Tech Industry Fights to Keep EEO Data Secret: What Are Companies Hiding?

Declining diversity at most top tech companies becomes a public fight after multiyear legal battles to keep their workforce diversity under wraps.

Photo by Shutterstock.

By Chris Hoenig

The tech industry goes to great lengths to keep their EEO-1 data a secret.

Photo by Shutterstock.

The tech industry is going to great lengths to keep its lack of diversity a secret.

A multiyear investigation by Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News has found that not only do Silicon Valley’s biggest companies refuse to share their diversity data, but they have also fought to keep their information under wraps.

Swift sought diversity information from 15 of Silicon Valley’s biggest players. After an 18-month battle with the newspaper, only five disclosed EE0-1 information. And in a follow-up investigation by CNN, only three out of 20 companies voluntarily provided their EEO-1 data: Dell (No. 37 in the DiversityInc Top 50), Ingram Micro and Intel.

Although the companies cited “competitive information,” John Sims, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and an expert in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, told the Mercury News that objections from companies such as Google and Apple were “absurd.”

When the information that was gathered is analyzed, it paints a picture of declining diversity among Silicon Valley’s big tech companies. Even though the companies analyzed grew in numbers between 2000 and 2008 (a 16 percent growth in the workforce), the percentages of Blacks, Latinos and women in their ranks all dropped.

Despite making up the majority of the population in Silicon Valley, women went from 37 percent of the workforce in 1999 to 33 percent in 2005. The number of Black employees dropped by 16 percent in the half-decade to start the century, while the share of Latino workers fell by 11 percent.

The same declines were seen in management-level positions. Only about 300 of 6,000 managers were Black or Latino, a 20 percent drop over five years. Women went from holding 28 percent of management positions in 2000 to 26 in 2005.

What Is an EEO-1 Report?

Every year, companies with more than 100 employees are required to file an EEO-1 report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The report is a simple, one-page form that lists employees by their self-identified race and gender.

While the data is officially listed as confidential by the government, companies do have the option to publicly share their EEO-1 data. Merck & Co. (No. 12), IBM (No. 24) and The Coca-Cola Company (No. 38) are just some of the companies that have made and/or continue to make this information available. (Merck’s and Coca-Cola’s reports are on their respective websites.) FOIA requests for EEO-1 data are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Most tech companies have also declined to participate in the DiversityInc Top 50 survey over the past 14 years. While Dell, IBM and Microsoft (No. 44) appear on the list this year, companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle and Facebook have never participated. Perhaps not coincidentally, none of the former have headquarters in Silicon Valley, while the latter all do.

Fighting to Keep Data a Secret

Many of the companies, based in an area with a population of more than 4 million people, declined to provide the information. Six companies went so far as to file lawsuits to block the requests, claiming that sharing the information would give competitors an insight into their business practices and potentially hurt the company.

“One of the main ways that we track how society is doing—in terms of race relations, in terms of eliminating discrimination, in terms of promoting diversity—is by looking at statistics,” said Richard Ford, a Stanford University law professor who is an expert in civil-rights and anti-discrimination law. “But if we can’t get the data, we can’t know if it’s a problem or not.”

“The whole debate on affirmative action is based on the question, ‘Is racial discrimination a thing of the past, or is it still going on?’” Sims said. “These companies are very interesting to look at because they are new and they are not just in the rut of what they were doing 50 years ago—because they didn’t exist 50 years ago.”

Google publicized its donation of more than $8 million in money and equipment in late 2009 to help candidates from underrepresented groups find work in the tech industry (Google had $23 billion in gross revenues that year), yet the company still fought to keep its own diversity data a secret.  “We don’t release this information for competitive reasons,” a spokeswoman said.

A judge agreed, allowing industry giants Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle and Applied Materials to withhold their employment data. “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,” Labor Department Associate Solicitor William W. Thompson II wrote. Only HP lost its battle.

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  • I think the argument provided by Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle and Applied Materials to withhold their EEO-1 data is absurd. How does publicizing data that shows the makeup of their organizations prevent them from being competitive? The only way the argument makes sense to me is if publicizing this information shows to everyone how non-diverse their organizations really are, which could lead people to stop using their services. Otherwise, it’s ridiculous.

  • I agree that the argument presented by these tech firm and Silicon Valley is absurd. Interest that liberal Bay Area (San Francisco, San Jose, etc) do not apply pressure or allow this practice. But, if it were the LGBT community all hell would be raised. Furthermore, if companies like GM, Wells Fargo engaged in this practice, you can bet the politicians and community activists would be protesting and in front of the television raising cane. After living in the Bay Area and seeing how the tech industry runs, it does not surprise me. The question is what is the public going to do about this practice? Another question, how does the tech firms appear to get away with the questionable hiring practices (e.g. Lack of older workers, women, and other minority groups) without fines or lawsuits.

  • I am not surprised about this at all. I don’t think the diversity is there in these companies. Moreover, it is fascinating to see recruiters reach out to me at times wanting to interview me, after which I receive requests to identify my race.
    Umh, is this an effort to “check the box” for the Latino?

  • I think one of the primary reasons is that they dod not want the government to know they have integrated systemic discrimiation in their processes, particulary in relation to age discrimination.

  • They are hiding the fact that the only diversity they have are Asians who evolved under similar conditions as Europeans. For security reasons they can’t have make work tokens that could leak trade secretes.

  • Does anybody ever pause to wonder whether if the reason why these companies don’t publish these figures is that they don’t want to be ostracized by sites or organizations such as these? Or that maybe the problem isn’t with the companies, but that we need to encourage Black and Latino students to pursue more science and technology degrees so that these companies will have an adequate minority pool with which to recruit from? Or do you all expect them to hire the unqualified simply to fulfill a quota system? Simple facts are that these declining numbers in technology firms nearly identically mimic the percentage of Blacks and Latinos that are graduating with Science, Mathematics and Technology degrees.

    • Luke Visconti

      You don’t know what you’re talking about. Latino-student growth rate in STEM education is rising nicely and gaining on white students (on a percentage basis). Black student percentages are steady, not declining. There are plenty of Black and Latino students to recruit from; just ask any of the technologically driven companies on the DiversityInc Top 50. Granted, it takes thoughtfulness to recruit from a smaller population because there are fewer people to recruit from, but a careful analysis of schools that have outstanding diversity programs will result in a streamlined approach to recruiting—for all highly qualified students, including highly qualified Blacks and Latinos.

      Here’s what I think the real problem is: Smart people will make a living where they’re most welcome. The tech industry has to compete for talent with everyone else. A superior Black or Latino student who could become a Ph.D.-level engineer can just as easily be a superior physician. I have more than
      25 years of higher-education board experience, and I’ve never seen a Silicon Valley company with a wallet out at any meeting I’ve been in. On the other hand, AT&T—not a Silicon Valley company, but one that hires plenty of engineers—has been at plenty of them. I’d suggest that superior students of every major seek out companies where they’re going to be welcome. There is no point in being a pioneer in 2013.

      By the way, since the recession, the NASDAQ computer index (XCI) has underperformed the overall NASDAQ. The DiversityInc Top 50, expressed as a stock index, outperforms the major indexes. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Excellent response to a play out comment… I’m so tired of the excuse, “We can’t find people of color with these qualifications”.

  • Maybe I am naive to the racist tech leadership. If you have ever taken an engineering class and looked around you would notice that there are mostly white males in the class. Are all our universities racist? Is it possible that the best programmers happen to be white men, just as the best rookie basketball player happens to be black? Why aren’t people complaining about the lack of diversity in the NFL or NBA? It seems to me that to run a good company you need the hire the most qualified workers regardless of race or gender, or religion.

    • Luke Visconti

      There’s no concerted effort to keep white people out of professional sports, which were almost 100 percent white until the 1960s. When the teams saw they could make more money with better players creating more exciting events, Black became green. What you’re seeing in the tech industry is the realization that the marketplace is diverse and that a lack of a diversity effort costs reputation and therefore an ability to hire and retain the best talent. Bigots like you assume that there are no Blacks and Latinos (or women) smart enough to earn the degrees necessary to work in these tech companies rather than seeing the obvious—talented Black, Latino and women students pick majors where they’re welcome. I’ll give you an example of how this works: I think you’re an imbecile racist and you’re probably posting your comments from the public-library computer on the path between your squalid, little, dirty-sock-smelling apartment and the bar where you spend your Social Security check. Now, I’ll bet you don’t feel so welcome here, do you? Well, you’re right. Go back to where “you people” congregate, and have a nice day. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Luke,

        You are my hero. Sometimes it seems we need to take off the corporate white gloves and bitch slap some sense into a troglodyte.

        Their understanding of structural racism and its implication across all facets of society is non-existent which is, by definition, the very nature of privilege.

        Thanks for the comic relief.

        ~ rafa

      • So true…It is not interesting or fullfilling working all day with a group of stuffy shirt bigots who spend some their free time wondering how I got the job or won the award.

  • My question Luke or anyone reading this is how does someone with the education and experience get in front of the people making the hiring decisions. I am a minority male, with a tech degree, with pertinent and progressive experience exceeding results. Although I definitely know there is racism, I have found that in the tech industry or the marketplace as a whole it is about who you know and if the right people know and trust you. I would love an opportunity however I am not having a lot of recruiters contact me on Linkedin, Indeed, …etc.

  • When are we going to stop running behind them…I dont mean jobs i mean investment and use of their product….WE HAVE THE POWER…when do they pay attention? When there is an economic reason….reach the critical mass…build our own. …case in point they hire Asians but Asians HEAVILY invest in Asians products. …let’s start MASSIVELY promoting and investing in OUR developers and businesses….Our focused efforts would garner MORE JOBS opportunity and financial power than ASKING…pretty please…Question: What race do Asians hiremail most….We need to get busy promoting our own GOOD SOUND businesses. .. believe me. ..they will come running. .. (they always do )…let us know who’s got it going on…and ALL OF US need to step up and INVEST IN US.

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