Microsoft’s board announced it is hiring law firm Arent Fox to review the effectiveness of the company’s sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies. A shareholder proposal asking Microsoft’s board to release this report received the support of 78% of the votes cast at the company’s November 30 annual meeting.
The proposal, filed by Arjuna Capital, recommended that the report include the results of any comprehensive, independent audit/investigations, analysis of policies and practices and commitments to create a safe and inclusive work environment. In its supporting statement, Arjuna contended that reports of Bill Gates’ inappropriate relationships with Microsoft employees have “exacerbated concerns,” and argued that investors are concerned that a culture of systemic sexual harassment may be putting at risk the company’s ability to attract and retain talent. Microsoft opposed the proposal, saying it had adopted plans to begin annual public reporting in this fiscal year on its implementation of sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies and practices.
The review will compare Microsoft’s handling of harassment with that of other companies and include the following:
- A review of concerns raised by employees in 2019 in the “In Need of Assistance” email thread, steps the company has taken to respond to these concerns and additional steps that could further strengthen these safeguards.
- An analysis of policies, practices and commitments to create a safe, inclusive work environment.
- A summary of the results of any sexual harassment investigations during this same timeframe against members of the board and the company’s senior leadership team, including the allegations that a board committee investigated beginning in 2019 involving Bill Gates.
- An assessment of the steps that have been taken to hold employees, including executives, accountable for sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
- Data on the number of sexual harassment cases investigated and their resolutions.
At the conclusion of the review, the board plans to publish in the spring a transparency report for employees, shareholders and the public.