Salesforce Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith on Being a Boss
Ebony Beckwith knew early on that she wanted to be a boss. She grew up visiting her mom at her office in downtown San Francisco and remembers loving everything about that environment. From the stationery to the furniture, to what people wore and how they spoke to each other, everything was fascinating to her. In Ebony’s words, it was her “Mary Tyler Moore moment.” Today, she has a lot of big moments. As Salesforce’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, Ebony oversees a global team that manages Salesforce’s philanthropic investment strategy and enables all employees to give back. She also helps the company navigate relevant issues, including leading the community response to COVID-19 and heading the Racial Equality and Justice Task Force.
Her path to career success was not a straight line, and that’s one of the reasons why her story is so interesting. With over 12 years at Salesforce, this influential leader in technology talks career milestones, driving equality in the workplace, and the best gift employers can give their employees.
Before we dive into your career journey, can you tell us who the early influencers were in your life?
I like to say that my mom was my first mentor. She worked in downtown San Francisco, and I knew from the early example she set that I wanted to work in an office one day and be a leader. My mom has offered so many great nuggets and words of wisdom over the years. Growing up she used to tell me, “Know your place but take your space.”
What does that message mean to you and how has it played out in your career?
The sentiment of that message is about knowing when to use your voice and show your value, and when to pull back and understand your role. Throughout my career, I’ve found myself in rooms with very senior people, sometimes my boss’ bosses, and while I want to feel comfortable speaking up, I also need to understand the boundaries and social norms. For instance, if they start joking around or taking a certain tone with each other, it may not be appropriate to join in. I had to learn the nuances of various relationships.
You have held multiple roles during your time at Salesforce. Was there a shift from when you saw yourself as a manager to when you saw yourself as a leader? What was the change?
I have always wanted to be a boss, and I have been very intentional about how I have built my career. One of the most memorable shifts was when I was managing a crisis situation for my team. For anyone who spends time in this [crisis communications] work, you know it can be incredibly stressful on teams and people often make bad decisions when they are under pressure. I implemented a clear strategy and guided people every step of the way, which built trust. After that, I felt a real shift, and I started to be viewed as a leader by other company leaders — and myself!
You co-lead the Racial Equality and Justice Task Force which was launched to help drive systemic change across four P’s — people, purchasing, philanthropy, and policy. What was it like to stand up this Task Force and what does the work mean to you?
I am grateful to work at a company where we can have conversations about race and where we can use the full power of our business…our technology, our employees, our dollars…to take action. When we decided to assemble the Task Force, I knew I wanted to be in the trenches helping Salesforce navigate through this. I love that I’m doing meaningful work and that I get to use my voice and my position in the company to help drive change.
You are deliberate about using your platform to advocate for people of color. This is powerful especially because you are one of the most senior Black women in the tech industry. What does this platform mean to you and why is it so important to empower others along the way?
I want to pay forward what I have been so generously given over the years. I share my experiences and advocate for others because I want others to not only see what’s possible but how it is possible. Everyone’s path looks different, but I hope what I share is encouraging and shows people that success is not cookie cutter. A nontraditional path does not make you “less than” or undeserving of reaching your highest potential.
You have developed a strong personal brand in the workplace. What tips do you have for others who are thinking about shaping their personal brand and developing a reputation for excellence?
It goes back to being intentional and writing down my intentions, like my goals or words that inspire me. There’s a lot of data out there that proves writing things down has a higher chance of turning those things into action. Once you develop that lens, it becomes clearer which opportunities you should say yes (or no) to.
Speaking of tips, let’s talk about your #BossNotes series on LinkedIn where you share leadership advice. In a recent note, you talk about the power of asking for help. How has asking for help and lending support to others enriched your life?
I ask for help in all aspects of my life, but I haven’t always been that way. Asking for help is hard. It’s something I had to learn, which is the experience I described in that post. I had a manager early in my career at Salesforce who explained that asking for help is an iterative process, where each person’s unique feedback and perspective can make something better.
What are some ways companies can actively support their women employees at work, especially while we work through a pandemic?
Now is the time to double down on our support for women. Women are leaving the workplace in droves and if it continues, we will wipe out all the progress we have made over the past decade. Mothers are having a particularly hard time balancing the demands of both work and home. The best gift employers can give their employees is flexibility. Give whatever you can.
How can we all drive gender equality in the workplace? From people leaders to policies, to being allies — what are some factors that you believe are important on this path to gender equality?
We all have a role to play in driving gender equality. We don’t know what we don’t know and we have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. Start by listening to and learning from the experiences of women, and determine how you can use your voice and influence to take action.
Who are the Trailblazing Women that you admire and why?
I recently interviewed Lisa Ling for Salesforce’s third annual virtual Gender Equality Summit, Trailblazing Women, and it was one of my favorite interviews. I love how Lisa genuinely tries to connect with and understand people. She was also so honest and vulnerable, and I found that really refreshing.
If you wrote an autobiography one day, what would you title it?
The title is tough, but I know the chapters. Maybe Becoming A Boss or who knows, maybe #BossNotes will take off…
At Salesforce, we are committed to advancing gender equality in the workplace and in society. Click here to view the recap of our third-annual gender equality summit, Trailblazing Women, where we heard from inspiring authors, business leaders, and activists. If you’re interested in a career at Salesforce, visit our careers page.