is building a diverse workforce and culture of inclusion and acceptance

Bill Detwiler: And I think you mentioned something that’s really important. I’d love for you to talk a little more about that. Which is you mentioned hiring guidelines, or around the requirements that people look at for applicants, like a two year degree. Are there other criteria that companies maybe shouldn’t include on either hiring applications and job descriptions? Or even in that second step, in the promotion opportunities? So if you want to move into a management position, or even further up into a director level, or a VP position it was almost required, I remember years ago, to have an MBA. Some type of, or some advanced, business degree. But it seems like that is, depending on the resources that the company has to help its workforce achieve those goals, they’re automatically filtering out a large number of people who may not have had the opportunity to achieve those advanced degrees, while they were working or even before they started to work.

Jennifer Stredler: Yeah. So what comes to mind when you asked the question, Bill, is actually a space right in between the two anchors that you just shared. So I think there’s a huge opportunity for companies to rethink how we all assess talent. So we talked about sourcing a little bit, but then what happens when folks are coming in for interviews? How do you make sure you’re interviewing in a way that’s unbiased? That takes this idea of culture fit, which no one can really define, but that tends to encourage hiring people who are very similar to those you already work with. And how do we rethink interviewing to take that bias out and really assess based on skill and competency? And not on degree, or pedigree, or looking for a profile of the five other people on the team who have already been very successful.

And Salesforce, actually even before the last several months have been going through a process of standardizing, interviewing, and interview questions to really focus on competency and skill. And also a calibration of their assessment, so that you and I can talk to someone. And how do we use similar scoring scales in thinking about their qualifications. And so I think there’s a lot of room to be more creative and thoughtful in how we assess talent, to remove some of the bias from the process.

SEE: How to cultivate an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ employees (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: Let’s talk about what Salesforce is doing. What are some of the ways that the company is working to advance diversity, and hiring, and training people for this new normal that we’re in right now? And I know before the interview, you and I spoke about some of the work you’re doing both internally at Salesforce, and then because of your role, externally through some of the philanthropic efforts that the company undertakes.

Jennifer Stredler: Yeah. So I’ll talk about three main areas, and there’s many more, but I’ll hone in. So you just mentioned some of our external work. So I have the pleasure in my role of leading our workforce development, philanthropic investments. And so we have, for many years, been really focused on how to ensure that young adults in communities where we operate, regardless of background or circumstance, have equal and fair access to opportunity. And we know that for young people there isn’t one path to success. It’s not the case that you have to go to high school, graduate, go to a full-time four year degree program, and then get a job. For many young people there’re all sorts of iterations there. And we are working and supporting nonprofit organizations that do training, and professional field development, and help young people who have been very left behind. But who are smart, and hungry, and eager, and ready, but have lacked access.

And so we’ve invested more than $25 million in workforce development organizations that are helping train, and place, young people into jobs. So that’s one bucket. Another bucket is work that is happening across our company related to building diverse talent in the Salesforce ecosystem. So there’s more than four million Salesforce jobs globally that will come online in the next few years. Salesforce administrators, developers, they are fantastic jobs for people from all different backgrounds. And we have a variety of programs and partners that are helping to train people from all different communities and educational backgrounds, to access those jobs. And so that work is happening through programs like Pathfinder, and from nonprofit organizations like JVS and Climb Hire, that are helping train diverse individuals for those roles. And then the last bucket is we are running internship and apprenticeship programs at Salesforce, that have already brought more than 750 diverse young adults into the company for anywhere from six months to three year apprenticeships.

Salesforce’s equality commitments

Young adults, from in the U.S., mostly Black and Latinx young adults. In different other countries, they’re also from different underrepresented backgrounds. And they are bringing so much skill, and passion, and diversity to our company across every business unit. And so these programs, depending on the partner that we’re working with, many of the young adults in our internship programs stay at Salesforce after. In our partnership with Europe, which is our largest program, 50 percent of those young adults after their internship have stayed on at Salesforce. Other programs are for younger students, who then go on to college and are first generation college students, but armed with a year of experience at Salesforce that helps them realize the art of what’s possible. Coming from communities where they have historically not had a lot of role models, and so we are running these programs internally. We’re trying to build talent for the ecosystem. We also really take seriously our role as a corporate citizen and investing in nonprofits that are doing the really important work of training.

SEE: Virtual hiring tips for job seekers and recruiters (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Executives and employees play critical roles in changing corporate culture

Bill Detwiler: How important is executive leadership when it comes to programs like this? I know Mark Benioff has been outspoken in his desire to rethink how capitalism works, and what it means to be a good corporate citizen. And so I know that his views permeate down through the rest of the organization, but there are a lot of corporations that may not have that same level of executive leadership around these issues. Even though I think that’s changing, how important is it for that to happen at the very top before it can be effective throughout the rest of the organization?

Jennifer Stredler: I think for us, of course, it’s been critical. You mentioned rethinking capitalism. Mark, always talks about our stakeholders, not just our shareholders. And that our community is a really critical stakeholder for us at Salesforce. And so, of course, I think it’s important. But I also think change can happen from different directions. And so I think it’s possible for employees to use their voice, and their power, and their advocacy to push for change inside their company and to inspire a senior leader who maybe hadn’t thought about things in the same way. And so I don’t think anybody should rely only on this messaging coming from the top down.

I think it can work in lots of directions. And the other thing that I would share about that is that this work is absolutely important to us, because it’s the right thing to do in our communities. But this is not philanthropic work. This is work that is really important to the business. There are many studies that talk about the business value of diversity. And so I think for anyone to be trying to build a case where you’re just advocating for this work because it feels good, it might feel good because it is the right thing to do, but it also is the right thing from a business value perspective.