“You don’t belong here,” and, allegedly, “Your kind don’t belong in here.”
That phrase was allegedly spoken by a security guard to 20 low-income, mostly Latino students on Nov. 6, who were ejected from the giant Dreamforce conference on its opening day, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.
The students are members of the nonprofit dev/Mission, which teaches coding and other technology skills to disadvantaged youth.
They were invited by Salesforce to attend its annual tech conference, Dreamforce, but a pair of security guards mistakenly ejected the students from the conference after allegedly singling them out for their appearance and “fake”-appearing conference attendance badges, which were issued by Salesforce.
“It was a slap in the face to this whole diversity piece,” said Leonardo Sosa, who founded the nonprofit dev/Mission. “You have the biggest giants in the tech industry kicking us out,” he said. “That hit us very hard.”
A Salesforce spokesperson said in a statement that the company has a “deep commitment” to education and workforce development, and brought more than 400 students to the conference. “The behavior described is inconsistent with our values and we take this situation very seriously,” the statement reads.
Dreamforce is billed as the “largest software conference in the world,” by Salesforce, which is headquartered in San Francisco. Its CEO, Marc Benioff, is a San Francisco native and local philanthropist. Dreamforce is hosted in the Moscone Center and last year reportedly drew 120,000 attendees from 83 countries to The City.
Dev/Mission teaches tech industry skills to students from under-resourced communities ages 16-24, Sosa said. His students were invited to Dreamforce by Salesforce employees to participate in several technology industry workshops, which were also described in emails from Salesforce that Sosa provided to the Examiner.
“The young people were excited,” Sosa said.
Salesforce initially said they would provide BART tickets for the students, but Sosa said the tickets never came. Undeterred, the students dressed in business casual attire and trekked to Dreamforce, where Sosa said they encountered their first problem — the students’ badges looked substandard compared to the badges provided to paid attendees.
“They looked funky. They don’t look like everyone else’s badge,” Sosa said. This led security to question the student group early on, which a Salesforce staffer, Angelica Pineda, straightened out, Sosa said.
The conference’s primarily white population struck him and his students immediately, Sosa said, but he shook it off because Salesforce had welcomed them with open arms.
When a networking session with conference attendees was complete, Sosa and his 20 students walked with Pineda to a grass trail. That’s when nearby security alleged they were not supposed to be at the conference.
They said “our badges were fake, and not the right ones,” Sosa said.
He credited Pineda with trying to straighten out the situation. “Angelica did a fabulous job, she did everything in her power to keep us inside,” Sosa said. But the two security guards, who Sosa described as a black man and Latina woman, ejected them. Salesforce declined to provide the names of the security guards, or identify the firm that provided security at Dreamforce.
That’s when the male guard reportedly told the students, “You don’t belong here,” and, allegedly, “Your kind don’t belong in here.” That sentiment has reportedly shuttered technology industry doors to people of color, and encased women tech workers underneath glass ceilings since the industry’s inception, according to myriad studies, personal accounts and company admissions.
That phrase also struck Sosa’s students like a fist, he said, since they mostly come from marginalized communities. “Some were incarcerated, are homeless, and we have single moms in the program,” he said. Sosa’s organization launched four months ago, but the harm to his students convinced him to speak out about the alleged incident at Dreamforce despite fears it may impact future donations.
Sosa’s students wrote to him about their experience in emails, which Sosa provided to the Examiner. “When I first arrived, I was nervous, but it was nice hearing, ‘You belong here, we want you here!’” wrote Noe R., a 21-year-old dev/Mission student. Sosa asked students’ last names be withheld.
Noe continued, “Right off the bat, security gave us a hard time because of our badges, they were different than everyone else’s badge. It didn’t have our name on it, nor have a nice lanyard, it was Brown [sic] and cheap quality rather than the fancier ones every other guest had.”
When the students were ejected from the conference, he wrote, “I felt pretty bad about it, it felt like I was some outsider, and I was not meant to be there. I felt like I didn’t belong.”
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who has attended numerous philanthropic events with Benioff, said the incident runs counter to the CEO’s ethos. “Benioff, he’ll treat that security guard like he’s a mountain lion [messing] around with his house,” Brown said. “I think he sets the standard for his colleagues in the tech world, he and his wife really share their good fortune without hesitancy.”
Salesforce apologized to Sosa in an email, and provided the students with passes to the last day of the conference Thursday.
Sam Moss, executive director of the Mission Housing Corporation, which funds <dev/Mission>, said Salesforce’s apology wrung hollow. “I’m willing to accept that these security guards potentially acted on their own,” Moss said, “but in the end it’s Salesforce’s conference and it’s on Salesforce to make it right.”