Investors pressure Microsoft over sexual harassment policies after Bill Gates allegations

Bill Gates quit Microsoft's board last year after it opened an investigation into an affair he had in 2000

Microsoft shareholders have piled pressure on the company to increase transparency over its sexual harassment record in the wake of allegations against Bill Gates.

More than three-quarters of investors at its annual meeting voted for the tech giant to publish a report on the effectiveness of its workplace sexual harassment policies, defying company recommendations to reject the proposal.

Mr Gates, 66, resigned from Microsoft’s board last year after it opened an investigation into an affair he had with a colleague that began in 2000.

The affair only emerged in May this year, weeks after Bill and Melinda Gates announced that they planned to divorce. 

Reports have since emerged that Mr Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, had made repeated unwanted advances to employees after the couple married in 1994, and was warned about his conduct in 2008.

The shareholder proposal, submitted by activist investor Arjuna Capital, called for Microsoft to release a transparency report that would include details of investigations into individual employees’ conduct.

“Reports of Bill Gates’ inappropriate relationships and sexual advances towards Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, putting in question the culture set by top leadership, and the board’s role holding those culpable accountable,” Arjuna had said.

Microsoft’s board had urged shareholders to reject the proposal, arguing it was already putting more resources into tackling sexual harassment.

Shareholder proposals that are opposed by the company rarely pass by such a wide margin.

After the result, which is nonbinding, Arjuna Capital said Microsoft had committed to an independent assessment of its policies.

“While the accusations against Bill Gates are only the latest revelations in what has been a long-seated, poorly managed problem, it’s significant that Microsoft is now listening to its shareholders and committing to transparent, unbiased, independent reporting,” said its managing partner, Natasha Lamb.

Mr Gates has also been under scrutiny for his links to Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted paedophile, an apparent source of tension in his marriage to Melinda.

The Microsoft founder has said the relationship with a former employee ended amicably.

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