US Labor Department questions Microsoft over diversity commitments

It comes as the Trump administration signs an executive order barring government contractors from running diversity training programs.

The US Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has questioned whether Microsoft's commitment to increase the number of Black employees in its US workforce by 2025 constitutes as racial discrimination, the tech giant has revealed.

In a blog post, Microsoft said the company received a letter last week from the OFCCP suggesting that its goal to double the number of Black managers, seniors, seniors individual contributors, and seniors leaders in its US workforce violates the Civil Rights Act, and that the initiative "appears to imply that the employment action may be taken on the basis of race".

However, as first reported by Axios, the company believes it is complying with the law.

"Emphatically, they are not [race-based decisions]," Microsoft corporate vice president and general counsel Dev Stahlkopf stated.

"We are clear that the law prohibits us from discriminating on the basis of race. We also have affirmative obligations as a company that serves the federal government to continue to increase the diversity of our workforce, and we take those obligations very seriously. We have decades of experience and know full well how to appropriately create opportunities for people without taking away opportunities from others.

"Furthermore, we know that we need to focus on creating more opportunity, including through specific programs designed to cast a wide net for talent for whom we can provide careers with Microsoft."

See also: How team diversity can improve project success rates (TechRepublic)

The OFCCP's letter has also asked Microsoft to prove that its goals are not illegal race-based decisions.

"Microsoft, like all federal contractors, is subject to several OFCCP requirements, including those with respect to employment practices," Stahlkopf said.

"We have every confidence that Microsoft's diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws. We look forward to providing the OFCCP with this information and, if necessary, defending our approach."

The tech giant announced its latest diversity commitment in June, which was sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Under these latest initiatives, Microsoft said it would invest an additional $150 million over five years to ramp up its internal diversity and inclusion programs. These include expanding recruitment across a range of colleges and university, including at historically Black colleges and universities; requiring diverse slates of candidates for roles at the company; focusing on inclusion and retention of current employees; and investing in development programs for employees.

The OFCCP's letter to Microsoft comes shortly after the Trump administration ordered federal agencies and their contractors to halt diversity training programs until they are deemed compliant. The executive order signed by President Donald Trump said that such training "promote divisiveness in the workplace" and "promotes race or sex-stereotyping or scapegoating similarly undermines efficiency in federal contracting". 

According to the order, if contractors are non-compliant, their contracts can be "canceled, terminated, or suspended in whole or in part, and the contractor may be declared ineligible for further government contracts".

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