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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


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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