There are venues for activists and individuals pursuing political or legal outcomes: the ballot box, the courts, the town square. But over the years, it’s grown increasingly popular for activist groups to use the annual meetings of publicly traded companies to push their desired, often fringe, political agendas.
However, these activist shareholder proposals are sometimes met with differences of opinion among employees or the company’s directors. Diversity of opinion within a company and on its board is beneficial to businesses. Differing points of view check one another and create stronger businesses built to meet the needs of their customers and stakeholders. In 2020, Walgreens, Amazon, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson were met with shareholder proposals regarding viewpoint diversity.
Companies have options regarding viewpoint diversity proposals: they can adopt it, they can list the proposal on their proxy statement but recommend voting against it, or they can petition the SEC to exclude the proposal from their proxy statement and annual meeting altogether.
Walgreens adopted the proposal as a good idea to strengthen their business. Amazon listed the proposal on the proxy statement but opposed it and recommended their shareholders vote against it. AT&T and Johnson & Johnson did not want shareholders to be met with a conversation about viewpoint diversity and petitioned the SEC to block the inclusion of the proposal.
Congratulations to Walgreens for taking an affirmative view that no one perspective has a monopoly on good ideas. The more ideas and voices within a company, the stronger it becomes. Shareholder proposals can be a launching point for innovation, process improvement and exceptional growth. Businesses should focus on what is best for their employees, customers and investors and we, as shareholders, should encourage and allow them to continue to grow and evolve.