Staff Report

BERKELEY, CA—A majority of American Express (NYSE:AXP) investors today voted in support of a shareholder resolution requesting that the company report on how its internal workplace practices align with the company’s stated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Final tally of vote will be available in the coming days. The resolution asks the board to report on how it assesses the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. It specified that investors want the company to report on the process the board follows for determining the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs, and how it assesses goals, metrics, and trends related to recruitment, promotion, and retention.

In presenting the request at the annual meeting of American Express’ investors,

Meredith Benton, CEO of the consultancy Whistle Stop Capital and workplace equity program manager at As You Sow, said:

“Silence on internal metrics is out of alignment with American Express’ good and admirable deeds. We encourage transparency, even in the face of imperfection, in order to show that American Express is truly committed to its existing and future employees, and to meaningful change, something needed across the American landscape.”

American Express has made strong statements on its commitment to racial and gender equity. For example, in October 2020, Stephen J. Squeri, chairman and CEO, said:

“American Express has a long-standing commitment to fostering an inclusive and welcoming workplace that reflects the diversity of the customers and communities we serve. Central to this commitment is standing up against racism and eliminating barriers that have prevented people of all racial, ethnic, and gender identities from having equal opportunities to pursue their aspirations.”

However, according to As You Sow research, American Express lags peers in the release of data on recruitment, retention, or promotion statistics.

This lack of transparency has concerned investors. A company that makes strong statements in support of racial justice but is not able to show that its own actions are aligned with stated values is at risk of being accused of “woke-washing.” Wokewashing refers to brands that are performative in their commitment to social justice and is defined by as “using social justice as a marketing strategy.”