Arjuna Capital, the activist arm of investment firm Baldwin Brothers, has been on a campaign to force tech companies to disclose gender gaps in their payrolls by advancing shareholder resolutions to that effect at Microsoft, Facebook, Ebay, and other large, high-profile organizations. When Arjuna submitted such a resolution at Amazon, the company asked the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to omit the proposal from its annual ballot, arguing that it was too vague and aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist at Amazon. This week, the SEC rejected that argument, Reuters reports:
Arjuna called for an October deadline for Amazon to report the difference between males’ and females’ pay and its plans to close the gap, according to a filing on the SEC’s website. While such proposals generally face long odds, just getting one on the ballot of a high-profile company like Amazon can be a catalyst for change. In a ruling on Tuesday, the SEC said it did not agree with Amazon that the proposal was “so inherently vague or indefinite” that it would impede implementation.
Amazon, which estimates that as of July women made up 39 percent of its global workforce and 24 percent of managers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would include the proposal on its ballot. “We’re committed to fairly and equitably compensating all our employees, and we review all employee compensation on at least an annual basis to ensure that it meets that bar,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. Amazon added that it was already working with organizations such as Code.org, the Anita Borg Institute and Girls Who Code to increase women’s and minorities’ involvement in the technology industry.
Amazon’s objections are reminiscent of how Apple’s board reacted to a recent attempt by another activist investor to push through a resolution compelling it to recruit more diverse leadership (which shareholders voted down last month). Arjuna had submitted resolutions at Apple and Intel, but withdrew them after these organizations took action on the issue. Intel revealed in February that it had analyzed its compensation practices and found no meaningful gender pay gap; Apple recently told shareholders that it had done the same and found that women there earned 99.6 percent of what men do. Arjuna touted both of these disclosures as victories, to the extent that they were motivated by pressure from the activist investment group.
Indeed, it may be that Arjuna’s goal is not to actually pass these shareholder resolutions, but rather to pressure the tech giants into investigating and disclosing their pay gaps voluntarily. Then again, Intel and Apple could just be coming around to the realization that the push for pay transparency makes business sense, and that it’s best to get out in front of it.