Oracle's largely white board draws US congressional scrutiny

This is the latest call by US legislators for the software giant to improve diversity and inclusion.

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    Many Oracle shareholders have supported repeated requests that the board examine whether there is a pay gap between male and female employees [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]
    Many Oracle shareholders have supported repeated requests that the board examine whether there is a pay gap between male and female employees [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

    Oracle Corp. should increase the racial diversity of its board, a group of U.S. lawmakers said, putting a spotlight on the company's hiring and management practices.

    "The fact that African Americans make up 13% and Asian Americans make up 5.6% of the U.S. population but 0% of Oracle's board and leadership team is inexcusable," the lawmakers said in a Nov. 22 letter from the House Tech Accountability Caucus and Tri-Caucus, which includes the Black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses.

    It's the latest call for the second-largest software maker and billionaire Chairman Larry Ellison to improve diversity and inclusion. Former employees and the U.S. government have sued the Redwood City, California-based company, alleging it systematically underpaid women and people of color, and many shareholders have supported repeated requests that the board examine if there's a pay gap between male and female employees. 

    It's at least the second time this year that Oracle has attracted congressional scrutiny for its diversity practices. In January, the Congressional Black Caucus and House Tech Accountability Caucus wrote to the company expressing dismay about allegations of pay discrimination.

    This week's letter was signed by Democrats Robin L. Kelly, Joaquin Castro, Karen Bass and Judy Chu, who chair the various House caucuses, as well as other lawmakers.

    Amazon, Facebook

    The Tech Accountability Caucus previously criticized Amazon.com Inc. for its tepid record of appointing people of color to its board, and Facebook Inc. for allowing marketers to use ethnic affinity to target ads for housing, employment or credit.

    Amazon has since adopted a policy pledging to consider a diverse slate of candidates for open board seats and added Starbucks Corp. operating chief Rosalind Brewer and former PepsiCo Inc. Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi as directors. In 2016, Facebook updated its policy to disable ethnic targeting for certain ads.

    "We respectfully request a prompt response from Oracle Corporation regarding our diversity concerns," the lawmakers wrote. They requested a briefing with the company to discuss the issue, but said it would also accept a written response within 14 days, or a phone call.

    Oracle didn't respond to a request for comment.

    In a February response to the earlier congressional letter, the company said it wouldn't "intentionally discriminate against women and people of color" and was committed to a diverse, nondiscriminatory work culture, according to the lawmakers.

    Short-Changed

    Oracle is also contending with a January lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Labor, which alleged the company short-changed female and minority workers some $400 million in wages.

    The allegations stem from a 2014 audit by a department unit that enforces equal pay and other non-discrimination matters for federal contractors. Records show that Oracle paid women and minority employees less than others and steered them into lower-level jobs, the department said in court papers. It also alleged that Oracle used H-1B visas to hire scores of Asians and paid them less than employees who were U.S. citizens.

    In 2017, three female engineers sued Oracle, alleging underpayment compared with male engineers doing the same tasks. An analysis conducted on behalf of the plaintiffs showed the company paid some women about $13,000 less per year on average versus male counterparts. They're seeking to represent more than 4,000 similarly situated employees.

    Oracle has denied the allegations in both cases.

    For three straight years, shareholder Pax World Funds has filed proposals asking the company's board to identify whether a gender pay gap exists and how to fix it. The proposals have been supported by several large investors, including funds held by BlackRock Inc. and State Street Corp., but failed to garner majority support. That's largely because Ellison, who owns about a third of the stock, has opposed the measure.

    SOURCE: Bloomberg