How Salesforce's Marilyn Lin became the embodiment of change she wanted to see in the workforce

Marilyn Lin
Marilyn Lin, interim global head of customer support at SalesForce’s MuleSoft

Marilyn Lin, interim global head of customer support at SalesForce’s MuleSoft, has been the embodiment of the change she wants to see in the workforce for as long as she can remember. And a drive to represent and mentor women, minorities and amplify the voices of working parents spurs her on.

Having graduated in 2002 from the University of Southern California in business with an emphasis on management information systems, she was one of the few women in her technical classes in college. Her first taste of full-time work was in the male-dominated IT audit sector at EY. Subsequent roles saw her move to tech giant Oracle (ORCL), before landing at Salesforce (CRM) in 2007 where she has been ever since.

At Salesforce it was evident even from her initial job interview, that she could help to alter how women's voices were heard and represented within the company.

“I'm not one to just sit back and wait for others to step in and do something, especially when it comes to activism, I just feel strongly like I need to get involved in and be part of the change,” says Lin.

Shortly after joining, she co-founded the Salesforce Women’s Network which was the company’s first ERG and has since focused on campaigns to highlight the importance of intersectionality as well as the issues facing working parents.

“When we started the movement, there were about 13 of us as the founding group; now it's global, with chapters in every office location,” says Lin of the ERG.

All these things and more have meant Lin has topped the HERoes Women Role Model Executives list for 2021. This celebrates 100 women leading by example and driving change to increase gender diversity in the workplace.

As part of her work, Lin has also come to shine a spotlight on the importance of intersectionality in one-on-one discussions with executive leaders, helping them understand why representation up and down the organization beyond just gender matters.

“It’s crucial at leadership level for others to look up and see that there's someone out there who can represent them and they can feel comfortable reaching out to, to have those kinds of conversations.”

A defining moment in this for Lin was recognising the #StopAsianHate movement, which aimed to show solidarity, highlight and combat anti-Asian-violence in light of the pandemic.

“It really made me break out of my comfort zone,” says Lin. “I was able to stand up in an all hands call and speak up as a leader of a team to share my feelings and my thoughts around it and my own experience of racism and acts of violence.”

Lin notes that, culturally, it is a difficult thing to do to show vulnerability at work.

“I wanted to provide that space for others who might be feeling the same way and not knowing how to bring this up, especially in a workplace setting. I thought that was a courageous move.”

Lin’s mentoring also has an element of paying it forward.

“No matter where you are, in your career, your level, there's always someone who is more junior than you or with less experience in their profession. And that you can always be a mentor and guide for them, you don't have to wait till you have a big title to go and be someone's mentor,” she says.

Citing the fact that nearly 3 million women have left the workforce since COVID struck Lin has continued to be a strong advocate of championing working parents throughout the pandemic. As a founding member of the Parent in Tech Alliance — formed in 2017 — she is on a mission to banish “the maternal wall” which prevents working mothers from thriving in the workplace.

Beyond this she believes that providing both mothers and fathers with support will help rebalance prescriptive gender norms. She is also a board member of the Children’s Council in San Francisco, a non-profit which aims to connect parents to child care that meets their needs.

Lin hopes that one of the silver linings of the last 18 months will be that more work is done by the government to address the childcare needs of working parents, also believing employers should evaluate how they can better support working parents through their company benefits.

Among those she looks up to are her dad, who raised her without limiting her opportunities to try and do things due to gender norms, and her professional mentor Judith Platz — senior vice president of Salesforce Service Cloud Support.

“Even though our time working directly together has been short, I have learnt a tremendous amount from Judi in the past nine months,” says Lin.

“Judi is a thought leader in Support Services, a champion and ally for DEI, and a compassionate leader.”