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Shareholders are pushing companies to make good on diversity promises

The year 2021 is shaping up to set records for diversity proposals at U.S. companies’ annual meetings.

Nine in 10 investors backed a call last month for International Business Machines Corp. to produce an annual diversity report. Five other companies, including renewable energy firm First Solar Inc. and chemical giant DuPont de Nemours Inc., saw more than 80% of shareholders backing diversity proposals.

A year after the death of George Floyd galvanized protests against racial injustice, the same cultural pressures that prompted hundreds of the largest companies to pledge changes in their business operations to support racial equity are now fueling an unprecedented number of boardroom proposals designed to ensure they keep their word.

“We’re seeing a shift in investor sentiment” said Kristin Hull, founder of Nia Impact Capital, an investment fund that initially filed the IBM proposal. The decision at IBM was a result of many conversations, she said. Having that agreement in hand with a larger company such as IBM, which is seen as progressive, makes it easier to persuade other companies to take initiatives more seriously, Hull said.

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