Oct 6, 2020 - Technology

Labor Department probes Microsoft's diversity policy

A photo of a Microsoft sign on an office building
Photo: Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Labor Department has been probing whether Microsoft's goal of increasing Black representation in its ranks constitutes racial discrimination, the software maker disclosed Tuesday. In a blog post, Microsoft says it believes it is complying with all applicable laws.

Why it matters: The Labor Department move comes as the Trump administration is also trying to use an executive order to block government contractors from offering certain types of diversity training.

What they're saying: "We have every confidence that Microsoft’s diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws," Microsoft general counsel Dev Stahlkopf said in the blog post. "We look forward to providing the [Labor Department] with this information and, if necessary, defending our approach."

Details:

  • Microsoft, which does a significant amount of business with the federal government, said it was contacted by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs regarding the company's June commitment to increase Black representation in its workforce, including by seeking to double the number of Black people Microsoft employs in leadership positions by 2025.
  • The Labor Department suggested in a letter to Microsoft last week that this commitment could violate the Civil Rights Act, Stahlkopf wrote.

A Labor Department spokesperson told Axios that the agency "appreciates Microsoft’s assurance on its website that it is not engaging in racial preferences or quotas in seeking to reach its affirmative action and outreach goals," adding that it "looks forward to working with Microsoft to complete its inquiry.”

Context: Silicon Valley management suites and boardrooms have long been overwhelmingly white. Microsoft is one of many tech firms seeking to correct racial disparities by making diversity pledges. Apple and Intel have set similar targets for diversifying their workforces.

  • The tech industry, through trade group ITI, voiced objections to Trump's executive order seeking to eliminate diversity trainings that suggest there is systemic racism in the U.S.

The big picture: The Labor Department inquiries align with a broader, decades-spanning conservative project to push back on diversity programs, affirmative action and other efforts that are aimed at reversing or blunting the effects of systemic racism.

Go deeper: Big Tech's reckoning on race

Update: Here is the letter the Labor department sent to Microsoft.

Go deeper