View from the airport: Diversity, discussion and debate - why Dreamforce 2017 was worth a visit

People in costumes

Dreamforce 2017 was an event of many, rather than mixed, messages.

The 170,000+ assembled attendees (not to mention the 10 million or so watching live via video stream) were treated to a heady mix of positive thinking, powerful messaging, precision marketing and potentially business-changing talks from a wide range of people.

One of the key themes this year and there were many was equality and ensuring everyone has a voice and feels empowered to be themselves and reach their full potential in the workplace.

"This company was based on core values and we have not deviated from them," Marc Benioff, company founder and CEO, told delegates during his keynote those core values being trust, growth innovation and equality.

"We have got to focus on public education, especially in this fourth industrial revolution," he added.

"We have to commit ourselves to equal pay for equal work. A woman deserves the same pay as a man for equal work."

I, for one, can absolutely, attest to the fact this is not a marketing gimmick. I was lucky enough to sit down with Lela Seka who, alongside Cindy Robbins, asked for Benioff and his board to review pay across the company and ensure it was equal, and Molly Ford, director of global equality programmes. These are individuals who are passionate about what they do now and what they feel needs to change and just sitting with them for 30 minutes was enough for me to catch that bug.

The reason being that Salesforce is being very real about the change that needs to happen. It recognises something is wrong when we live in a world that's not inclusive and ostracises, rather than welcomes, diversity. So it's making the changes within its own organisation to try and tell the story of why others should change too.

Ford, who works as part of chief equality officer Tony Prophet's team, told me during a 1:1 interview that her team wanted to democratise equality within Salesforce and is encouraging many people to be advocates for change and help them in their quest.

Salesforce isn't ignorant of the fact that one company alone cannot change everything, but it's mindful that change has to start somewhere. That's absolutely got to be commended.

The show also gave a lot back. To those in need, through its philanthropic drive to raise money for those devastated by recent fires and the emergency services, and to celebrate partner success, which in turn shows how customers have benefited and succeeded.

Absolutely, there was a raft of new product and feature announcements you can read about them here on Channel Pro and here on Cloud Pro and the company talked about how it can help address the many challenges that face businesses of all sizes and sectors.

"We're just at the tip of this iceberg in terms of the impact on customers, government and society. This is an accelerated set of technologies that has been coming on board the last decade. We're now living in a world where organisations and individuals are struggling [with] how to adopt these models. The era of profound change is upon us," said Salesforce chief operating officer, Keith Block.

"People are struggling with what the future looks like. I think it is a wonderful opportunity and we have the chance to make this a positive force in the world. We all have a responsibility a social responsibility, a corporate responsibility to make sure they are used in a good way."

My overriding takeaway was one of innovation. Innovation in terms of product development and partner support; innovation in terms of how to ensure mutual customers' success and continue to be successful; but, above all, innovation in terms of pushing the envelope and not being afraid to stand up and say that things aren't quite right, then doing something to change that.

My time at Dreamforce gave me a great deal of food for thought. It challenged my preconceptions on a number of levels, got me talking about subjects I hadn't expected to and connected me with a wonderful array of people spanning the company itself, its customers and partners.

Oh, and a side highlight? Dreamforce is the one tech conference I've been at where I've had to queue for the ladies toilets. Normally, I'm one of few women in attendance so those kind of breaks are a breeze. The fact I had to factor in extra time for queuing speaks volumes about the diversity of attendees, who Salesforce is speaking to and perhaps even more importantly, who's listening.

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.