• Salesforce to announce chief diversity officer next week
  • Benioff: North Carolina fallout shows risk to anti-LGBT laws

Salesforce.com Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff said his company will hire its first chief diversity officer next week and redouble his fight against state laws he considers unfair to gay employees.

Salesforce, was among several large companies, including Dow Chemical Co., Apple Inc. and Walt Disney Co., which lobbied against hundreds of laws this year considered potentially hostile to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender residents. Businesses convinced Georgia’s governor not to sign one such law and failed to head off an anti-LGBT law in North Carolina, Benioff said in an interview for Bloomberg television.

“While at Salesforce, equality is job one,” Benioff said. “It’s become an important part of who Salesforce is, and we believe that equality is stretching across the planet and it can rear its head in many ways, including LGBTQ inequality.”

Salesforce.com will focus on gender, racial and LGBT equality both internally and externally, Benioff said. The provider of cloud-based business software has previously said it spent $3 million to allay pay disparity between men and women employees at the company, and those efforts continue, he said. Salesforce is among more than 50 companies who have signed a White House pledge to support gender pay equality, including General Motors Co. and Facebook Inc.

“We’re hiring a lot of people in and I can tell you that some of the people that we’re hiring come in with those biases to keep women down,” Benioff said. “And I’m sorry I have to say that, but it’s reality and our job is to kind of give them some education and understanding and enlightenment about the situation so that we can have true gender equality in our industry.”

The opposition to the law in North Carolina, which requires transgender residents to use the restroom of their biological birth and prevents local governments from passing less-restrictive ordinances, shows how sentiment has turned, Benioff said.

The National Basketball Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association have both pulled sporting events from North Carolina in reaction to the law. The regulations in North Carolina and other states were seen as a backlash against executive orders from President Barack Obama expanding LGBT protections and a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states.

“There is basically a broad vindication for the LGBT community that if you make these kinds of laws and create them and put them in place, you’re going to pay a price and you’re going to get less investment, and I guess you’re going to get less basketball too,” he said in the interview.

There were 202 bills perceived as anti-LGBT in 34 state legislatures this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group. Of the bills introduced, five were enacted in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas and two in Mississippi. Bills in Georgia, South Dakota and Virginia were vetoed by governors. Most of the rest were considered "dead" because they were voted down on a chamber floor, in committee or withdrawn, HRC said. Another nine bills are still under consideration in Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey.

The efforts by advocacy groups and business leaders to oppose the LGBT laws will have a detrimental affect on the economy because it limits a free marketplace, Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which consults with states on the laws, said in a statement.

“When the government protects freedom, businesses and the economy flourish; when it limits citizens’ freedoms, it undermines innovation and removes vital players from the marketplace, thereby limiting the choices and options available to Americans," she said.

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