Microsoft shareholders rebelled against the board and demanded an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Bill Gates

Bill Gates (New York Times)

Microsoft reported this Tuesday that its shareholders approved, contrary to management’s stance, a proposal calling for a report from the software company on the effectiveness of its policies to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, following disclosures about co-founder Bill Gates’ conduct and other allegations of misconduct.

Around the 80% of the votes issued at the company’s annual meeting were in favor of the preparation of said report by the firm Arjuna Capital, Microsoft said in a presentation. The vote at the annual shareholders’ meeting was very unusual: an overwhelming majority “rebelled” against the position of the board of directors.. The company immediately promised greater transparency, although it declined to say it would reveal details about individual cases or reopen investigations of previous complaints.

Arjuna is a Boston-based investment advisory firm that often files shareholder resolutions for companies to make changes such as the release of more data on equal pay. Microsoft already shares annual data internally on the volume of sexual harassment problems that arise and the results of investigations into it. It has now adopted plans to make that data public..

As reported by the Financial Times, Arjuna indicated that Microsoft’s human resources department had only admitted one claim out of a total of 238 included in a class action lawsuit for discrimination and harassment in 2012.

Reports of Bill Gates’ inappropriate relationships and sexual advances toward Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, calling into question the culture established by the top management, as well as the role of the board of directors in the time to hold the guilty responsible”, Highlighted the shareholders’ proposal.

According to the ISS firm, it is the first time since 2000 that shareholders have voted against the official position of the administration.

“There are new steps we are going to take and we were thinking about,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft president, after the vote. “I believe that the resolution, and the dialogue that we have had, has helped us to advance in our decision-making.” Although Smith announced that the company would commission an independent review of the complaint handling processes and publish the results, it did not commit to adopt the recommendations.. Also, she said Microsoft would release details about its gender pay gap globally.

The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith (EFE)
The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith (EFE)

In October, Microsoft confirmed that executives Bill Gates was warned in 2008 to stop sending inappropriate emails to an employee, but they gave up the matter when he told them he would stop doing it. At the time, the famous mogul did not deny the email exchanges, and members of Microsoft’s board of directors, who were informed of the situation, refused to take further action because there was no physical interaction between Gates and the employee.

This 2008 warning came more than a decade before alleged similar behavior prompted the company to hire a law firm in 2019 to investigate the letter from an engineer who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Gates for several years. That investigation preceded Gates’ departure from Microsoft’s board of directors last year, but did not come to light until Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced in May that they had decided to put end of their 27-year marriage. The divorce was finalized in August. They both continue to run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bill Gates (Reuters)
Bill Gates (Reuters)

The latest developments are a blow to Microsoft’s reputation. The vote came at a time when large mutual fund companies increasingly support investors’ challenges to companies on environmental, social and governance issues and when employees of large technology companies organize strikes. to protest against allegations of sexual harassment.

Last month, automaker Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O) said support for a shareholder resolution on how it handles arbitration to resolve workplace discrimination and harassment complaints rose to 46. % of votes cast at its annual meeting, up from 27% for a similar proposal in 2020.

(With information from Reuters)

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Microsoft shareholders rebelled against the board and demanded an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Bill Gates