In early June, Wal-Mart shareholders, including Grinnell College, will have the chance to vote on a resolution that seeks to incorporate “gender identity” into Wal-Mart’s Statement of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). We, the Students for Responsible Investment, have sent the Trustees of the Investment Committee a letter arguing that the College should vote “yes” on the initiative not only because of its clear connection to our Core Values, but also because of the unconvincing nature of Wal-Mart’s arguments.

Shareholder resolutions are proposals submitted by stockholders that often try to promote corporate responsibility or change corporate governance structures. Grinnell College as an institutional investor has the right to vote on such resolutions, as well as partake in other forms of corporate dialogue. We believe the College should utilize that right to promote its mission as an institution.

The “Gender Identity Non-Discrimination” resolution at Wal-Mart is a perfect opportunity to do so. With minimal financial implications, this resolution has the potential to create a safer, more supportive work environment for Wal-Mart employees as well as helps attract skilled applicants who may have chosen not to apply previously because of their own gender identity or because they are “fair minded citizens.”
Protections based on gender identity are supported by Grinnell’s Core Values. At the upcoming meeting of the Trustees, the Grinnell College Nondiscrimination Policy (NDP) will be amended to include “gender identity or expression,” an amendment of which we are quite proud. This change is in line with Grinnell’s commitment to “a diverse community,” which is a core value of the College, and particularly supports the college’s goal of attaining “a wide diversity of people and perspectives” on campus. Not only is protection based on gender identity supported in our core values, but students also demonstrated their support for this protection through a Spring 2008 student initiative, for which 78.4 percent of voting students voted in support the NDP amendment among other actions to create a more gender-neutral environment.

Wal-Mart’s management does not make any substantive arguments against the resolution. In 2008, when a similar shareholder resolution was submitted, Wal-Mart’s management opposed it on the grounds that Wal-Mart has a notable record for diversity in the work place, which “already appropriately addresses the concerns set forth in the proposal.” The management’s arguments deny the utility of protection against discrimination based on gender identity and delegitimize the connection between safety and gender identity. While Wal-Mart may have a strong diversity policy in regards to other statuses, its current policy does not actually address the concerns of the resolution, which focus specifically on gender identity.

Gender identity is distinct from other statuses and as such deserves protection. As stated in the resolution, 13 states, including Iowa, 93 cities and 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies have included gender identity in non-discrimination laws and policies. These entities recognize the unique struggles connected to gender identity and have changed their laws and policies to offer more protection to their citizens and employees. Wal-Mart should follow this example.

With our recommendation, we have attached our new proposal for an advisory Committee on Responsible Investment (CRI). The CRI will work with the Treasures office and Trustees to create guidelines for shareholder engagement on behalf of the College and investigate ways the College could further incorporate its institutional mission in its investment practices.This recommendation serves as an example of the kind of well-reasoned argument the CRI will produce.

So when you see a Trustee this weekend, please tell them you support the resolution and the development of a Committee for Responsible Investing that can work with the Treasure and Investment Committee to examine similar issues in future proxy seasons. Also, if you are curious about Responsible Investment email us at [sri].
—9 members of SRI