Until now, Apple was refraining employees from speaking freely about workplace harassment and discrimination. Thanks to shareholder activists, this time is now over.
It is an excellent example of the power of shareholder activism.
When you work in big tech, you are often asked to sign concealment clauses as part of your employment contract. These clauses refrain you from talking about specific areas of your work. They are similar to NDAs but can apply more broadly. In Silicon Valley, it is common to ask employees to sign those clauses for cases of sexual harassment or discrimination. This refrains employees from speaking publicly about their experience in the organization.
This is a big problem.
On many occasions, employees (mostly women and minorities) confronted with harassment did not get an appropriate response from their employer. They could not bring it to the public because of these clauses. This was the case for Apple.
A Financial Times investigation uncovered the abuses of Apple's secrecy culture. The HR department retaliated against women speaking up about cases of sexual harassment. The team sided with managers and offered women severance packages to leave the organization, conditional on not disclosing the true reasons for departure.
The role of shareholder activists
Shareholder activists were the ones that significantly increased the pressure to stop those practices. In 2022, Clean Yield Asset Management and Nia Impact Capital, among others, filed shareholder proposals to force Big Tech companies to stop such practices.
For Apple, the shareholder proposal asked the company to prepare a public report "assessing the potential risks to the company associated with its use of concealment clauses". More than 50% of shareholders agreed to the proposal. This December, Apple released a new memo saying it was stopping the concealment clause.
Powerful isn't it?