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Amazon drops resistance to proposal requiring it interview women, blacks, Hispanics for board

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.

“These conversations led us to reconsider both our decision on the shareholder proposal and how we explained our initial recommendation,” he wrote.

More: Silicon Valley’s race gap is getting worse, not better, new research shows

“We know that diversity and inclusion are good for our business and our customers. That’s why we want the best builders of all backgrounds working at Amazon.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” the letter continued. 

Last week Amazon’s board voted against a shareholder proposal by the CtW Investment Group that would have made it institute the Rooney Rule for board candidates.

 

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.

The Rooney Rule proposal wouldn’t require that Amazon hire more diverse executives, only that it include qualified women and minority candidates in the list of those considered for each position.

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.

In its Friday letter, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus noted that of 105 top executives at Amazon, only one is Hispanic. Only 5% of Amazon’s managers are Hispanic.

 

“With Hispanics accounting for the nation’s largest minority group and nearly 17% of the labor force, it is clear that Amazon has room for improvement,” the letter said.

More: Tech industry’s diversity efforts haven’t lived up to promises.

A new report explains why.

More: Silicon Valley’s race gap is getting worse, not better, new research shows

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.

Four members of the House Tech Accountability Caucus who are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus also sent a letter to Amazon on Friday.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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