Salesforce CEO: Government leaders are 'weaker' so 'CEOs need to be stronger' and fight for social change

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been hailed as a new kind of activist CEO.

For over a year he’s been orchestrating the business community to take a stand against state laws that critics say legalise discrimination against gay and transgender people.

But he says, on a personal level, this isn’t an issue close to his heart. He’s merely using his bully pit to stand up for his employees, he told NPR on Monday.

He only got involved in the state-level LGBT laws after employees in Indiana sent him many messages warning him about Indiana’s impending law last year and asking him to do something. Salesforce is a major employer in Indiana.

In fact, he says he doesn’t even know that much about LGBT issues (emphasis ours).

“This is all about my employees. This not my personal advocacy. On a personal level, my biggest commitment is to children’s health where I built two children’s hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland.

So this issue is not my personal issue. This is not about me. This is about something that I really don’t know that much about, to be honest with you.

I know about how to create a great company. And if you want to create a great company, you better be on the side of your employees. And you better be committed to being their partner in many different type of situations that are life situations, and this is one of them.”

The current battleground is Northern Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, which has gained national attention, including Benioff’s ire and the ire of over 80 other corporate CEOs, as well as the entertainment industry.

CEOs need to “step up”

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest called him a “a corporate bully,” and said that someone from San Francisco shouldn’t be telling North Carolina what to do. Of course, Benioff isn’t alone in condemning this law — the state’s own attorney general called the transgender bathroom an “embarrassment” and said he wouldn’t defend it.

The law forbids transgender people from using a public bathroom based on their gender identity and limits the laws local governments can pass based on sexual identity, its critics say.

Benioff told NPR that Lt. Gov. Forest is “wrong.”

He says that critics are not outsiders from faraway places, but are “the major employers in his state.He is not in dialog with them,” Benioff told NPR.

And Benioff says CEOs can and should be pushing for social change in general.

“Because our governmental leaders tend to be a little weaker than they were, CEOs need to step up and be a little stronger,” he says.

Benioff has also been an activist on equal pay for women, starting at his own company.

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