A Facebook executive apologized to a woman for calling her “not nice” after she asked questions at the company’s annual shareholder meeting about the social network’s gender pay gap and the proliferation of sexism on the platform.
Natasha Lamb, a managing director at the investment firm Arjuna Capital, got the apology via email on Saturday from Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications.
In the email, viewed by HuffPost, Schrage wrote that it was “wrong” to use the language he did. “I want to apologize directly for my comments when we met at the FB shareholder meeting,” he wrote to Lamb. “I shouldn’t have expressed myself ― and should never express myself ― in ways that can correctly be interpreted as insulting or offensive. I was wrong to do so.”
The email came over the weekend ― more than a week after the incident ― ahead of a column Lamb published in the Financial Times on Monday, pointing out the overt sexism involved in dismissing a woman’s concerns because of her demeanor. The idea that girls and women must be nice is one of the more pernicious stereotypes holding females back in the workplace.
“I cannot imagine a scenario where a male company executive ignores a male institutional investor with such an excuse,” Lamb wrote in the column, noting that Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has waged a campaign against coded gender language. “I was dismissed in a sexist way for trying to call Facebook out on problems that are specifically related to gender.”
Over the past three years, Lamb has been running a campaign to press public companies to reveal their gender pay data. And she’s had success. Her group has gotten 20 major public companies to disclose pay data, including Apple, Amazon, Citigroup and Bank of America.
Facebook has been a tough nut to crack, she said. This is the third year that Lamb has raised the issue of gender pay reporting at the company’s shareholder meeting ― and the second year that she’s asked the company to consider a policy on “content governance,” in light of the way Facebook was used by groups to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and also the issue of hate speech and sexism on the platform.
Lamb says Facebook has been unwilling to talk about its pay gap, beyond telling her that it pays men and women equally.
“This is not a dialogue,” Lamb said.
Facebook, for its part, told HuffPost that it disagrees with Lamb and that the company has been engaging in discussions with her for several years.
“Elliot has already apologized to Natasha Lamb. As she acknowledges herself, Facebook has engaged with her several times on these issues ― in 2016, 2017 and 2018, including two days before the recent shareholder meeting,” spokeswoman Vanessa Chan said in an email.
“Facebook pays women and men the same” for the same work, she said, “and we’re also committed to increasing the number of women and people from other underrepresented groups across the company.”
Chan, who was there when Schrage made his comment, also said she apologized to Lamb personally on his behalf.
Facebook has announced that it pays men and women equally for the past three years. However, 72 percent of the company’s senior leaders are male ― suggesting that overall men outearn women at the company because they’re landing the highest-paying roles.
At the shareholder meeting this year, the company announced it would start considering more diverse candidates for its board of directors ― in response to another shareholder proposal.
At the meeting in May, Lamb raised questions about the pay gap and other issues, but the company refused to answer the questions publicly, instead telling Lamb to talk privately to Schrage.
Lamb says she asked Schrage directly why the company hasn’t been willing to talk.
“He said we haven’t been engaging with you because you haven’t been nice,” Lamb said.
She said Schrage’s apology does little to address the larger issue: Facebook is not listening to investor concerns on some serious topics.
The company has been struggling recently, swerving from scandal to scandal ― notably with the proliferation of fake news leading up to the 2016 election and later the Cambridge Analytica episode.
“They’re not listening to us because we’re ‘not nice,’” Lamb said. “It’s because they don’t want to hear what we have to say.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Schrage’s name.