Microsoft will be required to disclose sexual harassment cases after shareholder vote

Microsoft’s shareholders have forced the tech giant to write up an annual report that would detail how it handles sexual harassment cases within the company. Investors voted in favor of passing a proposal requesting the annual report at their recent meeting despite the company’s recommendation that they vote against it. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft has been planning to disclose how it implements sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies even before the vote took place. However, the company didn’t want to reveal independent investigations into its executives, including the probe into Bill Gates. One of the proposal’s key requests is the disclosure of executive-level investigations. 

Following the news that Bill and Melinda Gates were having a divorce, reports came out accusing the former of questionable behavior. The Microsoft co-founder allegedly pursued women who worked for him at the tech giant and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2019, Microsoft’s board of directors opened an investigation after discovering that he had an affair with an employee around 20 years ago. 

The greater transparency around sexual harassment in the company was proposed by financial services provider Arjuna Capital. Natasha Lamb, a portfolio manager at Arjuna, said during the meeting that the investor is “concerned about Microsoft’s alleged continued culture of workplace sexual harassment and its history of unfulfilled previous commitments to resolve it.” Arjuna said the reports about the probe into Gates’ affair and behavior that came out earlier this year “put into question whether Microsoft was maintaining and protecting a culture of sexual harassment, especially seeing how Bill Gates was protected around this issue by the board.”

Despite advising against voting for the proposal, Microsoft will take steps to comply with it. Company President Brad Smith said Microsoft will bring in a third party to assess its investigations and will share what those assessments contain. He also gave a taste of what the annual reports would include: Apparently, the tech giant received 51 complaints from employees in the fiscal year ending in June, and 47 percent of them were substantiated. The year before that, it received 142 complaints.

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