An activist investor praises Apple, and slams Google, over equal pay for women transparency

An activist investor praises Apple, and slams Google, over equal pay for women transparency
  • Larry Page

    Kimberly White/Getty Images

    Alphabet CEO Larry Page

    Activist investor Natasha Lamb is calling on Alphabet, parent company of Google, to quit stalling and to release comprehensive data on how pay for women and men compare.
  • On Wednesday she sent a letter to Alphabet's board demanding more information.

Activist investor Natasha Lamb, managing partner for Arjuna Capital, is once again calling on Google to share information on if it pays women equally to men.

On Wednesday, she sent a letter to the company's board with a long list of questions.

"Today, Alphabet is under fire for its lack of transparency on gender pay equity, making it subject to federal, class action, and shareholder actions. In two successive years, Alphabet's male dominated management team has voted against gender pay equity proposals," she wrote in the letter shared with Business Insider.

She was inspired by a story published earlier this month in the New York Times that published data gathered by employees showing women are paid less than men.

But Google says the data published in the NYT was misleading and didn't factor in things like location, role, tenure or performance. It says it does pay women virtually equally to men.


"We do rigorous compensation analyses and when you compare like-for-like, women are paid 99.7% of what men are paid at Google," a spokesperson told Business Insider. This analysis was done for employees at levels 1-9 at Google, which includes all the rank and file levels but excludes executives, Business Insider confirmed.

Still, Lamb isn't satisfied with Google's 99.7% number, or Google's other statements saying it pays women equally, because she wants to know how Google arrived at its conclusions.

Apple, Intel, eBay others lead the way

Lamb has reason to be curious. Arjuna has been attempting to work with Google's parent company Alphabet on this issue for a couple of years now.

Two years ago, the company came close to agreeing to share some of its gender pay data, although it wouldn't commit to comparing total pay including salary, bonuses and equity, according to emails seen by Business Insider. Lamb believed the company wanted to exclude stock, a major form of pay for tech workers, from its analysis.

Arjuna was willing to give its stamp of approval for that limited comparison, in the hopes that the company would eventually share an analysis of all of it. But then Alphabet changed its mind on cooperating, the board opposed the proposal and has been refusing to talk with her about the matter ever since, she says.


Google logo sign bike employee office

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

This isn't typical, she says. "We've seen so much leadership on [gender pay] from Silicon Valley." 

Arjuna has worked on shareholder proposals with seven other tech companies, all of which eventually agreed to release the asked-for gender pay comparison metrics: eBay, Intel, Apple, Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft and Adobe. 

"Our experience with Apple, for instance, is that the first data they gave us was just on base salary, but they committed to do more, and several months later, they came out with base, bonus and equity and they included all of components," she explained.

Intel, she says was the best of the bunch. It quickly agreed to release the data and she promptly withdrew her request for a shareholder proposal.

The only other company besides Google that refused her requests to share this data was Facebook, which has also spurned Arjuna's shareholder proposal on the matter.


The unicorn of shareholder proposals

To be fair, shareholder proposals are almost always opposed by companies. If the board agrees with them, the company simply makes the asked-for change, and the proposal is dropped ahead of time. If the board opposes them, they virtually never pass.

But Lamb has had shocking success with her gender pay data proposals. In 2016, her proposal at eBay actually won 51% of the shareholder votes. eBay listened and then released gender pay statistics, earning Lamb's praise.

But since Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin control more than 50% of Alphabet, and Mark Zuckerberg controls Facebook, there's no way to have similar success at these two companies, she says.

Google has been under intense scrutiny for its gender pay practices since the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit earlier this year demanding that Google turn over more data about its compensation. Google argued, and won, a court ruling in July contending the DoL had no evidence of inequitable pay and was asking for too much data.

The agency wanted 15 years worth of info and contact info on more than 25,000 employees. The judge authorized less data, including contact data for 8,000 employees.


In addition to pushing tech companies, Arjuna has also been targeting the investment banking industry to release its gender pay data as well.

Here's the full letter:

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