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Alphabet, Inc. – Senior Executive Diversity (2019)

Alphabet, Inc. – Senior Executive Diversity (2019)

Outcome: 9.7%

WHEREAS: Studies suggest that companies that integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into business strategy reduce reputational, legal, and regulatory risks and improve long-term performance. Leading companies have integrated sustainability metrics into executive pay plans, among them Unilever and Walmart. The UN Principles for Responsible Investment (2012) states that considering ESG factors in compensation can help protect long-term shareholder value.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are key elements of sustainability. McKinsey research shows that companies in the top quartiles for gender and racial diversity were more likely to have above average financial returns (“Diversity Matters,” McKinsey, 2015). Yet technology companies have not seized this opportunity: underrepresented people of color hold just 9 percent of technical roles in the sector (Intel/Dalberg, 2016).

The tech diversity crisis threatens worker safety, talent retention, product development, and customer service. These human capital risks are playing out as controversies at Alphabet. On November 1, 2018, more than 20,000 workers walked out protesting Alphabet’s mishandling of sexual misconduct cases. Workers report that Alphabet has not responded adequately to key demands: a credible commitment to pay and opportunity equity, a worker representative on the board, and ending forced arbitration in all circumstances with direct employees as well as temps, contractors, and vendors.

Alphabet has taken steps to address inclusion, but risks remain. Alphabet remains predominantly white, male, and occupationally segregated. Among Alphabet’s top 290 managers in 2017, just over one-quarter were women and only 17 managers were underrepresented people of color. In contrast, Silicon Valley’s lower-wage subcontracted workforce (e.g. janitors, cafeteria workers, shuttle drivers) is 58 percent Black or Latinx, earning on average $19,900 (UC Santa Cruz, 2016) and often facing housing instability.

Inclusion and equity also impact the sustainability of communities on which Alphabet relies. Communities of color are impacted in places where Alphabet has acquired or developed real estate, such as San Jose and Mountain View, as housing costs, homelessness, and inequality have increased (“The Great Silicon Valley Land Grab,” Financial Times, August 2017). Gentrification and displacement create reputational and regulatory risks for Alphabet: 48 percent of survey respondents blame tech companies for the Bay Area housing crisis (San Jose Mercury News, April 2018).

Investors seek clarity regarding how Alphabet drives improvement and how strategy is supported by executive accountability. Clearly-disclosed, comprehensive links among sustainability, equity, and executive compensation would enhance Alphabet’s approach. Peers (e.g. Microsoft, Intel, IBM) have set diversity goals and begun tying parts of executive pay to such goals.

RESOLVED: Shareholders request the Board Compensation Committee prepare a report assessing the feasibility of integrating sustainability metrics, including metrics regarding diversity among senior executives, into performance measures or vesting conditions that may apply to senior executives under the Company’s compensation plans or arrangements. For the purposes of this proposal, “sustainability” is defined as how environmental and social considerations, and related financial impacts, are integrated into long-term corporate strategy, and “diversity” refers to gender, racial, and ethnic diversity.

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