Tech and e-commerce giant Amazon is taking a big step toward addressing shareholder concerns over diversity and inclusion issues in the workplace by initiating a large-scale audit with a high-profile external audit lead.
“Amazon has commissioned an independent racial equity audit following shareholder pressure to boost transparency around how its business practices impact diversity, equity and workplace inclusion,” writes Kelli Nguyen in an post for LinkedIn News. The audit will be led by former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and will focus on determining whether Amazon’s business policies drive discrimination for its one million hourly U.S. workers. Nguyen says: “CNBC reports shareholders are turning their attention to the e-commerce giant's workplace policies amid the pandemic and increased worker activism. Amazon said it will publish the results of the audit, but didn't provide a specific timeline.”
This audit raises several key observations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Corporate America.
Importance of a Baseline
First, Amazon should be recognized for commissioning the audit as a starting point for further DEI efforts. Many companies pursue ambitious DEI ideals without being able to tie those ideals to concrete metrics and goals. Part of the reason for this gap is that most companies don’t have a good grasp of their existing DEI landscape. An audit, especially one led by a respected and impartial external party, can help establish objective baselines from which to measure progress towards new goals.
Did you catch the impetus for Amazon’s audit as reported by Nguyen? "Shareholder pressure to boost transparency around how its business practices impact diversity, equity, and workplace inclusion.” Not a regulatory or legal requirement, but at the urging of shareholders concerned with the company’s practices and image.
Often, shareholder pressure to maximize profits is cited as an excuse for companies not dedicating more resources and attention to “social” issues like DEI. The fact that the shareholders of one of the most valuable companies in the world are instigating a diversity audit illustrates the genuine business case for DEI and how shareholders are increasingly coming to understand that link and demand accountability and action.
A Legitimate Concern
Amazon’s shareholders aren’t wrong in their concerns over DEI at the company. The retailer has made the news multiple times in recent years over issues like a lack of diversity in management positions and accusations of bias in the hiring process.
An immediate consequence of such media attention is damage to Amazon’s corporate image. But more fundamentally, a lack of DEI makes companies less competitive and less profitable. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are simply good for business; and if a company’s management doesn’t do enough to promote DEI, Amazon is evidence that its shareholders might start demanding more action.