Salesforce Ohana Culture: How has a company united so many people?

In the late 90’s, Marc Benioff took a break from his busy life of start-up entrepreneurship and took a trip to Hawaii. He reportedly spent time learning about the culture and traditions of the people there. This is where he first learned about ‘Ohana’.


Ohana is a Hawaiian term used to describe family. Benioff felt he could apply the concept to his growing enterprise, creating a bond between those who were part of the organization, a family with no blood ties but rather a sense of unity through shared passion.

How has a company been able to channel so much positivity and togetherness for its community?

The learning

Salesforce is consistently voted one of the best organizations in the world to work as well as being ranked as one of the highest payers in tech. Over the coming years, its growth is expected to create almost 2 million jobs within its ecosystem by 2020.

 It has created a high functioning support system among their own staff, partners, and clients alike. Salesforce’s loyal fan base goes beyond even that of Apple and Microsoft; impressive considering they offer consumer electronics while Salesforce is a business-to-business service.

 The organization has taken a unique approach to developing its knowledge base. Unlike most similar organizations, it has stepped away from user-initiated learning forums and instead pushed to create its own system of learning.

 If you work with Salesforce, you almost certainly know Trailhead. This free to use platform was created to help develop the knowledge of roles including developers and administrators. When you engage in Trailhead, you’re awarded with badges and supported by other ‘Trailblazers’.

 The inevitable significant investment required to create and develop this platform shows Salesforce has a long-term view in the interest of their community. This has obvious benefits for the company, going beyond a knowledge center or traditional forum that many other companies may typically utilize.

 The People

 Salesforce meetups, networking events, and user forums are common components of being part of this organization. A key element of their unity is encouraged by the community spirit cultivated through these networks.

 Dreamforce, for instance, is an annual gathering organized by Salesforce to bring the community of users together in order to share knowledge, information, and, importantly, socialize. It’s bigger than any other tech conference open to such a wide range of stakeholders.

 Beyond this, Salesforce has a very active online community. The aforementioned Trailhead is connected through social media and allows you to publish the badges you have won.

 Hashtags are also very widely used across Twitter to generate conversations with #SalesforceOhana regularly populated with positive stories and the odd crazy act of commitment to the community.

 Thoughts from the community

 The best way to discuss Salesforce Ohana is by involving those who create it. Here are some thoughts from the community on what it means to them:

 “Salesforce Ohana is a completely unique approach to a technology community. It creates a bond between Salesforce professionals which encourages positivity, communication, and unity. As part of the formula to help grow the Salesforce Ohana, we see this unique community support each other through deeply ingrained networks, online and offline.

“Ohana helps develop the company itself. Staff are fulfilled with their work and are clearly one of the factors attributing to the huge success of Salesforce as an organization. The investment Salesforce is making in its working community is influential and revolutionary. We’re very proud to include ourselves in #SalesforceOhana.”   

 James Lloyd-Townshend CEO of Mason Frank International

 “I’m a newly adopted member of the Salesforce family. Something that hit me like a train when starting out on my Salesforce journey was just how a person- the organization is. By promoting innovation powered by people first and technology second, Salesforce has created something that is open and accessible to all. For me, the community has been an endless supply of knowledge and support, with its underlying strength being its inclusiveness and a passion for the technology.”

 Dan Pearce @danocpearce

 “It is my belief that the reason Salesforce has been so successful in their community and following is because they listen and are transparent about their business.

 “They listen to the customers and admins which, in turn, has helped them improve their product. Having a voice in how something should/could be done is always going to be appealing and Salesforce has done a great job in this and in my opinion are Leaders in this field.

 “Also, by implementing applied innovation they have been able to create dynamic disruption throughout the industry with everyone ‘trying’ to follow suit.”

 Tom Blamire @Salesforce_Tom


 This IS NOT a sponsored blog post from Salesforce. It’s not here to convince you to work for Salesforce or to subscribe to the platform. It’s about focusing on an organization which is conducting itself differently in the corporate landscape.

 High pay, transparency, and opportunity can all be attributed to the employee satisfaction and growth of Salesforce. Its employee-centric approach is very likely to be a huge contributing factor in the successes of the organization.

Guest Blog by, Maria Baranowska  @mazbaranowska

Interview on the journey to allyship – Ryan Headley (White Male)

Why do you want to tell your story? 
Why did you want to participate in this blog?
Because I believe that even though I am #MMCW, (that my past experiences have led me to a point in life where I feel I went through what I went through so that I can help other #MMCW understand those who are pre-judged due to gender, race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or other categorical stereotypes.
Thank you, Ryan, your experiences are valid and your input is valuable. (MMCW is Male Middle Class and White.)
What’s your story? 
Tell me about yourself. Who are you, where are you from?
It’s easier to link you here: Ryan’s Story
This is truly beautiful Ryan, thank you for being brave and vulnerable sharing this story with us. I hope that it gives others the courage to do the same.
Your first injustice:
What was the first unjust you witnessed or experienced?
Well, I knew I was being treated “differently” at the end of my sixth grade year when I was “asked out” as a joke. At that age it really means nothing, but I knew I was the target of a joke from a group of people. Other than that, 7th grade when football players were being “selected”. I’m not sure when I experienced my first. It took awhile to find a group of people to wake me up to it. Now it’s everywhere…
Yes, once you wake up it’s hard not to take notice.
Your awakening?
When did you realize that there is a race, class, and gender divided in this country?
I’m still experiencing my awakening. I know it’s there, I hear more and see more all the time. I think Mary Scotton’s keynote at Southeast Dreamin in 2016 really showed it to me. I used to feel like all the WIT groups, and groups that support people of different ethnic backgrounds were simply reverse discrimination and tit-for-tat. Her keynote helped me realize this is not the case. That said, my first few encounters when challenging these types of groups was met with “now you know how it feels” — which isn’t the message that should have been delivered. After explaining why that answer didn’t sit well with me, and the dialog opened more, I began to see and open up to hearing other people’s stories. That “now you know how it feels” answer was also a signal to me that perhaps with more understanding on my part, I can help other #MMCW understand.
Mary is a bridge for many her elegance, grit and grace is to be cultivated. I hate that you received that response when trying to understand. I know that some become jaded and exhausted by the constant explaining, teaching, and learning that this work takes. It’s not an excuse, however, try to be patient with those as we are trying to be patient with #MMCW’s.
What does privilege mean to you?
Describe what privilege means to you personally.
This is a tough question because I do absolutely understand that I have privilege in some areas, but not in all. I don’t necessarily have to worry about walking into a job interview and have my qualifications questions based on my gender or race. That said, I do in all honesty worry more now because companies NEED to diversify that I will be discounted because I’m a white male. If a company is a largely white male already (and I am NOT saying this is right) then my chances are stacked against me. However, this is not my white privilege working against me, it’s now a more level playing field, it’s me not blindly leaning into my privilege, and I’m okay with that. It’s what is right, the right person should get the job based on ability, not anything else… Secondly, I do feel that I do NOT have privilege in other situations. When talking to a member of the opposite sex, especially in the tech industry, I think many men worry that their mere interaction will be viewed as a “come on” or “patronizing.” It’s why I normally wait to be greeted. It also means I’m uneasy with certain references. Example: At Dreamforce 16, I was outside in line with Shonnah, she called me “whitebread” — which I am more than 100% fine with. For me it was fun, but in all honesty and being completely open for the sake of discussion: I had NO CLUE what I could get away with in return. I’m going to ask you here, feel free to do with as you please, but I wanted to use the term “Brown Sugar” in response. It was a playful tone, and I wanted to return said volley, however, I did not. Here’s why: #1 — it could have come across super creepy, as a flirtatious advancement #2 — it could have been very racial, and perhaps there’s some meaning I’m not yet aware of. #3 — it’s part of a Rolling Stones song, that if you listen to the lyrics is very inappropriate in its references to slavery, etc. I opted for restraint. THIS is why I wanna get involved and understand more. THIS is why I started my journey. I simply just don’t understand…
I opted to keep it! LOL. First I would have to say know your audience, If I play with you in this manner I consider you a friend. I would have laughed most likely very loud (I’m smiling right now). Second, it could be a hot button for someone else that doesn’t know you, you can’t just go around calling rando’s brown sugar ;). Know that I will always tell you if what you do or say is offensive in any way. I am not a Rolling Stones fan so I wouldn’t have had a clue. However, there is an R&B song that was popular in the 90’s by D’Angelo (D’Angelo “Brown Sugar”) I would have most likely started singing it. Third, We all make mistakes and fall short; do not let the fear of making a mistake hinder you from learning and growing. Most of us would explain in a mild manner.
How do you think you have benefited from your inherited privilege?
Describe benefits you have received in your life that you think was a direct result of you being part of the majority.
Sadly, I’ve been blind to this — it’s not a question I could probably accurately answer. As I sit in retrospect, it’s hard for me to find a scenario that I could point to definitely and say “for sure, that was my privilege” but isn’t that the blindness at work? It could be? Maybe just about everything I’ve experienced has me here because of my privilege. The school I went to had two African American girls, and one bi-racial boy. So I grew up in small-town middle class America, pretty sheltered from multi-cultural influences. So that answer could easily be “everything I have, I owe to privilege”
I wouldn’t attribute everything that you have to your privilege, you are an extremely smart and talented individual. However, I would say that recognition of that privilege is the first step. That in of itself takes humility recognizing that you have been blind to it is progress.
What do you do to be an ally?
What are some of the things that you have put into practice to be an ally?
I’m always here as a soundboard, to back up, to share opinions and objectivity when I can. I’ve diversified my portfolio, I try to stand up and speak from a place of objectivity when discussions come up with my fellow #MMCW members.
Thank you for extending yourself in this way. Personally; I can say that you have truly made extream efforts on your journey to understanding and allyship. I remember at #DF16 after the Benioff Q&A you came to me and asked my how you could help. I saw the tears and pain in your eyes and the sadness in your voice. That day you helped me fill my reservoir to continue fighting, you showed me the side of humanity that I believe in. You helped refresh my hope because that was real and you helped me remember that people can change.
How could you move from being an ally to an accomplice?
There is a difference between an ally (someone who is a a resource with another for mutual benefit) and Accomplice ( someone who is culpable and has something to lose)
This is really where I need help and yet again why I began my journey. HOW is exactly that question. HOW do I move on to do MORE? Help me help you. A good example: I was telling Shonnah that I created a brief survey, wrote my story (which is linked to above), and shared them with many of the leaders of the WIT movement, etc and asked for feedback, for answers to questions, etc. I shared it with Shonnah, Ashima, Mary, and many others. I got back exactly ONE response. ONE RESPONSE. Here I am, WANTING desperately to become an accomplice, to do more, help more, looking for a good place to start, but nobody stepped up to help me help you. Its why I’m participating today. We are blind to our privilege, and have been blind. When we take off these blinders, this new vision takes some time to adjust focus — we need help in this period, help to figure out HOW we can help. We are taking baby steps…
I hope this post gets you the response that you are looking for. I hate that we are all so busy and we do experience burnout. I will personally do better at my response to requests such as these, one suggestion. I know that it helps me is not to hit me with so much at once try more bite-sized doses they are easier to manage with all of our schedules.
What would you tell other white males about allyship?
If you could encourage other white men to become an ally what advice would you give?
Talk…ask…LISTEN. Understand that feelings are driven from past experiences, don’t discount them because you haven’t had that experience.
I would only change the order, LISTEN (Actively), Ask, Talk. 🙂
Who or what has inspired you?
Is there something or someone that you draw strength from and why?
Ashima…she has helped me see things I wouldn’t normally see. Mary as well…same thing.
I have to say I lean on these two alot as well.
Do you think your efforts have an impact?
Do you think your actions of allyship have an impact? Why or why not?
I think they will start to, right now I think I’ve had very minimal impact.
As I mentioned above you had a major impact on me so don’t sell yourself short.
Thank you again, Ryan, it took so much courage to tell your story and we will all be richer because of it.
You can reach out to Ryan or follow him on Twitter @lifewithryan

Our Intent vs Our Impact

Definition of Intent: Something that is intended; purpose; design; intention –
the act or fact of intending, as to do something. —

Definition of Impact: The impression made by an idea, cultural movement, social group, etc; Influence; effect – to have an impact or effect on; influence; alter. —

My Bias

I wanted to talk about this subject because a something happened the other day. One of my good friends posted a comment on Facebook about a blog post that Salesforce wrote regarding some community members. This blog post highlighted these amazing community members dedication to the platform and how they symbolized said dedication with tattoos.

My friend being crazy and blunt like she normally is made this statement, “Wait… did these ladies just out Salesforce us?” and tagged me in the post. Now we all like to pride ourselves on being the top “diehard” Salesforce junkie. It’s crazy, right? we’ve all drank the blue kool-aid, people get it we LOVE Salesforce.

I made the comment, “I don’t do tats IMHO that’s crazy! My work speaks for itself. I respect their hustle if this was to get attention it worked.” Now, most that know me know that I am a very direct and blunt person. I promise this statement was not to throw shade or intentionally harm anyone. Unfortunately, my mouth and thoughts get me in trouble at times.

The Problem

So I’m not sure if the ladies that are featured in the blog are even aware of this little side conversation, not that it matters. I was thinking about my response, my intent and the impact that it may have on these beautiful women. If they had seen this conversation it may have stirred up feelings of negativity. Now while I was just giving my honest opinion, I was also showing a bias to those women who decided to get tattoos. Just because it’s not something that I would choose to do, doesn’t mean that it should be “crazy” if they decided to do it. Did I intend to make them feel bad? No. Did I make them feel bad? Probably. My impact did not match my intent.

Conscious and Unconscious Bias

That’s the thing about our biases; they come out when we aren’t acting intentionally. We all carry biases, conscious and unconscious. Note to self: I need to write a blog about this, I thought I already did lol. I digress, unconscious bias operates at a very subtle level, below our awareness. It results in almost unnoticeable behaviors (micro behaviours) such as paying a little less attention to what another  person is saying, addressing them less warmly, or talking to them less than you do people you don’t have a bias against.. Being aware of the biases we have and how strong they are, equips us to better manage our unconscious biases. Why? Because when we know which groups trigger our unconscious categories, then we can be be more vigilant to work against them. So our biases lead all of us into situations where our impact doesn’t match our intent.

Examine Your Impact

I make mistakes, no matter how intentional I try to be. More often than I realize I’m sure. However, when we get caught up in unintended impact, it’s so important to stop, reflect, learn, and change our behavior. That is why I wrote this blog post, I’m trying to learn from this situation. I’m trying to be more intentional about recognizing the impact that I have and the impact that I’m leaving on others.

So to the women highlighted in the post, if you are reading this, I want to send my sincerest apology if I made you feel in anyway less than amazingly beautiful. You are my ohana, and I will do better to make sure that my intent matches my impact.  

The majority of us want to leave a positive impact so we need to:

  1. Stay humble
  2. Be vigilant
  3. See through the lens of love

Cultural Appropriation


Cultural Appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by people not of that culture. Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration. –Wikipedia

I wanted to blog about this subject because there was a situation that happened recently that really bothered me. A young black sister from my congregation complimented me on my hair—I have in goddess braids. Personally, I don’t always wear braids but I was taking a vacation and I needed my hair in a manageable style. If you know anything about black hair then you know that water and humidity can be a devastating combination. Sorry, I digress.

She went on to tell me that she got into a debate with a classmate about cornrows. Her classmate told her that she wanted boxer braids like hers. This young woman told her classmate that they were called cornrows. The classmate informed her, that no, they were Kim Kardashian boxer braids.

Now, if you know anything about black culture you can understand why this would bother me. Cornrows have been a staple style in our culture for centuries. They’ve also been used as a reason to discriminate against black women. I’ve personally had someone say that they were “too ethnic.”


What can be said?  

Some think cultural appropriation is a way for people of color to keep racism alive. They say that the U.S is made up of different ethnicities and because of this, cultural groups will inevitably influence each other. We in America come from diverse communities and will undoubtedly pick up the customs, dialect, and traditions of cultural groups that surround us.

However, cultural appropriation has very little to do with one’s exposure to and familiarity with different cultures. Instead, cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups. And the appropriating culture typically has little understanding of the less privileged group’s history, experience, or traditions. The majority culture typically refers to this as “borrowing” from the minority culture.

What’s the Problem?

Cultural appropriation robs minority groups of the credit they deserve. In the 1950s, white musicians borrowed the musical stylings of their black counterparts. Because African Americans weren’t widely accepted in U.S. society at that time, record executives chose to have white recording artists replicate the sound of black musicians. This led to musical forms such as rock-n-roll being largely associated with whites in spite of the fact that black musicians were pioneers of the art form. This move also had financial consequences, as many of the black musicians who helped pave the way for rock-n-roll’s success never saw a dime for their contributions to the music. Music that originated with minority groups come to be associated with members of the dominant group. As a result, the dominant group is deemed innovative and edgy, while the disadvantaged groups they “borrow” from continue to face negative stereotypes that imply they’re lacking in intelligence and creativity. In addition, when members of a dominant group appropriate the cultures of others, they often reinforce stereotypes about minority groups.

For those of you out there that think this is crazy and that it’s a compliment for someone to “imitate” your style. Consider that blacks are consistently discriminated against because of our style. Taking the aforementioned style as an example, it is still considered by some employers to be unprofessional to wear cornrows or even to wear our natural hair. Just think about it. You are constantly told that your hairstyles are too ethnic or too exotic, that maybe you should think about being more approachable. But as soon a white girl wears the same style they call it edgy and chic and they get to change the name and claim it as their own.


Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Appropriation

Racial inequality has evolved into something more than just discriminating based on the color of the skin—it’s become even more how a race represents themselves. Different races represent themselves through cultural means, but when others try to adopt it, it can be offensive or appreciative. The idea of borrowing another’s culture is often termed “cultural exchange,” something that has been prevalent throughout history, so it’s difficult to claim appropriation even if that person doesn’t belong to that culture. The difference is that while exchange implies a two-way appreciation and acknowledgment of cultural differences, appropriation refers to a dominant culture receiving the praise and credit for taking on characteristics of a minority culture—all while dehumanizing or mocking the minority culture for these very characteristics.

In the U.S., the main targets for cultural appropriation are blacks, whose African-rooted hairstyles, such as dreadlocks, braids, or Bantu knots, are now characterized as fashionable or “trendy” when worn by non-blacks. In this case, the dominant culture retains power by shifting the blame to black culture—they say that black women wear their hairstyles, so why is it a problem for them to wear ours. However, when black women try and wear their cultural hairstyles they’re held to European beauty standards and told that they look unprofessional.

What can we do?

Messages such as those expressed by Amandla Stenberg, who spoke about her own knowledge and disgruntled feelings about Kylie Jenner appropriating black women features on social media. Amanda’s message was reached by many and educate others on why it is wrong to steal the identities of races or cultures. Stenberg’s message is to approach stopping cultural appropriation by showing others how appropriation is offensive and “disgusting.” To avoid being called out, try not to gain glory or likes by posting it online. Instead, try to understand more about it. Wear it where appropriate. For example,  your friend of Indian descent is getting married and asks you to be her bridesmaid. If she asks you to wear a saree or lehenga because it is part of her wedding customs, then wear one. Another positive example was when Angelina Jolie was traveling in the middle east and chose to wear a hijab in respect for the traditions of that area.

We all need to do more to address the issue of cultural appropriation that our society has become so comfortable accepting. Knowledge is power and we can all learn from another’s culture. When we show deep respect and give that culture credit for their contribution for making the world a better place we can all share in the beauty that comes from having a diverse world.

What you can do:

  • Educate Yourself
  • Don’t do it for the “Gram” – (Glory or likes)
  • Give credit where credit is due




Inclusion, Equality and Equity


I had a CEO of an organization tell me that their company was doing well with Diversity and Inclusion because their staff was 30% minority and 40% women. I commended him for his efforts but told him they still needed to do better. I then asked him how many of those minorities were in senior management positions. Basically how many were in leadership positions? He thought about this for a moment and then asked why that matters? I then asked him if he knew the difference between inclusion,  equality, and equity?


So that’s what I wanted to talk to the community about in this post. What is equity and why we need to include it in our discussions.


What is Equity?

Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial: “Equity of treatment.”
Synonyms of equity include fairness, justness, impartiality, egalitarianism, objectivity, and balance.

If the profile of your senior level staff is not reflective of the diversity of your internal staff, you aren’t  providing equity within your organization. If your staff are not diverse in the first place, then take the first step to educate yourself as to why this is important.


Making sure everyone has equal access to resources and advancement within an organization is an important goal. Everyone should have the resources and opportunity necessary to progress professionally. But the truth remains that people of color are not afforded the same advancement opportunities and require more to reach positions of leadership.



How to Achieve Equity

Here’s where equity comes in. The employees of color require more resources like training and mentorship to catch up, succeed, and eventually, close the gap. Simply giving employees of color the same level of resources as whites will not close the gap. But making sure that your employees of color have access to exceptional sponsors, mentors, and opportunities will help move  us  toward the goal of narrowing the opportunity gap.


Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same kind and amount of help. Equity may appear unfair, but it actively moves everyone closer to success by “leveling the playing field.”

The problem is that  not everyone starts at the same place, and not everyone has the same needs. There are privileges that whites have, whether they want to admit it or not. Overcoming privilege means identifying what equality is and then what is more; EQUITY. Equity essentially promotes fairness that takes into account cultural and social expectations. It’s the difference between treating everyone the same versus treating everyone appropriately to raise them to the same possibility of achievement.


Stages Towards Achieving Equity

The stages towards equity in institutions that dismantle systemic privilege are equity of access, equity of opportunity, and equity of outcome.


Equity of access means that regardless of background, circumstance, etc., all  individuals and groups have access to a specific privilege.


Equity of opportunity means that  all individuals and groups  have access to opportunities that are tied to this privilege.


Equity of outcome means regardless of background, circumstance, etc.,  all individuals and groups have equal outcomes as the privileged group.


Members of privileged groups may feel that they’ll lose their seat at the figurative table if they start promoting equity within their organization. This is not necessarily the case, in most situations, you’ll just be making room at the table for people who never would have a chance otherwise.

Pic #6

How to Ensure Equity

What can you do to ensure equity is within your organization’s culture? I’ve three suggestions:

  1. Lobby senior management to start the discussion
  2. Seek out diverse candidates from within to promote
  3. Sponsor for a person of color


Hold Your Organization Accountable

One powerful way to ensure organizational progress towards equity is  to gather your organization’s diversity data, make that data available and use it to analyze the effectiveness of your equity interventions. Only with data can you hold your organization accountable. With this step, we have a way to prove, on a large scale, that our work towards the public good is happening and that it can be thoughtfully adjusted towards progressively better outcomes.


Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? -Martin Luther King Jr.