A battle over gender pay equity is looming in Silicon Valley.
An investment management firm is launching proxy fights to force some of the country's biggest technology firms to disclose pay equity disparities between women and men employees. Arjuna Capital, in partnership with financial advisory firm Baldwin Brothers Inc., is hoping to expose embarrassing pay gaps and force tech companies to take concrete steps to correct them.
Arjuna filed shareholder proposals at nine technology firms, ranging from Amazon to Facebook, requesting the issue be put to a proxy ballot.
"Silicon Valley is struggling so mightily with diversity, with discrimination lawsuits and lack of women in top ranks - this is an issue they need to address head on and be bold about it," said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at Arjuna.
Last month, Intel released its "Diversity & Inclusion Report," which proclaimed the company had achieved "100% gender pay parity" across all U.S. job types and levels in 2015. "We believe a diverse engineering workforce is critical to driving continued innovation and growth in our industry," said Danielle Brown, Intel's chief diversity and inclusion officer, in the company's blog.
Then, last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook told shareholders at the company's annual meeting that a pay study showed women earned 99.6 cents for every dollar that men earned at Apple's U.S. offices in 2015.
"It was a powerful message," said Lamb.
Arjuna Capital has now dropped its shareholder motions at Intel and Apple, given their public commitments to the issue.
However, seven other companies remain in Arjuna's crosshairs: the shareholder proposals are expected to come up for votes at eBay (EBAY) in May, Expedia Inc. (EXPE) in June, Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) in June, Facebook Inc. (FB) in June, and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) in December. Discussions are continuing at this time with Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) while Amazon (AMZN) has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to exclude the proposal from its ballot, said Lamb.
Gender pay equity has long been a hot topic, where there's plenty of talk, polite protests and statistics to back up the problem - but little real change. The latest Census Bureau data indicates that women earned 78.6% of what men did in 2014, which is just 0.3% better than the previous year. At this rate, women won't receive equal pay until 2058, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.
"This is unacceptable and a sad reflection on society," said Lamb. "We just can't wait another 40 years to achieve fair pay."
Getting companies to acknowledge there is a problem is the first step. But it often takes some prodding.