Washington - For the second year in a row, shareholders of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, voted down a proposal asking the tech giant to publish a report on possible pay disparities between its male and female employees.
The vote comes at a time when the company is grappling with a federal lawsuit tied to this very issue and as the tech industry faces heightened scrutiny over gender pay, a lack of diversity, and dysfunctional work environments.
Under the proposal, the company would measure and disclose how much its female employees make as a percentage of their male counterparts. The plan, put forward by Arjuna Capital, an investment firm, and other co-filers also called for the company to design a policy to tackle any gender pay disparity.
Read also: What's the cause of the gender wage gap?
"Gender pay disparity is not only one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, it poses a risk to companies' performance, brand, and investor returns," said Natasha Lamb, Arjuna's director of shareholder engagement, at the shareholder meeting. "This issue is particularly salient to the technology industry, which struggles to attract, retain, and move women into positions of leadership," she said.
The board of directors told shareholders that approving the proposal would not be in the best interest of the company or its investors, according to Alphabet's 2017 statement to stockholders. Management pointed to Google's existing diversity reports and internal evaluations as sufficient measures to ensure pay equity among its staff.
"Our board of directors does not believe that the proposal would enhance Alphabet's existing commitment to fostering a fair and inclusive culture," read the statement.
Like many of its peers in the tech industry, Google produces an annual report outlining the gender and ethnic makeup of its employees.
A vast majority of Alphabet's employees work for Google. But the report doesn't outline gender pay disparities. Sixty-nine percent of the company's global employees are male and 31 percent are female, according to Google' 2016 diversity report, which captured data from the year prior. But it's unclear how much women employees are paid relative to men.
Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have each reported on their gender pay disparity, with each company claiming a discrepancy near zero. Lamb described Alphabet as a laggard, compared to its peers, when it comes to transparency over gender pay.
Alphabet declined to comment.
Arjuna Capital's push for Alphabet to release its gender pay
information is part of a broader campaign to address enduring gender
discrimination in the American workplace. Within
The calls also come as accounts of workplace harassment
continue to surface. In February, former Uber employee Susan Fowler published a
blog post alleging episodes of sexual harassment that she said took place while
she worked as an engineer at the company. Since her writing, Uber initiated
several internal investigations to examine what Fowler and others described as
a toxic work culture. But Uber's sexual harassment controversy is viewed by
some not as an outlier, but just the latest, prominent example of women facing
discrimination at work in
Labour Department lawyers have accused Alphabet of underpaying women, finding evidence of "extreme" gender pay discrimination. Google has denied those accusations. In a hearing last month, Alphabet said that it couldn't turn over internal wage data that the department requested because that would cost too much - $100 000 and require hundreds of hours of work, according to the Guardian.
Alphabet is the third major tech company since 2016 to fall under Labour Department scrutiny. Palantir was accused of discriminating against Asian job applicants, and Oracle was sued for engaging in pay discrimination against women employees, as well as Asian and black workers, according to the Guardian.
At the -shareholder meeting, Lamb also presented a shareholder proposal for Google to analyze its role in the spread of misleading and fabricated news stories, so-called fake news. With management's blessing, that proposal failed.
Another plan presented by NorthStars Asset Management would have given stockholders equal voting power.That was defeated as well.