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Shareholder Activists Trigger Transparency on Wall Street


At the behest of shareholders, several prominent financial companies have announced proactive steps to wipe out gender pay inequity. American Express (AmEx) is the most recent company to agree to shareholder proposal terms from investment firm Arjuna Capital, which has asked for detailed wage data reports.

AmEx pledged it will report its data to shareholders by the end of 2018 and, according to Bloomberg, issued a memo to employees saying it regularly reviews pay policies to make sure the company supports pay equality and transparency.

“Based on the most recent comprehensive pay analysis we conducted with a third-party consulting firm, we are confident that our colleagues are compensated equitably, regardless of gender,” the company said in the memo, according to Bloomberg. “The review found no evidence of bias in our compensation processes and indicated we were effectively at parity.”

AmEx’s decision to release pay data comes after Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon, Mastercard and JPMorgan all agreed to do the same.

The cooperation of the financial companies is a complete 180 from 2016 when Bank of America, Mastercard, AmEx, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup rejected shareholder proposals asking for detailed reports on the percentage pay gap between male and female employees across race and ethnicity.

The shareholders’ efforts have created pay transparency across some of the biggest financial companies in the world and is a significant step toward pay equality, said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital.

“American Express has reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and status as one of the best places to work in America. Our engagement with AmEx has paid off, not only for investors, but for women working at one of the most vaunted credit issuers in the world, who will now rest assured that they are paid equitably,” Lamb said. “AmEx and Mastercard are setting the bar on gender pay equity in the credit card industry. Change is happening, and fast.”

As a result of complying to shareholders’ wage disclosure requests, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp. all have said this year that they paid women roughly 99% of what men earn.

Even so, women make up 50% of AmEx’s workforce and only 30% of its managers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. And the U.S. gender pay gap is still hovering around the 20% mark it has been at for the past decade, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

“Despite positive developments for gender pay on Wall Street, women are still 20% more likely to leave a career in finance than any other industry — that's bad for business and it's bad for investors,” Lamb said. “Equal pay is therefore a critical first step to retain and attract top talent. And despite recent attention to equal pay in the finance world, we know other problems remain entrenched, such as few women on boards and sexual harassment in the workplace.” 


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