Microsoft investors are calling for greater transparency over sexual harassment claims following allegations against ex-chief Bill Gates.
At the company’s annual meeting 78 per cent of attendees voted in favour of a proposal put forward by activist investors Arjun Capital which called for independent assessment of the company’s sexual harassment processes, as well as public reporting.
Microsoft’s leadership, which reportedly called on investors to reject the motion, has faced criticism over its handling of highly publicised sexual harassment allegations brought against former chief executive and founder Bill Gates by a former employee.
“A majority of Microsoft’s investors are now calling on the company to shine a bright light on sexual harassment. The fact that executives responded so quickly following the vote is a sea change from how Microsoft has dealt with this issue in the past,” said Natasha Lamb, Managing Partner at Arjuna Capital.
“While the accusations against Bill Gates are only the latest revelations in what has been a long-seated, poorly managed problem, it’s significant that Microsoft is now listening to its shareholders and committing to transparent, unbiased, independent reporting,” Lamb continued.
Microsoft has a patchy history when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment allegations at the firm.
In 2015, Microsoft attracted national attention after its employees brought forward a class-action lawsuit with 238 complaints alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment. Three years later, the class-action documentation was unsealed revealing hundreds of cases unaddressed by HR. Microsoft responded with a commitment to better manage future investigations.
Just a year later, in 2019, a company-wide email thread circulated detailing employees’ current experiences with workplace sexual harassment. Microsoft responded with yet another commitment to reform its culture and publish internal investigation data. Employees have since stated data remains unavailable.
Last year, Mr Gates resigned from the company’s board after it opened an investigation into his affair with a colleague. Reports have since emerged that Mr Gates, who this year divorced from his wife of more than 27 years Melinda Gates, made repeated unwanted advances to employees.
Arjuna Capital has raised concerns that a permissive environment for sexual harassment was preventing the company from attracting and retaining top talent.
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