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Salesforce’s Elizabeth Pinkham Discusses Open-Office Culture, What Inspires Her And Workplace Equality

When Salesforce Executive Vice President and Head of Global Real Estate Elizabeth Pinkham was a kid, she wanted to be either a zoo veterinarian or an interior designer. 

Salesforce Executive Vice President and Head of Global Real Estate Elizabeth Pinkham

“I don’t get to work with leopards or baby elephants, but at least today I get to work with immensely talented architects and interior designers, so it kind of worked out,” she said in an email.

Pinkham, keynote speaker at Bisnow’s Bay Area Power Women on May 30 in San Francisco, has spent the last 18 years working with one of the largest global tech companies.

“Working at Salesforce has been a dream,” she said. “The amount of growth that we’re seeing is unprecedented and we have a unique opportunity to develop a real estate strategy to match.”

Salesforce hit $10B in revenue during fiscal year 2018 and is eyeing $20B, Pinkham said.  

When she first started with the corporate marketing team, she did everything from writing website copy to thinking up demand-generation programs, she said. Pinkham later moved into a role leading Salesforce’s event strategy where she produced creative immersive environments for networking and learning where customers, partners and prospects could come together, she said. 

Events became a major focus of the company and its customers and grew into the annual Dreamforce event. This event is now one of the largest enterprise technology events of its kind with over 170,000 registrants every year. It has sold out in each of the last three years.

At Dreamforce 2015, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said he wanted this kind of energy, clear messaging, fun and community in Salesforce’s offices, which then led to Pinkham's shift toward redesigning Salesforce’s offices

“With Salesforce’s phenomenal growth, our workspaces were starting to reflect moments in time instead of a cohesive design strategy,” she said. “We looked like very different companies depending on what door you opened!”

After reviewing what its employees liked the most, Salesforce partnered with Mark Cavagnero Associates and The Wiseman Group to create a workspace with warm, calming spaces and natural light.

The result has been the creation of Salesforce’s ohana culture to create better connections to Salesforce's entire ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. Instead of reserving the top floor of its offices for executives, Salesforce has set aside the top floor of its offices as a community space that can be used by nonprofits and community members. The ohana design incorporates wellness and sustainability and access to natural light. 

Inspiration for new design and spaces comes from Pinkham's traveling, something she enjoys doing when she is not working. Last year, she was inspired by Japan’s countryside and artisans, a road trip through Texas and a visit to the Navajo Nation in the Southwest.  

Leading By Example

Salesforce Executive Vice President and Head of Global Real Estate Elizabeth Pinkham

Just as Salesforce’s offices provide a collaborative work environment, Pinkham's leadership style also is collaborative. Her team is focused on design, strategy, transactions, workplace services, creative, finance, operations and communications as it pertains to real estate. 

Something she deploys in her day-to-day work and with her team is to adopt Benioff’s philosophy of approaching life with a beginner’s mind, she said. 

“Be open and eager to learn,” she said. “Don’t take the ‘well this worked before so let’s just keep doing it’ angle. Constantly question.”

For women just starting out in either tech or real estate, she recommends tapping into the networks that exist for women in both fields. 

“We’re in a golden age of exposing the equality gap between men and women in the workplace, especially in these two industries,” she said. 

She said there are plenty of powerhouse women in both fields who would be willing to help young women on their journeys. 

“I would also say to relax and have fun along the way,” she said. “It’s perfectly fine to try something out, and if it’s not for you, to pivot and try something else. … Don’t settle until you find something that makes you want to get to work and dig in.” 

At Salesforce, equality is one of company’s core values, Pinkham said. 

“We believe in the world where everyone has equal rights, equal access to education, equal opportunities to succeed and equal pay for equal work,” she said. 

In 2015, the company did a comprehensive audit of employee salaries and found that it needed to adjust some salaries for both men and women, Pinkham said. The company spent about $3M to eliminate pay differences and remains committed to reviewing salaries each year to close the gap. 

“We want to empower other companies to do the same,” she said. “Together, we can create equality for all, regardless of the industry.”

Meet Salesforce Executive Vice President and Head of Global Real Estate Elizabeth Pinkham at Bisnow's Bay Area Power Women event in San Francisco May 30.