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SEC Orders Amazon Shareholder Vote Over Gender Pay

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Amazon shareholders ordered to vote on proposal over salaries between men and women employees

Amazon has been thrust into the ongoing debate about gender pay, after the US securities regulator intervened in the matter.

Amazon was one of a number of tech firms approached over gender pay by activist investor Arjuna Capital.

Amazon Opposition

The background is that Arjuna Capital filed nine shareholder proposals this proxy season asking Silicon Valley to close the gender pay gap.

Proposals were filed with Intel, Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, Adobe, and eBay.

It asked these firms to reveal what they were doing to address gender pay equality, during their annual shareholder ballot. Essentially, the proposal looks to force companies to reveal the differences between men and women’s pay at the company.

Amazon was the only firm to approach the Securities and Exchange Commission to gain permission to omit the proposal from a shareholder vote. But the SEC has rejected Amazon’s request to omit the measure from its annual ballot.

women cisco networks girl tablet server © wavebreakmedia Shutterstock“We are unable to concur in your view that Amazon may exclude the proposal under rule 14a-8(i)(3),” said the SEC. “We are unable to conclude that the proposal is so inherently vague or indefinite that neither the shareholders voting on the proposal, nor the company in implementing the proposal, would be able to determine with any reasonable certainty exactly what actions or measures the proposal requires. Accordingly, we do not believe that Amazon may omit the proposal from its proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(3).”

According to Reuters, Amazon estimates that as of July last year, women made up 39 percent of its global workforce and 24 percent of managers. The e-commerce giant did not respond to requests about whether it would now 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 told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Gender Gap

Amazon it seems was the lone dissenting voice on the proposal.

Apple and Intel have already taken action. Intel reportedly earmarked $300m (£207m) for diversity and said it found its male and female employees were equally paid.

Google, e-Bay, Facebook and Microsoft have scheduled a vote on the matter this year. Talks with Adobe are ongoing.

Last year Google researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that Google shows less adverts for high-paid jobs to women than it does to men.

In late 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella landed himself in hot water for saying that women don’t need to ask for a pay raise and should just trust the system to pay them well.

Previous studies have found that women are far less well-represented than men in IT recruitment, with more than half of IT employers saying one in twenty, or five percent, of IT job applicants are women.

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