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.”
|Affirmative action and diversity programs in Brazil show promise, reveal a troubled history|
|Brazil has long had its own complicated history with slavery, race, bias and hierarchy, and it shows. Despite being the vast majority of the population, black Brazilians earn 44 percent less than whites, and hold just 6.3 percent of management positions and 4.7 per cent of executive posts in Brazil’s 500 largest companies. But affirmative action programs, a strategy that triggers spasms in the U.S., are starting to find favor in Brazil. Companies like John Deere, McKinsey, JPMorgan and the Brazilian bank Itaú, have all instituted programs but are having trouble finding candidates, there are very few black students at universities, so attracting candidates is the next challenge. “The invisible hand did not work, so we need to have a visible hand,” says the McKinsey lead in the country.|
|Spike Lee is Killing it at Kannes|
|His new film, Black Kkklansman, based on a true story about a black police officer who infiltrates the klan in the 1970s, marks the iconic director’s sixth time in the official festival line-up. But Lee and Cannes have had a difficult relationship. In 1989, Lee was overlooked for the festival’s grand prize for Do The Right Thing, and has nursed a grudge with that year’s jury president ever since. His current film, starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace wowed the crowed and garnered a ten-minute standing ovation. Lee opted out of an opening statement but did evoke the image of Radio Raheem in all the press pictures. Click through for more and the trailer.|
|Adminstration cuts to a visa “guest worker” program are threatening small businesses|
|Advocates for the U.S. Labor Department’s H2-B “guest worker” program have long warned that new restrictions would imperil small business owners who cannot find workers any other way. This dispatch from Kentucky shows the price. One local business owner, who runs a landscape company that tends cemeteries and shopping centers, says it’s been years since he could find enough “dependable, drug-free American workers” to take the $12-an-hour jobs. He relies on seasonal workers from Guatemala, who cost him about $18,000 in processing fees paid to the Labor Department. Low unemployment isn’t helping the situation. Certain restrictions began under the Obama administration but have been scaled up in the last year. “We live and die by these visas,” said a local roofer.|
The Woke Leader
|For mental health awareness month, employers are exploring their options|
|Although we’ve seen real progress in attitudes toward people with mental health conditions, there is still plenty that employers can do to support employees who need help, reminds Fortune’s Stephanie Castillo. Mental disorders are one of the three leading causes of disability and impact both employees and caregivers in profound ways. Companies have been embracing new ways to encourage employees to use the benefits they already have – like employee assistance programs, and embracing new providers, like Talkspace, which lets employees access talk therapy in real time, via text. But the real challenge is shifting the culture in the world and at the office.|
|Commentary: Check your discomfort before you call 911|
|Richard J. Reddick, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin, has strong words for white folks who call the police when a person of color makes them uncomfortable at a coffee shop, park, store or shared dorm. Stop it. “The impact of stereotyping and bias for black people and other people of color is more than annoyance,” he writes. “[I]nstitutional racism ensures that white people can enact their personal fears, no matter how irrational, into state-sanctioned consequences ranging from police involvement to violence.” Open your mind and listen to people of color who work, study or live in predominantly white spaces, he says. “It’s time we all do better.”|
|Black officers have long sought to reform policing in America|
|In an age defined by both the Movement for Black Lives and the politics of white grievance, conversations about police and police reform have become hot-button issues. But many of the problems of bias within policing are local in origin and of longstanding, calcified in part by half-hearted attempts to integrate police forces over decades. Taylor Hosking, an editorial fellow at The Atlantic, has an excellent review of the history of black officers in the U.S., how they were relegated to black neighborhoods during Jim Crow, only to be denied any promotion opportunities. And the complexities of race often made black officers targets within their own communities, putting them at odds with white leadership. When they weren’t complicit, of course. But a growing cohort of black officers are pushing for change. “In some cases, colleagues’ racial biases motivated [black] officials to pursue leadership positions,” she says.|