Sears will partner with Amazon to install tires purchased on the site.(Photo: LEON NEAL, AFP/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO — After voting to recommend against a shareholder proposal that demanded it commit to interviewing women and minorities when it has open board positions, Amazon’s board has shifted course — and says it has adopted a policy to include a diverse slate of candidates for director openings.
The change was announced Monday and comes after letters from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus were sent to the company on Friday expressing concern about its resistance to the proposal, which asked Amazon to commit to what’s known as the Rooney Rule for hiring.
The shift comes as tech companies have been increasingly held to account for the low numbers of women, Hispanics and African-Americans both in the executive ranks and among their technical staffs, numbers which have remained stubbornly low despite several years of pressure to better reflect the customers they serve.
In a letters to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday, Amazon vice president for public policy Brian Huseman said the company had reached the decision after listening to feedback from the caucuses, Amazon employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders.
That name refers to the NFL’s policy requiring teams to hold an interview with at least one minority candidate when filling a head coach or senior football operations job. It is named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and former chair of the league’s diversity committee.
After the board initially rejected the proposal — saying it “would not be an effective and prudent use of the Company’s time and resources” and saying “we are proud of our diverse Board” (7 men and three women, all white) — the board said Monday it would adopt a new policy.
The board’s Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee will now include a slate of diverse candidates, including women and minorities, for all director openings. The company said the new policy formalizes a practice that was already in place.
The proposal suggested that committing to at least including women and minorities among those who are interviewed “establishes a modest but demonstrably effective requirement that we believe will accelerate the transition from talk to action at Amazon.
Amazon will hold its annual shareholders meeting in Seattle on May 30.
In their letter, representatives Yvette Clarke of New York, Robin Kelly of Illinois, Bonnie Watson Coleman of new Jersey and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri said they found the rejection of the shareholder proposal “astounding.”
“The Rooney Rule should be the floor, not the ceiling,” their letter read.
Diversity among tech company leadership has long been a concern. In October, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent letters to 32 top companies including Apple, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Uber asking for detailed diversity statistics and an accounting of how much partnership and philanthropic spending is allocated to Hispanic-serving and Hispanic-led institutions.