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A year after pledging to do more on racial injustice, Microsoft releases report on progress

Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. campus in December 2020 when most staff labored from house. (GeekWire Picture / Todd Bishop)

Nearly a yr after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a pledge to step up its sport in preventing racial injustice, the corporate has launched a report sharing its progress.

The Redmond-based firm laid out a broad initiative following the homicide of George Floyd, setting targets for rising the racial variety of its staff, working to help racially numerous firm partnerships and suppliers, and bolstering Black communities nationwide.

The report out on Wednesday, titled the Racial Equity Initiative: Strengthening Our Communities, focuses extra narrowly on the corporate’s accomplishments on that final piece addressing communities. It known as out 4 principal areas:

  • Aiding justice reform: Microsoft has a five-year, $50 million program to work on justice reform and initiatives embrace researching and sharing knowledge on justice points and selling higher public coverage. Previously yr it facilitated the discharge of many years of arrest knowledge, and helped launch violence prevention packages in 20 cities.
  • Elevated entry to broadband and gadgets: It began packages to extend entry to broadband, gadgets and tech help in eight racially and ethnically numerous cities; and initiated a financing program to assist clients with poor credit score buy digital gadgets.
  • Bolstering tech training and coaching: Microsoft supplied $5 million this yr to 16 traditionally Black schools and universities (HBCUs), gave help for Okay-12 laptop science packages, and granted $15 million to help with workforce coaching and different programming supplied by 50 Black-led nonprofits.
  • Offering funding and tech help for Black-led nonprofits: The corporate signed up 1,000 group organizations to obtain tech help, gave $1.eight million in grants, and created a database of 36,000 Black-led nonprofits that could possibly be future companions.

Fred Humphries, Microsoft’s company vice chairman of U.S. authorities affairs, helps lead the hassle. He’s grateful for the corporate’s response to the homicide of Floyd and different Black Individuals.

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“It was a second for me personally,” Humphries mentioned, “as an African-American male working at Microsoft for 20 years, to see how not solely did the Blacks at Microsoft — which is an worker useful resource group — however to see the Microsoft group at giant, many individuals …. saying, ‘Hey we have now to do one thing.’”

A few of the measures introduced a yr in the past constructed and expanded on present packages. Microsoft has been working for a few years to extend the gender, racial and ethnic variety of its firm. Whereas progress has been sluggish and even backslid in some areas over time, the corporate has been acknowledged as a frontrunner within the area and given credit score specifically for its transparency.

“As famous in Microsoft’s report, social inequality is deeply embedded inside our society. If corporations are silent on variety, fairness and inclusion points, then they’re seemingly contributing to social inequality,” mentioned Elizabeth Umphress, professor with the College of Washington’s Foster College of Enterprise, by electronic mail.

Final week, Fortune named the top 20 Fortune 500 corporations for variety and inclusion, 14 metrics together with board and worker variety. Microsoft was within the prime spot. The area’s different tech behemoth, Seattle-based Amazon, ranked 11th.

Fred Humphries, Microsoft’s company vice chairman of U.S. authorities affairs. (Microsoft Picture)

In April, Amazon launched considerably limited data on the racial and gender make-up of its workforce and outlined plans to extend the variety of Black and girls staff on the firm. It’s additionally selling outdoors efforts, with information this week of an initiative in Georgia to offer cloud computing coaching and training for five,500 folks over the following three years.

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Regardless of the excessive rankings amongst company friends, each corporations have previous allegations of discrimination. In 2015, Microsoft was sued for gender discrimination and two years in the past a spate of recent accusations of unfair therapy of feminine staff and sexual harassment arose, prompting Nadella to vow to take motion. Earlier this yr, Amazon was sued by a Black manager for alleged race and gender discrimination.

Microsoft has additionally confronted challenges for doing an excessive amount of to help variety. In October, the corporate mentioned that the U.S. Labor Division beneath the Trump administration was investigating whether or not Microsoft’s targets of accelerating the variety of Black staff within the U.S. was discriminatory. Humphries alluded to the truth that this was not a difficulty beneath the Biden presidency, and mentioned that their hiring insurance policies have been “adhering to the legislation.”

The examples of scrutiny from each side spotlight the significance of Microsoft’s actions.

“Firms like Microsoft have the potential to affect each a part of our social, political and financial lives,” mentioned Umphress, the UW professor. “On this manner, they may have an identical affect as nationwide or state governments.”

Whereas celebrating the progress made up to now on racial justice, Humphries made clear that this was solely the start and that the corporate was studying quite a bit from the efforts. One realization that stunned him was the shortage of broadband entry for Black and racially numerous communities even inside cities. He additionally didn’t anticipate entry to digital gadgets to be such a problem; some 17% of Black adults within the U.S. entry the web solely via cell telephones.

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“That is yr one,” he mentioned of Microsoft’s initiative. “We simply acquired began, we’ve acquired extra to do.”