News Column

Apple, Google, HP Still Mum on Diversity Data

March 20, 2013

Jeremy C. Owens, San Jose Mercury News

workplace diversity

A CNN Money report finds that Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL) and other tech titans continue to stonewall questions on the diversity of their workforce, five years after the Mercury News kicked off a quest to find out the racial makeup of the workforce at the country's most important technology companies.

CNN Money, which began its own investigation in 2011, reported Monday that its attempts to obtain the data -- which companies with more than 100 employees must provide to the federal government annually -- from 20 prominent tech firms in the U.S. have hit the same roadblocks. Of the 20, only Intel (INTC), Dell and Ingram Micro voluntarily released the data.

Ten companies were able to block the release of the data from the U.S. Department of Labor because they are not federal contractors: Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix (NFLX), Twitter, Yelp, Zynga, Amazon, Groupon, Hulu and LivingSocial.

Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), IBM and Microsoft successfully appealed to the Labor Department to keep their information private, claiming that public release of the data would cause "competitive harm." Cisco (CSCO) and eBay (EBAY) data was released through the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, filing, providing the news organization with information from five of the 20 companies it originally contacted.

The Mercury News attempted to obtain the same data from the 15 largest tech companies in Silicon Valley in 2008, and nine companies -- including Cisco, Intel and eBay -- turned it over. After six companies refused the request, an 18-month legal battle ensued that forced the release of the data from HP, but not the other five companies: Apple, Google, Yahoo (YHOO), Oracle (ORCL) and Applied Materials.

In its ruling absolving those companies from turning over the data in 2010, the agency said in its ruling on the Mercury News request, "Such data can demonstrate a company's evolving business strategy."

"The companies have articulated to us that they are in a highly competitive environment in which less mature corporations can use this EEO-1 data to assist in structuring their business operations to better compete against more established competitors," William W. Thompson II, an associate solicitor with the Labor Department, wrote in the agency's notification of its final action then.

Experts did not agree with the decision in the Mercury News' previous fight, and many recently contacted by CNN Money were equally aghast.

John Sims, a FOIA expert and law professor at Stockton's University of the Pacific, told CNN that fighting to keep the data secret is "absolutely preposterous."

"Knowing how many white male sales workers a company has is a trade secret? Absurd," he said, later adding, "Tech is the most vibrant sector of the American economy, and rather than trying to fix problems, they want to keep secrets."

"For the tech industry to remain silent about diversity is so not aligned with what they preach," said Aditi Mohapatra, associate tech sector director at BSR, which consults with companies on social issues.

The information CNN Money received from Intel, Cisco, eBay, Dell and Ingram Micro showed that white and Asian males dominate the industry, especially in management roles. A Mercury News investigation of the data that reporter Mike Swift was able to obtain in its earlier quest showed a large drop in black, Hispanic and female representation in management ranks from 1999 to 2005.

All the companies that blocked the attempts to obtain diversity data refused to comment to CNN Money. The only company among the 20 to publicly disclose the data on its website, Santa Clara chipmaker Intel, told CNN that it is time for its colleagues to join in releasing the data.

"Intel believes that transparency with our data is the best way to have a genuine dialogue," Intel chief diversity officer Rosalind Hudnell said. "We are tech companies and data drives our business; we need to get beyond our fears that the numbers are a poor reflection on our individual organizations and work together to address the issue collectively."



Source: (c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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