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Microsoft investor Lamb sees change after harassment report vote


Natasha Lamb (founder partner, portfolio manager at Arjuna Capital).

Michael Prince

Natasha Lamb was stunned. It was November. MicrosoftThe proposal by her to force the software manufacturer into publishing a report on its effectiveness in sexual harassment was accepted by shareholders.

Microsoft opposed the proposal and asked investors to reject it. Microsoft won the fight and said that Microsoft would review its policies in spring. 

In an interview with Microsoft, Lamb said that it was rare for a majority to vote. He is a portfolio manager and founding partner at Arjuna Capital. made its announcementLast week. A report by a indicates that Arjuna has a stake worth nearly $20 million in Microsoft. regulatory filing.

Lamb stated that she was happy with Microsoft’s decision to engage a legal firm to do an independent evaluation and review executive-level matters, such as one concerning Lamb. Bill GatesMicrosoft’s cofounder and ex-CEO.

These shareholder proposals used to be purely for entertainment and were almost never approved. These types of shareholder proposals are becoming increasingly popular as investors pay more attention to environmental, governance, and governance (ESG), and search for companies that take them seriously.

The #MeToo movement of 2017 saw harassment and issues related to social justice gain momentum. This trend continued into 2020. death of George FloydWhile being held in custody by the police.

Arjuna and other asset managers are seeking companies that will speak out publicly on their efforts to increase diversity and eliminate bad actors. They have long been focused on increasing revenue and profit margins. Some board members they view as hindering progress are even being voted against.

According to the report, there were 29 social and environmental shareholder proposals that received majority support in the twelve months ended June. This is an increase of 16 from the previous year. an analysisAdvice firm FTI Consulting.

Darla Suckey, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Society for Corporate Governance (and a former assistant secretary), said that they are now receiving greater levels of support. American Express.

Lamb reports that big money managers have been driving pressure campaigns since they started around two-three years ago.

“Historically Vanguard State Street BlackRockLamb explained that none of these people voted on ESG-related issues. They voted for management. This has all changed. They reach out now to me with questions or to talk about my proposals.”

Arjuna has grown because of this.

Lamb explained that client demand is on the rise and people are reflecting more about what they think needs to be done in order to make the world a better place.

Arjuna has been interested in Microsoft. According to reports, Gates had a relationship in 2000 with an employee. A shareholder proposal also mentioned that Microsoft was facing a 2012 lawsuit in class action. 238 people were accused of sexual harassment.

Bill Gates was co-founder and chair of Microsoft’s Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow (U.K.) on November 2, 2021.

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Two proposals were made by Lamb to investors. A report was requested by Lamb on harassment. She also asked Microsoft for an analysis about race- and gender-related pay gaps. This topic is particularly important to Arjuna. Similar initiatives had been filed at over a dozen companies before the firm.

Stuckey stated that she is the pioneer in gender pay equity. She achieved a lot. Her message was heard by many companies.

A key supporter

Lamb donned a sparkling necklace, a white shirt, and a jacket to her presentation. This was just a few weeks prior to the shareholder meeting. The computer recorded her speaking for the propositions.

Two video clips from Lamb were included in the Microsoft Teams broadcast that was held on Nov. 30, 2013. Hossein Nowbar from Microsoft, the corporate secretary, appeared and reiterated the recommendation that shareholders reject the propositions.

Lamb had an ally who was powerful. Institutional Shareholder Services, an advisory firm, had recommended that investors support Arjuna’s harassment proposal.

“Support is required for this proposal requesting a study evaluating the effectiveness of the company’s workplace sexual harassment policies, since the company faces similar controversies,” ISS stated. This report could help shareholders evaluate how well the company addresses such risks.

Soon, Nowbar returned to provide preliminary results.

He said that the shareholders proposal to report on workplace sexual harassment policies effectiveness had been approved.

At the Arjuna office where Lamb and a few others were watching the broadcast, there was much laughter. All four other proposals were rejected, which included Arjuna’s proposal on pay equity.

Brad Smith, Microsoft vice president and president, addressed the harassment voteFollowing the release of the results.

Smith explained that “I think it is becoming more apparent to us that the nature and tone of the conversation are changing,” not just at Microsoft. Smith said, “We are seeing more shareholder associations come forward. They have a wider variety of proposals. There has been a significant shift in relations between shareholders and large companies.

Smith’s tone surprised Lamb. Smith’s tone surprised Lamb. After all, her company attempted to convince her to withdraw the proposal. She was not deterred, however. After the Gates affair report, she said that it was crucial to continue.

She stated, “It was obvious to us that this issue needed to be brought to the company and made available to investors so it didn’t damage the brand.” It’s all about recruiting and keeping talent at Microsoft. This is a highly competitive market. If you don’t address these blemishes promptly and openly it could be an obstacle to your ability to attract top talent.

Lamb now wants to invest in other technology investments at Arjuna. The company has assets worth $400 million.

She said, “The fact there are so few women or people of color in these organisations can lead to, my think, a toxic cultural.” Microsoft is not alone in experiencing sexual harassment.

WATCH: Apple faces U.S. probe into two harassment claims