Allyship, Education, and Diversifying Your Personal Board: What Students Can Do Now to be Equity Fluent Leaders

Molly Ford (she/her/hers) is the Senior Director of Global Equality Programs at Salesforce. Ford spearheads creating, executing, and measuring all equality programs to develop, advance, and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce throughout all levels of Salesforce. Before Salesforce, Ford served as a Public Relations Manager as Cisco.

Marcus Stevenson (he/him/his) is a Senior Program Coordinator in the Office of Equality at Salesforce. Stevenson helped lay the foundation for the Office of Equality, by developing programs to attract, retain, a support a diverse workforce. Stevenson is also a Year Up Bay Area Alum, former President of the Lion Head Toastmasters International Organization, and Dreamforce Future Executive Summit Speaker.

Amberlyn Saw (she/her/hers) is a 4th year undergraduate at UC Berkeley studying Business Administration and Molecular Environmental Biology. She is a member of the Student Advisory Board for the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership.

Image for post
Image for post
Molly Ford and students from UGBA 192T

This interview is the first, in a multi-part series, featuring DEI leaders who spoke to undergraduate students enrolled in UBGA 192T: Equity Fluent Leadership.

Amberlyn Saw: Thank you so much for speaking with me today, especially since you just gave such an inspirational and informative talk to my class. To get started, I wanted to ask what are your thoughts on speaking to our class and talking with students about why equality in the workplace is so important?

Molly Ford: I was really impressed that equity is being taught as a class, right? That we’re talking about this. It’s funny, I sat with a couple of CEOs in our customer visitor center and the CEO said: “I went to USC for business school. We didn’t talk about this. Diversity wasn’t something on leaders’ minds 20 years ago.” So it’s great that we are coming out of school — coming out of business school — with this as a priority. It was an awesome experience. Once I saw the required reading list for this class, I mean, Fortune raceAhead? That’s what I’m reading everyday. That’s my goal to be in there and have our messages in there so that was just super impressive. The list of books is just awesome.

Saw: What were your takeaways from listening to the students during the Q&A?

Ford: This journey is really long, and we don’t have all the answers, and the questions from the students were super hard. Meaning they are having the hard conversations, they are thinking about it, from the questions around things that are culturally sensitive, to being data driven.

Saw: On that train of thought, what is one thing that every emerging leader in school can do now to be equity fluent before they enter the workforce?

Ford: Educate yourself. Google is free. Make sure that you are being a proper ally. I think you can start with allyship now: being an ally to one another, being an ally to an LGBTQ student, joining classes or courses or student groups that are diverse, figuring out how you can do that now. The second thing is figuring out how you can weave that through business. And last but not least, mentoring. It’s important that we are all mentoring. If you’re an undergrad or grad student, you can mentor that undergrad or find a student in our community or others at our school, it’s all about mentoring someone who doesn’t look like you.

Saw: Building upon that, what are the top 3–5 skills of an equity fluent leader?

Ford: Wow.

Saw: It’s definitely a tough question.

Ford: Marcus, what do you think? What are the top three skills leaders need know for equity? Surround yourself with diverse voices, diverse leaders who have diversity of thought, diversity of opinion so you have folks that are bringing a different perspective at the table. Start early and often.

Like we talked about in the course, yes, Salesforce has 34,000 headed to 40,000 employees. But if you had to start with 60 people, it’s easier to balance salaries, it’s easier to focus on diversity and recruiting now. So, walk into your leadership, walk into your new company, your start-up, early and often. And I think empathy.

And then last but not least, there’s this great thing called the 1–1–1 model. Salesforce helped start it, and many companies have adopted it. The 1–1–1 model for a company means that 1% of your employees’ time goes towards volunteering, 1% of your equity is donated, and 1% of your product is going out to serve your community. Salesforce started 20 years ago. Giving back was a core value, something we did from Day 1 and now we are saying equality is a core value, something we are going to do moving forward. If you can start a company now and figure out how you can drive to the age of equality by serving others, and start that inception now coming out of school, you’ll be a great leader. Leaders who didn’t focus on social impact got left behind. Companies that didn’t focus on “How do I make my product an app?” got left behind. It’s about disruption. If you’re not focused on equality, on diversity, bringing diverse leaders to the table right now, early, your company is not going to survive, and you won’t be a leader in the future.

Marcus Stevenson: Just to add to that, I would say having an open mind when it comes to a culture of feedback and being accountable and understanding that great ideas come from anywhere. Regardless of if you are climbing the ranks and becoming a leader or you already are a leader or a CEO, you can learn something from anybody within the organization, especially folks who are from different backgrounds, or have different ideas and ways of thinking and solving problems. Being open to that and accepting that feedback and resonating can really make a big difference in your company’s trajectory and your trajectory as a leader.

Saw: Thank you so much for sharing that. Given your backgrounds in public relations and communications, how do we best convey that equity is important for businesses without it seeming like a marketing ploy. How do we convey a sense of authenticity and importance?

Ford: Research is showing us now that more diverse companies have the ability to outperform others. McKinsey has research that says gender and racial diversity make-up, especially in the leadership ranks, outperform. Companies are focused on talking about the bottom-line, about money. We know from other sources such as Fortune and Forbes that folks want to go work for a company that is going to give them a higher purpose. It’s not just about “we are building a great product,” it’s “what are we doing to change the world and make a positive impact?” That’s the workforce. No one wants to come to your company if it’s all about greed. If you want to hire the workforce of the future, if you want folks that are passionate, you’ve got to give them a value. Increasingly at Salesforce, we are seeing that the companies coming to us, aligning with us, building stronger bonds and partnerships, are the ones that go “Hey! Our values align!” Values alignment is a real conversation that is happening in the boardroom and in the C-Suite right now. They are looking for companies that are ethical, that are leading with integrity, and have some sort of values around trust and giving back.

Saw: Passing it back to you Marcus, you also have expertise in marketing, running the Twitter Feed for D&I at Salesforce. How do you bring that same level of authenticity to the content you post?

Stevenson: I really like to look at Twitter as bite-sized information to reach people we wouldn’t normally reach via an email communication or some longer-winded form of communication. I think it’s really important, going back to one of the previous things I’ve said, to keep an open mind and have a diverse group of people around you who can act as a check-and-balance system. There are many occasions when I’m talking about issues that aren’t representative of my community and things that I’m familiar with. It’s very important for me to have folks that I can talk to, I can ask questions of, I can run things by to make sure my tone is in the right space and the wording is in the right space. The last thing you want to do — going back to one of Molly’s points — intention versus impact: having a great intention and wanting to do good, but your impact doesn’t hit the nail. You can simply solve that problem by having different people in the room, a check-and-balance system to ask: “Does this look good? Is my tone right? Etc.”

Saw: We touched upon this a bit in class: how do we make space for people to make mistakes when learning is crucial to the process of being an equity fluent leader?

Stevenson: It’s the idea that it doesn’t matter who you are, we all have something to learn. It’s the idea that if we punish people for trying to learn, they never will learn. Giving them that space — going back to intention versus impact — you can see their intention, but impact will land where it lands. But if you see positive intention, you can have that guiding conversation, that educational conversation. When we see that this person is an ally, we ask: how can we educate them such that their impact can match their intention? This is rather than having a situation where someone has good intention and wants to help but is so scared to open their mouth because they might be demonized for a mistake that they made. If we don’t allow people to make mistakes, you’ll never learn anything.

Saw: Very true, and I think what you said very much resonates with Berkeley’s free speech culture. Transitioning topics just a bit, how can students infuse their passion for equity into their chosen professions, even if they aren’t necessarily working in diversity and inclusion?

Ford: Mentoring. Leading with equality: what are the equality principles that they can live with? How are people leading with their values? If you are in a position to recruit, make sure you are joining other diverse voices in simply being that ally: being an ally for someone in a meeting, being an ally for someone meaning ask, listen, show up, and speak up. How are you showing up and speaking up for others? How are you asking about their journey? Then, find those similarities. Once you join a company, you need to find yourself a board of directors, your personal board of directors. You’re the chairman of that board, and you need to find voices that can influence you and that you can influence. But, you need to make sure that the table is diverse.

Stevenson: I’m very happy to say and to add that the younger generation of folks are having a much better time at this, especially in places like Berkeley. College is a really great opportunity for folks from around the world to come together because you’re exposed to different cultures, different religions, and different types of people. Just allowing yourself to absorb those differences will strengthen your ability make decisions and to navigate the world and make you a better person. Companies are starting to understand this, but in order for companies to make change, it’s up to the future generations of the workforce to want that change and demand it. It’s up to all of us, it’s up to the students, it’s up to that next workforce generation to be very clear about what they are looking for in values-driven companies and who they want to work for; that will shift where the companies are going because they have no choice if they want the talent.

Saw: This is a funny coincidence because in one of our earlier classes, we did an activity where we wrote down the names of the ten people we trusted the most. Then, we wrote out facets of their identity such as gender, sexual orientation, race, age, etc. The reality for most of the class was that our “personal board of directors” is not diverse. Knowing that, what do we do next?

Ford: Ooh I like that activity! I’m going to build off of what Marcus just said: as students in a different generation, you are all way ahead! To walk into the classroom and everyone has a name card out with their pronouns listed? We are still educating folks on pronouns, how they work, why they are important, what they mean, and what it means to use ‘they/ them’ pronouns etc. We are still struggling with that conversation but you all are going to walk into the workplace going: “Yeah, let me declare my pronouns.” It’s inherent to who you are, an identity, and you understand that while the workforce is struggling with it. But you, as students and recent graduates, are on the cutting edge of that: you know the language, you know the terminology, you arm yourself and you know how to do this. This is all going to help you have a leg up.

Stevenson: I always like to bring it back to this idea of being comfortable being uncomfortable. To your point about most people’s personal board of directors looking and sounding like them, it’s because we are typically drawn to people we feel comfortable with. That’s our comfort zone. But as soon as you break out of that comfort zone, you see progress being made and it’s not always easy. To make progress is not easy, and you feel the burn. But, it will get easier and then it’s time to find another opportunity to feel uncomfortable. As long as you are uncomfortable, you’re making progress and learning in some way. So, it’s important to start within, not just with your personal board of directors but diversify your social feed. Everyone is looking on social media all-day. Ask yourself, “Am I seeing diverse voices on my social media? Am I watching diverse programs when I’m tuned into television?” Just really take that extra step to surround yourself with people who don’t look and sound like you.

Saw: Awesome! Well, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your perspectives. I learned a lot from hearing both of you speak in class, and I know my peers did too. Your insight on inclusion from the business perspective adds another dimension to the class, so truly, thank you again.

Ford: Thank you, Amberlyn.

Stevenson: Thank you!

At the heart of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) educates equity fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change. Equity fluent leaders understand the value of different lived experiences and courageously use their power to address barriers, increase access, and drive change for positive impact. Be the first to know about EGAL news and events by subscribing to our newsletter.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store