Posted on February 15, 2010

Five Silicon Valley Companies Fought Release of Employment Data, and Won

Mike Swift, Mercury News, February 14, 2010

Google, the company that wants to make the world’s information accessible, says the race and gender of its work force is a trade secret that cannot be released.

So do Apple, Yahoo, Oracle and Applied Materials. These five companies waged an 18-month Freedom of Information battle with the Mercury News, convincing federal regulators who collect the data that its release would cause “commercial harm” by potentially revealing the companies’ business strategy to competitors. A sixth company, Hewlett-Packard, fought the release and lost.

But many of their industry peers see the issue differently. The Mercury News initially set out to obtain race and gender data on the valley’s 15 largest companies, and nine–including Intel, Cisco Systems, eBay, AMD, Sanmina and Sun Microsystems–agreed to allow the U.S. Department of Labor to provide it.

“There’s nothing to hide, in our view,” said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel, which contacted the Mercury News to share its employment data after learning of the newspaper’s federal FOIA request filed in early 2008. {snip}

{snip} A bigger issue, they [experts in the area of equal employment law] said, is the social cost of allowing large, influential corporations to hide their race and gender data.

“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 Labor Department data ultimately obtained by the Mercury News shows that while the collective work force of 10 of the valley’s largest companies grew by 16 percent from 1999 to 2005, an already small population of black workers dropped by 16 percent, while the number of Hispanic workers declined by 11 percent. By 2005, only about 2,200 of the 30,000 Silicon Valley-based workers at those 10 companies were black or Hispanic.

In addition, among the roughly 5,900 managers at those companies in 2005, about 300 were either black or Hispanic–a 20 percent dip from five years earlier. Women slipped to 26 percent of managers in 2005, from 28 percent in 2000.