The Slatest

Trump Administration Asks Microsoft to Prove Its Pledge to Increase Black Workforce Isn’t Discriminatory

Microsoft signage in New York City.
As Microsoft commits to a more diverse workplace, the Trump administration smells a rat. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

In June, as the U.S. was roiled by issues of racial inequality in policing and across wide swaths of American life, Microsoft, a leading American corporation, committed to do more to create a diverse workforce at the tech giant. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pledged to double the number of Black managers at the company over the next five years, as well as to prioritize diversity and incentivize inclusive advancement by making it a point of assessment in senior leaders’ performance evaluation. It was a much-needed effort, considering Black employees make up just 4.5 percent of Microsoft’s workforce and only 3 percent of its senior ranks, according to the company’s own 2019 diversity report. The company said it would also ask suppliers for diversity breakdowns so that Microsoft could include that information in its decisions about which suppliers it awards contracts to.

The Trump administration, however, always on the lookout for a germ of white grievance, didn’t like what it was hearing. On Tuesday, Microsoft disclosed the Labor Department had sent letters to the company questioning whether its diversity effort violated federal laws prohibiting race-based hiring practices. “In a Sept. 29 letter to Microsoft, Craig Leen, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, said this initiative ‘appears to imply that employment action may be taken on the basis of race,’ ” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The letter asked Microsoft to prove the actions it is taking aren’t illegal race-based decisions.”

“Specifically, the [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] has focused on whether Microsoft’s commitment to double the number of Black and African American people managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders in our U.S. workforce by 2025 could constitute unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, which would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” Microsoft general counsel Dev Stahlkopf wrote in a company blog post.

“We have every confidence that Microsoft’s diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws,” Stahlkopf continued. “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.”