LGBT advocates still heartened by increase in support for resolution
Exxon Mobil shareholders this week voted once again against a resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the company’s equal employment opportunity policy.
But LGBT advocates said they are encouraged by the increase in support for the change, which has grown steadily since the resolution was first introduced 10 years ago.
In 1999, the first year the resolution was introduced, only 8.2 percent of the shareholders voted for it. This year, according to Samir Luther, senior manager for the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Project, 39.3 percent voted in favor of the change.
"That is really impressive," Luther said.
In 2008, 39.6 percent of the shareholders favored the resolution, but Luther said the 0.3 percent drop this year is "virtually insignificant" and can probably be accounted for by stock shares changing hands over the last 12 months.
Luther explained that each December, Exxon Mobil shareholders submit resolutions they want to have considered. Both HRC and the New York City Comptroller’s Office, representing the New York City Pension Fund, are stockholders, and each year the Comptroller’s office introduces the resolution to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Exxon Mobil’s EEO policy.
Ballots containing all the resolutions submitted for that year are mailed to stockholders in April, and the votes are taken at the annual stockholders meeting, generally held on the last Wednesday in May.
Robb Puckett of Dallas, co-chair of HRC’s National Business Council, attended this week’s stockholders meeting to speak in support of the resolution. He said no one spoke against the resolution, but both he and Luther agreed that the Exxon Mobile board’s continuing refusal to even consider the change is a huge obstacle to overcome.
"The number of resolutions considered at the Exxon Mobil shareholders meetings is probably more than a lot of other organizations have. The majority of them are tied to environmental issues or to governance issues, and our resolution kind of gets buried under all the others," Puckett said.
"When it comes down to the average, everyday shareholder," he continued, "you have to wonder if they actually take the time to read each resolution, or if they just vote on all of them the way the board recommends."
And so far, Luther said, the Exxon Mobile board has steadfastly refused to even talk to LGBT advocates about the possibility of a change.
"We would welcome the opportunity to talk to them about this, but so far, that isn’t happening," Luther said.
He noted that former Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond was "famous for telling to go get a federal law passed instead of trying to convince them to change their policy." Luther said advocates hope that new CEO Rex Tillerson might be more amenable to at least discussing the issue, but that hasn’t happened yet.
"It would be fabulous if the company would just go ahead and change the policy without having to go through the shareholder vote process. But until that happens, we are going to keep introducing the resolution every year," Luther said.
Mobil Oil Co. previously had employment protections for LGBT people in its policies, along with some other benefits for its LGBT employees.
But when the company merged with Exxon in 1999, those policies and benefits were removed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 29, 2009.