American companies promising to hire more Black employees in leadership roles and teach their workforce about racism are getting a message from President Donald Trump’s administration: Watch your step if you want to keep doing business with the federal government.
Trump’s Labor Department is using a 55-year-old presidential order spurred by the Civil Rights Movement to scrutinize companies like Microsoft and Wells Fargo over their public commitments to diversity. Government letters sent last week warned both companies against using “discriminatory practices” to meet their goals.
Microsoft has brushed off the warnings, publicly disclosing the government inquiry and defending its plan to boost Black leadership.
But advocates for corporate diversity initiatives worry that more cautious executives will halt or scale back efforts to make their workplaces more inclusive out of fear that a wrong step could jeopardize lucrative public contracts. The agency has oversight over the hiring practices of thousands of federal contractors that employ roughly a quarter of all American workers.
“For tech companies that don’t care about these issues, the pronouncements are a dog whistle that they can carry on discriminating the way they already have,” said Laszlo Bock, an executive who ran Google’s human resources division for more than a decade and now leads software startup Humu.
Bock said those who do care, however, will see Trump's actions as political “sound and fury" that will be hard to enforce.
“It’s not at all illegal to strive to have a workforce that reflects the makeup of your nation,” Bock said.
Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 order was designed to “adjust the imbalances of hiring that are a legacy of our racist past,” said employment attorney and public contracting expert Daniel Abrahams.