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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.

2 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

2 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."