Federal Government Wants to Help Companies Keep Workplace Demographics Secret

The federal government is inviting thousands of companies to fight the public release of their diversity numbers, even after a judge ruled that the workplace demographics reports shouldn’t be kept secret.

For many years, RevealThe Center for Investigative Reporting fought in court to make public diversity reports from companies that receive government contracts. This is so that journalists and the public can examine the data. We won, but the fight isn’t over.

Some companies — and the federal government — continue to push back against transparency, despite the court loss.

Government contractors must file diversity statements that show the diversity of their workforce by race and gender. The EEO-1s are a starting point to compare diversity among similar companies and address inequality. Contractors who receive taxpayer money to perform public work are required to meet the following requirements. higher standard to ensure equal opportunity and eliminate discrimination in their employment practices.

The majority of reports were not released by the U.S. Department of Labor. Reveal even after a federal judge ruled in 2019 that the reports weren’t confidential business information. After we threatened It offered contractors a 30-day window to present their case for keeping their diversity data secret and not releasing them.

Civil rights activistsMembers of Congress scholars Since long, the public has been requesting that the reports be made public. After years of pressure, a growing number of companies are now releasing them freely. RevealThese voluntary reports were used in a series of stories The tech industry is characterized by a lack of diversity. less than 2% of professionals at the largest companies were Black or Latina women In 2016. Other news organizations The reports have been used to hold companies accountable.

But the public still doesn’t know how diverse the workforces are at the majority of companies that contract with the federal government. Reveala request for diversity reports for all federal contractors, 2016-2020

Jenny Yang, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, published Federal contractors were notified Aug. 19 that they have 30 days to object the publication of their diversity reports. This gives them the opportunity to stop their disclosure. According to the agency, 15,000 businesses could be affected.

Even though a federal Judge struck down the department’s previous attempt to keep such records secret, Yang’s notice said the agency “has reason to believe that the information requested may be protected from disclosure” and has “not yet determined” whether it is. The agency was set up. portal Companies may object to the records. The portal also clarified who requested these records: It named me and linked directly to my bio page.

RevealFor five years, has been fighting to release diversity reports through various requests under Freedom of Information Acts, direct requests to companies, and legal files.

We first asked for reports on Silicon Valley tech companies. Many claimed that their diversity numbers were trade secrets. Some of them argued that releasing the numbers would hurt their competitive position, leading to a “raiding of minority or female employees” or even “public relations harm.”

The government sided with companies, but we sued to get it to change its mind. reversed course Released the EEO-1 Reports. It turned out companies’ diversity stats were just embarrassing. Palantir, for example, had no female executives at the time and no women of color in management at all — particularly bad representation even for the tech industry.

We asked the government for more data on the tech companies. backtrackedWe sided with the companies who claimed their diversity numbers were commercially confidential information. We sued again.

A federal judge eventually ruled that the companies’ objections didn’t hold up, that EEO-1s are not confidential business information and that “the Government was not justified” in withholding them. The Labor Department didn’t appeal the decision. A tech company It did, but the appeal was denied for procedural reasons.

Now, after years of dragging its feet, the government is sidestepping the court ruling, claiming it’s still not clear whether the records should be public, inviting companies to object and offering them a list of points to address in requesting the government withhold the records.

Reveal general counsel D. Victoria Baranetsky argued In a letter to the agency, Baranetsky stated that inviting companies to object is against the court opinion. The agency should publish all diversity data online. Baranetsky’s proposal has precedent: The Labor Department published Online data about workplace injuries without consulting companies Reveal won a ruling Publication of the records is required. These data are being used now by journalists and advocacy organizations.

In this case, the agency maintains It has to allow companies to object. It could have started the process more than three decades ago when we first requested data.

Corporate lawyers and consultants representing contractors are sounding the alarm to clients.

“If there is information in your EEO-1 Reports that you would prefer to keep out of your competitors’ hands and the public eye, you should act quickly,” wrote one firm.

“Employers have a number of reasons to fear their EEO-1 data becoming public,” wrote anotherThat includes that Reveal “could use the data to call out employers who they believe have underperformed in their diversity efforts, or worse yet, engaged in discrimination.”

A third wrote that the government’s general notice was “woefully inadequate” and that failing to alert each individual company “sets concerning precedent.”

The agency states that it will make an independent evaluation of companies’ objections before deciding whether to disclose their diversity reports. It has often rubber stamped those objections in the past.

It was many years ago that Reveal requested PayPal’s diversity numbers, the company offered a common objection: “PayPal has taken great care to ensure the confidentiality of its EEO-1 Reports” and releasing them “would cause substantial competitive harm.” The government immediately wrote back that it agreed with PayPal, in a letter These documents were dated the same date.

The day after RevealYou wrote: story about thatPayPal posted its EEO-1s online. continues Each year, you will be required to do this. By the time USA TodayWhen PayPal CEO Dan Schulman was asked by companies to provide EEO-1s for 2021, he became an advocate for disclosure. saying, “The more transparent we can be as a company, the more we can fix issues and the more we can inspire others to do the same.”

The fact that some companies disclose their numbers without a problem shows that the arguments for secrecy don’t hold up, said Joseph Bryant Jr., who leads the Rainbow PUSH Silicon Valley Diversity Project. The group’s founder, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. pressuring Tech companies to share EEO-1 numbers since 2014

“Whatever the excuse may be has a lot to do with companies not wanting to be caught with their pants down,” Bryant said. “I think there are some companies that are too embarrassed and too lazy to do any better. And it’s easier to deflect than to adjust.”

When asked how the government will handle objections in the future and how the public can be trusted, a spokesperson from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs declined comments.

But one thing is clear: It follows a long pattern of deference to private companies — unless faced with a lawsuit.

This story was edited and copied by Nikki Frick and Andrew Donohue.
Will Evans can reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @willCIR.

This story was created by RevealThe Center for Investigative Reporting, an independent news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to their weekly newsletter at revealnews.org/newsletter.