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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.

A pandemic victim: Ethical supply chains

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the last decade, global companies have put in place elaborate policies to ensure their suppliers protect worker safety and human rights. They're struggling to comply with those policies in the pandemic.

Driving the news: COVID-era disruptions have caused a spike in noncompliance with health and safety rules, according to new data from Qima, which audits supply chains.

Public schools staffing is on the brink of collapse

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The public school system is hanging by a thread as staff are stressed, burned out and thinking of quitting more than ever before.

Why it matters: Staffing shortages are leading school districts to look for "bodies in a room to babysit kids" as last-ditch efforts to keep their doors open, one education researcher told Axios.