Australia and the Age of Equality

Our higher purpose is to drive the Age of Equality

– Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce

One of the things I love most about working at Salesforce is that we are an organisation that stands up for what we believe in – so much so that the closing keynote at World Tour in Sydney was dedicated to the topic of equality in Australia, and the vital role that corporations have in driving change.

We believe in Equal Rights, Equal Pay, Equal Education, and Equal Opportunity, for all Australia citizens (and citizens around the world).  Aussies say it best, we believe in giving everyone “A Fair Go” – and that was the sentiment that Tony Prophet, our Chief Equality Officer, Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, and Deng Adut, NSW Australian of the Year, Defence Lawyer and Refugee Advocate, spoke so passionately about to a packed audience.

The facts are staggering.  On the World Economic Forum Gender Index, Australia is ranked #1 for educational attainment of women, and yet we are 55th in the world for labour force participation.  A gender pay gap of 17% still exists, with women retiring with just 47% of male superannuation – driving increasing homelessness for older women who resort to sofa surfing with relatives and friends.  In 2012, fewer than 10% of key executives in this country were women.

And it’s even worse within the STEM industry.  A survey conducted in 2015 showed that just 16% STEM qualified staff are female. 40% women did not receive equal pay for work of equal value, with women tending to predominate in lower levels of STEM industries.  42% women have been bullied in the workplace, and 29% have experienced sexual harassment.

And that’s just looking at gender – when we factor in cultural backgrounds, equality is almost non-existent, particularly for people with indigenous descent.

This is in spite of the fact that diversity is good for business – balanced gender diversity drives an average of 15% increase to business performance.  Ethnic diversity can drive a staggering 35% improvement on the bottom line!

Every year the Human Rights Commission receives over 20,000 inquiries and 2,300 formal complaints – two thirds of which are related to employment, goods and services.  Half of all complaints are against business enterprises – which is why Australian businesses have such a critical role to play in blazing a trail for equality.  It’s time companies stood up and took the lead – rather than loiter in the tail lights waiting to get dragged along with the masses.  The business community has the most influential leaders in the country, and the power to deliver sustainable solutions for some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.  Businesses today need to focus on closing the equality gap with the same energy they put into creating new products and markets – imagine the world we could leave our children if we applied the same focus and passion to both?

The news isn’t all bad. Professor Triggs shared some great examples of how corporations around the world are starting to step up and take a public stand on equality:

  • Just recently, 20 Australian CEOs signed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding we take action to legalise gay marriage.  Once a taboo subject that business leaders would avoid at all cost for fear of retribution from clients that may have differing opinions, finally has the level of focus and support it deserves.  These CEOs were prepared to stand up for what is right and just, not what is popular and safe.
  • When a US Presidential Directive ordered a 90-day suspension of entry from nations from seven countries with ties to Muslim faith, Nike, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks and other large US companies were swift in their vocal stance against these policies.  More than 97 companies have further supported briefs to challenge these directives in American courts.
  • When RipCurl learned the factory in North Korea where they sourced ski gear was using slave labour to produce goods, they surprisingly took to the media to publicly take responsibility for their actions.  In the past, news breaking of global brands using slave labour would be vehemently denied or viciously justified.  But no more – companies recognise their reputation is only as good as their actions, and so RipCurl not only took responsibility, they immediately cancelled the contract.  No doubt with a significant cost to their business – but it was the right thing to do.  (Of course the right thing to do would be to check working conditions before engaging their services – but I’ll give them credit for learning from their mistakes!)
  • In 2015, Salesforce took a very public stance on equal pay, ordering an internal audit on the salaries of every employee around the world.  We took a big risk – with no basis on which to estimate what the cost of pay equality might be – but it was the right thing to do, so Marc and his leadership team did it anyway.  When the results were in, Salesforce invested the $3 Million needed to bring individuals’ salaries on par with their colleagues regardless of gender, race, age or sexuality.  And we’ll do it again, and again, and again – to make sure inequality doesn’t creep back into our business and we continue to give equal pay for equal work.

As an organisation, it is our responsibility to protect and stand up for our employees to ensure they are free from discrimination both within the workplace and in the broader community.  And as leaders in our community, we have a responsibility to fight for those that aren’t able to fight for themselves.

We were privileged to hear first hand the very personal story of Deng Adut. He shared his story of growing up in Sudan, plagued with violence and bloodshed.  Growing up in a war zone where children were forced to fight a war that was never theirs, and where death and destruction were the norm.  Where equality was not even in his sights, because survival was.

It is not for me to tell Deng’s story – because that is his and his alone – I could never do it justice.  But what I will share is his message, because in spite of hate, in spite of hell, he doesn’t want our sympathy – he just wants our understanding.  “In Australia we still have a war – but it’s a different kind of war. Fair Go is our war. It’s my war.”  Asking for equal treatment seems like such a small thing to ask, and yet Deng never had that option until he came to Australia, or “Heaven” as he calls it.  Deng set up a foundation in his brother’s honour, to give other people a fair go.  When he started his business in 2014, he promised himself never to look at a resume – because he knew a resume wouldn’t work for someone like him.  “If you don’t give someone a chance, you don’t give them a fair go.” As humans, we have done cruel things against each other over time – Deng’s ask to us is to stop the cruelty and spread love.  “We colourful.  We beautiful people.  Let’s sell human rights properly – it’s our duty.  It’s not a business that is simple – it is a business requiring effort.

Which begs the question – how do you value equality? What price do you attach? And do we even need to – shouldn’t we do it because it’s the right thing to do?

We have a responsibility to bring our expertise, our innovative and creative thinking, our understanding, to the challenges that plague our communities.  To ensure every child has access to a good education.  To ensure every person has the opportunity to contribute, and to be rewarded and recognised for those contributions.  To ensure every human has the freedom to be themselves without fear of retribution or discrimination.

So the call to action, on behalf of Tony, Professor Triggs and Deng, is to be a leader.  Stand up for the rights of all Australians.  Speak up for free speech and equality.  And above all, give every person on this planet an Aussie “Fair go”.

Business is a solution to the problem of equality.  Let’s stand up and be measured.