On the heels of Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality at last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Arjuna Capital issued a press release yesterday referencing Arquette’s remarks and calling attention to eBay’s decision to oppose the wealth-management firm’s gender-pay-transparency proposal.
Could proposals like this one be a preview of things to come? I would think many HR leaders probably hope they won’t be.
Here are some specifics from the Arjuna’s release …
“eBay’s Board has committed to publicly oppose a shareholder proposal filed by Arjuna Capital … requesting eBay publicly report the pay disparity between male and female employees and set goals to close the gap.
This is the first year the issue of gender wage equality has been put to the proxy ballot of a U.S. corporation and the Company’s opposition comes in the face of public outcry and regulatory efforts … .
The eBay Board has stated that it believes that implementation of this proposal is not in the best interests of eBay and its stockholders.”
Arjuna’s proposal calls for eBay to issue a report that would be “adequate for investors to assess eBay’s strategy and performance” and “would include the percentage pay gap between male and female employees, policies to improve performance and quantitative reduction targets.”
In case you’re not familiar with Arjuna (I certainly wasn’t), here’s a snippet from its website …
“Our mission is twofold: Through our research and activism, we seek to advance the understanding of what sustainability means for investor returns and corporate profitability.
We bring the fruits of those efforts to our clients in the form of the most diverse, sustainable, profitable and suitable investment opportunities on offer.
We work to build and preserve our clients’ wealth while serving the common good through enlightened engagement in the capital markets.”
In its response to Arjuna, eBay wrote …
“We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity in the workplace and strongly believe we continue to make demonstrable progress in building a diverse eBay. As such, the Board feels that the proposal would not enhance the Company’s existing commitment to an inclusive culture or meaningfully further its goal and efforts in support of workplace diversity.”
Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement for Arjuna Capital, said the eBay proposal is Arjuna’s first and only attempt to seek information on pay gaps. “But our goal,” she explained, “is to invest in companies committed to the innovation and success diversity fosters, and we intend to continue to seek more transparency on these issues.” (She said she’s heard similar proposals, independent of Arjuna, were sent to the boards of ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart for the current proxy season.)
Lamb said she was surprised by the board’s opposition, since the eBay proposal is clearly in the interest of enhancing shareholder value.
Of course, not everyone agrees that would be the case.
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates, a New York-based compensation-consulting firm, who told me he wasn’t at all surprised eBay’s board would reject the proposal.
“In terms of eBay,” Johnson said, “the assumption is being made that the jobs are the same, but the reality is that that may not be the case. eBay, for instance, may have a big call center staffed by females. If that’s true, it would skew all the numbers.”
Johnson noted that the Arjuna proposal is an attempt to put “a lot of pressure on fixing something that may not be correctable” and could ultimately “do a lot of harm” by encouraging employers like eBay to offshore jobs or hire part-time workers.
Apparently not one to mince words, Johnson described the effort as “naïve” and a “big, expensive distraction.”
Like I said, not everyone agrees the proposal is a good idea.