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Microsoft Shareholders Vote For Better Sexual Harassment Reporting

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Published: December 9, 2021
Microsoft will hire an independent party to assess how it handles issues of sexual harrassment.
Microsoft will hire an independent party to assess how it handles issues of sexual harrassment. (Image: efes via Pixabay)

On Nov. 30, shareholders of Microsoft voted in support of making the company more transparent when it comes to independent investigation and public reporting of sexual harassment claims. The proposal was brought forward by Arjuna Capital, an investment firm that is known for its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) activism. 

The company board had asked to strike down the proposal, stating that Microsoft already has numerous mechanisms to tackle issues of sexual harassment. However, 77.97 percent of voters supported the proposal. 

After the vote, Microsoft announced that it will hire an independent, third-party assessment of its sexual harassment processes and will report them publicly. In a question-answer session, Microsoft president Brad Smith said that the company places “enormous importance” on the issue of sexual harassment.

“There are new steps that we are going to take that we were thinking about, and I think that the resolution and the dialogue we’ve had has helped us advance our decision-making… So for one, we will take new steps to be more transparent as a company. We have been sharing more data internally. We recognize that there are shareholder interest, and so we’ll share more data externally as well. You’ll see us publish more reports, just to reflect where this is going,” Smith said.

The Microsoft president also asserted that the company will share whatever is stated in the report prepared by the independent party hired to assess its handling of sexual harassment cases. If there are recommendations for changing any policies, the company will “think hard” about making those changes.

In a statement, Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, praised Microsoft executives for responding quickly after the vote. She said it was a “sea change” when compared to how the company dealt with these issues in the past. However, Lamb still wants more to be done.

“The company’s pledge to begin annual public reporting on sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations ignores the need for reporting on independent and executive-level investigations,” Lamb said in an investor letter. Microsoft already shares sexual harassment data internally.

The Microsoft vote is an indication of how big investment firms are increasingly supporting investors in matters of ESG policies of companies. In October, Tesla revealed that shareholder support for a resolution on how it handles complaints of discrimination and harassment increased to 45 percent when compared to last year’s 27 percent.