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raceAhead: Amazon Adopts ‘The Rooney Rule’

Amazon shrugged, then blinked.

Less than a week after the company decided to oppose a shareholder proposal aimed to increase board diversity, the company relented to a drum beat of pressure.

My colleague Hallie Detrick picks up the story:

After outcry from employees, shareholders, and even Congress, Amazon’s board has reversed an earlier decision against the adoption of the “Rooney Rule,” as proposed by CtW Investment Group. The rule would require the board to interview at least one woman or minority for each opening. Named after Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the former chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee, the rule has succeeded in changing the culture of the league, if not necessarily achieving full representation among its coaches and managers.

The company confirmed the move in an SEC filing on Monday, although with an odd caveat.

“The Amazon Board of Directors has adopted a policy that the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee include a slate of diverse candidates, including women and minorities, for all director openings. This policy formalizes a practice already in place.”

With an all-white board of seven men and three women, the informal version of the rule “already in place,” clearly needed a boost.

On Friday, Congress did just that, with letters from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, asking Amazon to do better. From the CBC’s letter:

“Amazon leadership’s flat rejection of a shareholder proposal supporting the ‘Rooney rule’ in the hiring process for new management and directors is astounding,” wrote the CBC members. “Our astonishment is compounded when you consider the fact that your ‘customer-centric’ company — with over 300 million active users — has zero people of color on your 10-person Board of Directors.”

Brian Husman, Amazon’s VP of public policy, responded to the CBC, to let them know the company’s thinking behind the change.

“We reached this decision after listening to your feedback as well as that from Amazon employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders about the Board diversity proposal. These conversations led us to reconsider both our decision on the shareholder proposal and how we explained our initial recommendation.”

But I give it up to the employees, who first challenged Amazon leadership in an email thread shared with Recode.

“What exactly is the complex process that we currently use to find and vet talent that we are so proud of?” one employee asked. “[H]ow is it successful, if we aren’t diverse at all, and notably last amongst top tech companies?” said another.

Another drove her point home with flair and a fist bump, taking the time to acknowledge the hard work of the diversity professionals inside the company.

“I know there are many people internally working really hard on these issues (both FT D&I staff and all the unpaid diversity laborers in our affinity group leadership teams!) who I know are reading stuff like this and feeling like their efforts are being detracted,” she wrote.

“We don’t need more effort, we need COURAGE.”

On Point

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Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be made free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is easy to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness and to defeat the very end of their being.
Frederick Douglass