• 07.09.14

Publicly Shame Companies That Won’t Tell Us How Un-Diverse They Are

When it comes to hiring bias at big companies, a little unwanted attention on the issue could go a long way.

Google does it. So does Intel. But a significant number of major tech companies–including Apple, Twitter, and IBM–still haven’t published information about how many women or minorities they hire. A new project from feminist coders aims to put pressure on them until they do.


The Open Diversity Data project, launched this past June by the feminist hacker space Double Union, keeps tabs on companies that do and don’t make their workforce demographics available to the public. Anyone can submit a request for ODD to add a company to the list. Once a company’s listed on the site, viewers can click to tweet thanks at the organization for being transparent, remind it to update its information, or ask that it publish employment diversity data for the first time.

Credit: Open Diversity Data

Diversity data is much more difficult to come by than you might think. Organizations collect it regardless of external requests; those with more than 100 employees are required to report that information (in something called an EEO-1 form) to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission every year. But those reports stay guarded in filing systems far away from the public eye. If companies don’t make diversity data open, curious souls have to go through the arduous process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Labor.

That time-suck is a convenient obstacle for the tech industry, which has been particularly stingy about revealing its employee demographics. In 2011, while awaiting the results of a FOIA request on 20 of the tech industry’s largest and most influential firms, CNN asked companies to give up their data voluntarily. Only three–Dell, Ingram Micro, and Intel–complied. Two years later, CNN published the results of another FOIA request dealing with those same companies, but was only able to turn up information on a quarter of them. Earlier this year, Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson finally pitched a successful FOIA request on Silicon Valley’s top 10 firms, and the results showed that the industry had a reason to be embarrassed: Women only made up 17% of the total employment pie, and only 5% of all employees were black or Latino.

Credit: Open Diversity Data

“I think companies are worried that [releasing data] is going to make them look bad,” offers Leigh Honeywell, a cloud security engineer and the main developer behind ODD. “Not only do [firms’ employment statistics] not reflect the number of women in this country, but for a lot of companies, it’s below the proportion of women who work in the field. They’re hiring women at a disproportionately low rate.”

A growing body of research shows that companies with more gender diversity on their boards and in leadership positions financially trump those without. When Google finally released its own paltry diversity numbers earlier this year, the tech giant acknowledged that it was far from where it wanted to be. “Having a diversity of perspectives leads to better decision-making, more relevant products, and makes work a whole lot more interesting,” the company’s report read.

Credit: Open Diversity Data

Staying silent and avoiding bad PR is another strategy. Twitter, for example, has yet to divulge its diversity data, though Honeywell notes that at least 40 of its employees–judging by IP addresses–have already visited the ODD site. But the aim of ODD is two-fold: Double Union hopes that ODD will not only put pressure on companies to become more transparent, but also encourage legislators to free up EEOC reports to the public.

Once the diversity data is out in the open, ODD’s creators believe that formerly cagey companies can get better at hiring people from a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences. “There’s the sort of the nuts and bolts reason to do it: It increases profitability, and makes people make better decisions,” Honeywell says. “And then it’s just the right thing to do. We strive to live in a more just and equal society.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.