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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

Jan 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats demand diversity at State Department

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Democratic lawmakers are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to pick ambassadors with the same focus on diversity he used to fill his Cabinet, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The demand for more minorities representing the country abroad shows how some Democratic interest groups will hold Biden to his diversity pledge throughout the federal government, including his sub-Cabinet, U.S. attorneys and diplomats.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: Unvaccinated kids must wear masks in school this fall — CDC says schools should still universally require masks and physical distancing.
  2. Politics: New York to lift mask mandate for vaccinated people — CDC director says politics didn't play a role in abrupt mask policy shift.
  3. Vaccines: Sanofi, GSK COVID vaccine shows strong immune response in phase 2 trials — Vaccine-hesitant Americans cite inaccurate side effects.
  4. Business: How retailers are responding to the latest CDC guidance — Delta to require all new employees be vaccinated — Target, CVS and other stores ease mask requirements after CDC guidance.
  5. World: Taiwan raises COVID-19 alert level amid surge in cases — Biden administration to send 20 million U.S.-authorized vaccine doses abroad.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
3 hours ago - World

Biden backs Gaza ceasefire for first time in call with Netanyahu

Biden with Netanyahu in 2010. Photo: Debbi Hill/Pool/ Getty Images

President Biden expressed support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in a call on Thursday evening with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a statement.

Why it matters: This is the first time since the beginning of the crisis last Monday that Biden or anyone in his administration has publicly backed a ceasefire. It will increase pressure on Israel to seek an end to the conflict, which Netanyahu has insisted will continue until Hamas' ability to attack Israel is further degraded.