Investment exec prods companies on gender and racial equity

WASHINGTON — Pension and social investment funds have been stepping up efforts to influence public companies’ conduct by getting their proposals onto annual shareholder ballots. This spring’s proxy season will likely see more such action.

Natasha Lamb is a managing partner of Arjuna Capital, an investment firm focused on social impact investing, which manages $300 million in assets. The Associated Press spoke recently with Lamb.

Q: Last year was a tumultuous one: The health and economic crises of the pandemic, political strife and the reckoning over racial inequality. What will be Arjuna Capital’s focus in the coming proxy season?

A: It was a year a lot of us want to forget. But we must take it as a gift — to reflect on how things have gone wrong and how we can do better. This proxy season, we’re using our investment platform to better understand and attack the root causes that got us here. Whether it’s the lack of diversity in corporate ranks that perpetuates racial and gender pay gaps or how the boards of the social media giants have allowed unchecked racism, sexism and violence on their platforms.

Q: What are some of the issues in shareholder resolutions you’re putting forward this year?

A: We’ve filed and co-filed 14 resolutions this year, focusing on racial, gender and environmental performance. We’ve continued our longstanding campaign asking banks and tech firms to disclose data on racial and gender pay gaps. We were able to withdraw two of those resolutions because the companies agreed to take action. The remaining 12 are set to go to a vote of investors at Amazon and Intel’s annual meetings. For a second year, we’re asking Twitter, Facebook and Google to add civil and human rights experts to their boards to address the inadequate governance of their social media platforms. We’re asking insurance companies in our portfolio to address racially biased police brutality in the cities and towns they insure. And we’ve co-filed resolutions asking big banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to publish data and set goals for net-zero emissions in their lending.

Q: Pay equity by race and gender is a leading issue now in Washington and on Wall Street. Why is it important?

A: It’s critical to view racial and gender pay equity not simply through the lens of whether workers in similar roles are being paid commensurate with their direct peers but also to see which demographic groups hold the high-paying jobs and which hold the low-paying jobs. COVID has underlined the vulnerability of women and minorities, who hold a disproportionate share of low-wage, front-line jobs. We’ve successfully pressed 22 Fortune 500 companies to publish data on their racial and gender pay gaps and to commit to closing them.

Interviewed by Marcy Gordon.

Edited for clarity and length.