Infosys Has a Systemic Gender Bias Problem
Dear Infosys Board of Directors,
We are four former female Infosys executives and senior employees who lost our jobs trying to eradicate discrimination at the Company. As only a handful of women to ever hold leadership roles, we witnessed the Company trumpet its purported commitment to diversity while simultaneously marginalizing and pushing aside women like us in favor of men. Typically, we could band together and seek relief in a court of law where a jury of impartial citizens can hear our evidence — and Infosys’s defenses — to render a fair and impartial verdict. This system has worked for generations to level the playing field and advance the cause of justice. Unfortunately, these fundamental rights have been stripped from us.
When we were hired, Infosys demanded that we promise not to combine forces to seek justice or to have our claims heard in a court of law. Infosys’s rules instead require us to bring our civil rights claims in individual, secret arbitration proceedings where there is no jury, but rather a professional arbitrator paid for by the Company. In other words, each of us would have to face down Infosys — a global powerhouse — alone and hidden from public view. If we did not agree to this Faustian bargain, we could not work. No employee should have to face such a choice. We therefore ask that you do what you ask of your employees: that you “lead by example” and act according to the Company’s professed foundational values of “transparency” and “fairness.” Release us from our arbitration agreements so that we may have our day in court.
Our Experience with Widespread Discrimination at Infosys
Women occupy only a small fraction of leadership roles in Infosys’s United States workforce. This is not the result of chance or a lack of qualified female talent. In 2018, for example, women were recruited for half of entry-level positions at the Company but held only 15% of leadership roles. Clearly, something is standing in the way. Rather than try to fix the problem, Infosys boasts that 25% of its Board members are women. The Company should instead ask itself why that number is so low.
We believe we know why. In our experience, Infosys hires women but subsequently marginalizes them by, among other things, denying them credit for their efforts and relegating them to assignments that do not advance their careers. Once hired, women often complete the lion’s share of work on client proposals, including participating in client-facing activities to give the appearance of diversity. When this hard work is done and the client has committed, these women are often shunted aside and replaced with male and/or Indian employees who are then given “utilization” credits that advance their careers. This unfair system has caused many qualified women like us to be fired or forced to leave. Any woman who dares complain risks being “benched” and eventually losing her job. Even women like us who have, to some extent, been able to beat the odds and rise to leadership positions can quickly find themselves reduced to tokens, paraded in front of clients who rightfully demand diversity from Infosys and then relegated to the bench after serving our purpose. This systemic discrimination must end.
Justice Cannot Be Achieved in Arbitration
We do not write to ask that you confirm or deny our allegations. Rather, we write to address the Infosys policy that sweeps these systemic problems under the rug — the Company’s forced arbitration program.
We believe that forced arbitration is inherently wrong. It denies employees access to our country’s public court system, where victims of unlawful conduct can seek justice (indeed, Infosys often uses the court system when it feels wronged). Moreover, forced arbitration denies employees fair access to records and witnesses necessary to prove their claims, both of which are typically in the control of the powerful corporate employer. Forced arbitration also lacks a robust appeals process that ensures accurate results. (An employee cannot overturn a legally or factually defective arbitration award unless she can prove that the arbitrator, in effect, intentionally disregarded the law.) Most significantly, forced arbitration eliminates two core pillars of our justice system: transparency and community participation exemplified in the genius of our jury system. Forced arbitration replaces these essential hallmarks of fairness with secret proceedings, presided over by an arbitrator who is paid by the powerful corporate employer (in this case, Infosys). If you were in our position, would you entrust your livelihood to such a system?
It is not surprising that Infosys would want to perpetuate this system for self-serving reasons. Forced arbitration would have, for example, hidden from the Company’s employees, business partners and the community at large allegations that the Chief Executive Officer, Salil Parekh, labeled a female Board member a “diva” and instructed other Board members to ignore her. It would also have concealed claims that Infosys’s former head of diversity recruiting received “no support from management for [Infosys’s] diversity program” and that Infosys has “consistently failed to fulfill its own diversity hiring goals.” One can only imagine how many similar allegations have been buried in secret arbitration. But such short-term thinking has long-term consequences. The sexist and discriminatory conduct that Infosys makes “disappear” through forced arbitration does not go away. Instead, it festers, ultimately infecting the entire organization.
For these reasons and others, numerous lawmakers have taken aim at forced arbitration. New York recently banned the use of forced arbitration for discrimination claims. (Regrettably, corporate employers immediately sprung to action seeking to kneecap the law.) In 2019, the House passed the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act that would prohibit companies like Infosys from requiring employees to arbitrate because, in the words of one House member, forced arbitration is a “perpetually rigged deck against the most vulnerable party in the dispute.”
While the Senate has yet to vote on the FAIR Act, many companies have taken the lead without waiting for legislation. Google, Facebook, Uber, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb and Wells Fargo, as well as leading law firms Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, Sidley Austin, Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, have all banned the use of forced arbitration. These companies — and hopefully others that will follow — have realized that abandoning forced arbitration is good business. They can demonstrate a commitment to diversity with the ultimate goal of eradicating discrimination in their ranks. Facebook has acknowledged that abandoning forced arbitration is the right thing to do. As Board members, you can influence Infosys to do the right thing, too.
In the end, we ask that you see us not as adversaries, but as allies in our objective to make the Company more “transparent” and “fair” as set forth in its Code of Conduct. We, like you, want to celebrate diversity and foster inclusion within Infosys’s workforce. If Infosys is truly committed to workplace equality, we urge you to help us effectuate meaningful change by allowing us to proceed in court.
We look forward to your response.