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Salesforce boss: CEOs are afraid to know how much their female employees make

JP Mangalindan
·Chief Tech Correspondent
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff discussed diversity in the workplace on Friday at The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, held this year in Houston, Tex.

When it comes to the sensitive topic of diversity in tech, Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff has some choice words for his counterparts at other companies: Don’t be afraid.

At the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, an annual conference held this year in Houston, Texas, the 52-year-old chief executive contended one of the largest reasons the gender pay gap remains at many businesses is that their CEOs are in fact too afraid to “push the button” and discover what women employees make compared to their male colleagues.

“I think in a lot of cases, they’re afraid,” Benioff explained during his keynote on Friday. “There’s a wave of a fear. They don’t want to know if there’s a discrepancy. We have to take away that fear and we have to find out what the answer is.”

Benioff has been a longstanding advocate of diversity in the workplace. He pushed for Salesforce’s first-ever Chief Equality Officer: former Microsoft (MSFT) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) executive Tony Prophet, who joined the company this October.

“He [Prophet] has modest goals: equality for the planet,” the Salesforce CEO quipped.

Two years ago, when a group of women employees raised the issue of pay equity at Salesforce, an organization expected to have 25,000 employees and generate $10 billion in annual revenues next year, Benioff adjusted salaries for an unspecified number of employees to address the situation.

Those salary changes amounted to a $3 million adjustment to Salesforce’s finances that year, according to Benioff.

Benioff strongly argued that other companies, particularly in tech, should follow suit.

“You’d better decide what kind of company you want, what kind of values you’re doing to have and what you’re going to fight for,” Benioff added. “In today’s world, there are so many people who are going to try and put you in your box. … I’m just going to tell you what I’m going to tell her, our next president, which is that we want more equality.”

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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