Tony Prophet is a man on a mission.
The 58-year-old equality chief, whose career has taken him from exec roles at Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to now being in the C-suite at Salesforce, has a drive to not only create an inclusive organization but also one that stands as a beacon for equality.
Since taking on the role of chief equality officer seven months ago, Prophet hasn’t been one for the typical slew of media interviews or speaking engagements. Dressed in a Salesforce BOLDforce T-shirt and jeans when I meet him, he prefers collaborating with his team to advance Salesforce’s efforts to improve equality throughout the 25,000+ employee company, not to mention in the communities where they live and work–whether that has to do with gender, sexual identity, race, religion, or national origin.
Currently, the company’s employees are 2.4% African-American, 3.9% Hispanic or Latino, 23.9% Asian and Indian, and the majority 64.8% White. Meanwhile, globally, the company is made up of 30.1% women, with 19.4% women on Salesforce’s leadership team.
However, for Prophet, the work is about more than just numbers. Family is also a major motivation. As the proud father of an LGBTQ son, he admits he’s been on a journey the past few years to understand, empathize, and empower. “It’s been personally important,” Prophet tells Glassdoor in an exclusive interview (where this article originally appeared). “It has been remarkable for the company to be on the vanguard of standing up as a corporation and executive leadership to say we’re going to stand for what is right. To say, ‘We’re going to stand on the right side of history.’”
Tackling issues including pay equality, transgender protections, and human rights work, both Prophet and Benioff see the goal as singular: “to drive the Age of Equality.”
On a rainy day at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson sat down with Prophet for a wide-ranging conversation about his career journey, diversity in tech, and his surprising connection to Magic Johnson.
Glassdoor: You’ve been in the role about six months. How’s it going? Has it been like trying to drink from a firehose?
Tony Prophet: It has been more like “Hallelujah.” I’m so thankful to have made this decision. It is the perfect time in my career and I think the perfect time in the history of the company. I’ve been around the company for six-plus years, coming to Dreamforce, watching their remarkable work. I also knew Marc Benioff before accepting the role so the transition has felt natural. It has been exciting.
Glassdoor: What makes the timing perfect?
Prophet: To be at a company that is still growing, that is still led by founders is just unique. The fact that Salesforce can be a business while also being a platform for doing social good is relatively unique and maybe even singular.
Glassdoor: Marc and his team have already launched powerful initiatives that are changing the discourse around social good and philanthropy. Why was your role an imperative?
Prophet: There is certainly more to do in the industry. We have work to do on gender diversity. We have work to do on underrepresented minorities. We have work to do to make the industry look like the communities where we operate and the customers that we serve.
Glassdoor: Career experts say that each new job should be a logical next step that speaks to a larger career narrative. What has been your narrative?
Prophet: At HP, I was very much focused on human rights issues, also very much focused on the environment. I thought that if we set a benchmark or standard in the industry that the whole ecosystem would follow. It was the power and the beauty of working for an industry leader with this gigantic supply chain, which at that time was greater than $50 billion. You had real impact on what is happening across the industry. You could have real impact on labor practices in China and things like conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Glassdoor: And now?
Prophet: Salesforce has been a beacon in the industry on social issues. The actions that we have taken on LGBTQ equality, as well as pay equality, have been things that have been on the cutting edge. It’s great to be in a company that is widely watched and that people perceive as a leader on these issues. It gives me a great sense of responsibility.
Glassdoor: Your title is chief equality officer, which is a departure from the industry norm of “head of diversity” or “chief diversity officer.” In your eyes, what is the difference between equality and diversity?
Prophet: Diversity is absolutely essential, and we have work to do that, but once you have diversity you’re not done. Then you have inclusion where you’re really getting the very best out of every employee. When you have an inclusive environment, you feel seen, you feel included, and you feel valued. You feel like you can bring your whole self to work. That is a competitive advantage to have a larger pool of talent. When you get ideas from people with different perspectives, the result is the beauty and the melding of their ideas, which adds to the complexity of the mosaic.
Equality goes beyond that. “Equality” asks the questions, “Are you standing for my rights when I step outside my workforce? Are you fighting for equality for me?” Naturally, companies are going to stand for equality and nondiscrimination in the workplace. That is imperative. We are also dedicated to standing for equality in the communities where we serve, not just our own interests but for the interests of our customers, the interests of our partners, and for the interests of our employees and their families. That added dimension goes beyond pure diversity and inclusion internally and goes to why we came up with the notion of this being an equality role versus diversity and inclusion.
Glassdoor: If you had to break up your day or time into a pie chart, what would the sections be? How do you allocate your work time?
Prophet: One of the paradigms at Salesforce is the notion of ordinal ranking, this comes from our V2MOM process. For us in the Office of Equality, the number-one priority where I spent 30%, a quarter of my time, would be empowering our Ohana Groups. Our Ohana Groups are the backbone and the muscle and the fiber that carries the company’s equality culture forward.
In parallel, we work on increasing the diversity and representation of the footprint of the company. The third, and this goes hand in hand with the Ohana Groups, is a focus on the culture and making sure that the culture feels inclusive. The fourth in parallel and importantly are the equality efforts outside the company. We’re doing all those four things.
Glassdoor: How has that work been tested or challenged under a new presidential administration?
Prophet: While I won’t comment specifically on the current administration, we’re in uncertain times in the nation and the world. One of the things that we’ve done specifically is we’ve convened Ohana Circles. We have gathered folks together a couple of times over the last few months inside the company to have an open space for people to express and process how they’re feeling and for people to listen to them, see them, and respect them in a way that is nonpartisan and in a way that respects all views.
We worked really hard to make these things very respectful and constructive, not provocative. I’ve been so amazed at the personal storytelling and the empathy that has developed and the tears shed. That is how you grow and learn, by inviting people that aren’t necessarily aligned with you to hear your story.
Glassdoor: How do you measure success around equality, diversity, and inclusion?
Prophet: We publish our diversity numbers on an annual basis. We have an employee survey with specific questions about the culture and the notion of inclusion. We look outside the company as well. We have social listening tools to understand the outside dialogue about whether people see an alignment between our strategy, our brand, and the actions we take.
Glassdoor: Salesforce just launched an Equality vertical on the site. What went into that strategy?
Prophet: It’s about telling the story beyond the numbers and showing the Ohana Groups so that people outside the company can understand what we’re doing and what we’re proud of. We’re proud of the Ohana Groups. We’re proud of every facet of diversity. Now, we’re thinking about how to evolve the site to make it a continuing destination with rich, contemporary content.
Glassdoor: Diversity goes beyond black and white for you. Talk to me about your passion for LGBTQ issues and inclusion.
Prophet: It’s been personally incredibly important. It’s been part of our family’s journey in a profound way for about seven or eight years. My son is a proud LGBTQ advocate and a member of the LGBTQ community. I’ve been on this journey with my son as a father and I’ve come a million miles on that journey with all the things that I have learned and seen through the eyes of my son how it feels to be LGBTQ.
When you hear statistics, there are abstract numbers—thousands and millions. But when you see one person that you love and you’re putting yourself in their shoes, you see how they’re experiencing life and the things that they celebrate and the things that cause them great heartache, how it feels, those are things that change your life.
Then you multiply it by the thousand and the millions. There are millions of people out there that are feeling that same thing. Once you start taking that first step in the journey of putting yourself in the shoes of others, then it’s much easier to take that next step and the next.
For the company, these are important issues. It has been remarkable for the company to be on the vanguard of standing up as a corporation and executive leadership to say we’re going to stand for what is right. We’re going to stand on the right side of history on these issues. That gives me pride and confidence in the culture of the company and makes me just thrilled to be a part of this.
Glassdoor: The last one is a fun one we ask all execs: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
Prophet: I grew up in Lansing, Michigan. By coincidence, I know that you have interviewed Magic Johnson [for the cover of Ebony magazine]—Magic and I went to junior high school together, Dwight Rich Junior High School. He was 15 and already had the nickname Magic, and I was recruited out of high school to go to General Motors Institute, which doesn’t exist anymore. My job was to wash the cars of the executives when they came to the wash rack. I told myself I’m going to be the best car washer that they’ve ever seen. They’ll get into that car and I’d make sure that the ashtray would be sparkling, I’d clean all the little dust in the wheels, the license plate frame.
Glassdoor: That’s a rare drive for a teenager.
Prophet: I said to myself, if I’m the best car washer then next I’ll get a better job. Whatever I am given, I’m going to be the best. I’m not going to complain, I’m going to do my best.
A version of this article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is adapted with permission.