Amazon challenged on gender pay gap

When you think of Amazon, likely one of the last things that come to mind is “gender pay gap.” But that’s the issue that could become a national PR crisis if the massive mail order retailer can’t figure out how to answer the gauntlet tossed down by a U.S. securities regulator.

Arjuna Capital, a subsidiary of Baldwin Brothers Inc., is demanding that Amazon, along with eight other tech companies including eBay and Intel, allows shareholders to vote on a proposal related to gender pay equality. The other guys let it slide. Amazon asked the SEC to allow them to omit the proposal. That action is making the issue much bigger than it may have otherwise been.

The reasons Intel, et al., seemed okay with allowing the proposal stems from the long odds of it doing anything of substance at all. Most folks seem to think nothing will come of it. Shareholders have bigger fish to fry, and gender pay equity is not among their priorities in many cases.

Amazon objected, calling the proposal “inherently vague and indefinite,” so much so, they argued, that the lack of specifics would impede implementation.

But going it alone this way, particularly in a situation where it’s so unlikely to make any difference, gives social justice warriors (SJW), feminists, and others concerned with pay equality a platform on which to maneuver. In these cultural or political battles, it’s often not the actual topic that gets people the most fired up. It’s a Big Name attached to that topic.

Think about it. When you think about minimum wage, do you also think about Walmart and McDonald’s? Why is that? Because messengers for the pro-raising side have done a good job of defining those household names as the big bad guys in the conversation.

Now Amazon has given pay equality crusaders a name to attach to their cause. Again, how many times have you heard a statistic about how women make less than men? How often do you really think about it? Well, if you’re not a woman frustrated about her paycheck, probably not that often. But if you heard about a particular brand refusing to allow its leadership to even consider the issue, you might find yourself frustrated not at the issue, but at the brand. That’s exactly the PR opportunity Amazon has given SJWs with this move. It may not hurt them today, but it could come back to bite them in the not too distant future.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR. 5W Public Relations is the leading New York PR Firm.

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