The decline in the number of women is being attributed to layoffs at phone-manufacturing units acquired from Nokia. Factories that Microsoft closed were staffed by a larger proportion of women than the rest of the business.
Microsoft is getting more male and slightly more racially diverse, evidence of the slow road in the company’s effort to build a workforce that more closely mirrors society as a whole.
Women made up 26.8 percent of Microsoft’s global workforce at the end of September, down from 29 percent a year earlier, according to a batch of new data the company released Monday.
Technology companies have been criticized in recent years for workforces that tend to be overwhelmingly male and which employ a much smaller share of some racial minorities than in the larger population.
The proportion of female employees, as well as African Americans or Hispanics, typically shrinks further when looking at the composition of leadership ranks or in the company’s technical jobs.
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Microsoft was at the center of that conversation a year ago after Chief Executive Satya Nadella told a conference for women in technology that women needn’t ask for raises, and instead trust the system will reward them fairly. He quickly apologized and pledged new diversity initiatives at Microsoft, but the flub highlighted what some see as the industry’s blind spots or biases.
The decline in Microsoft’s female employment in the past year was largely the result of big layoffs that hit phone-manufacturing units Microsoft acquired from Nokia, said Gwen Houston, the Redmond company’s general manager of global diversity and inclusion.
Those factory floors and research and design teams Microsoft shuttered were staffed by a larger proportion of female workers than in the rest of the business, she said.
“This is a decline we are not satisfied with,” Houston said in an interview. “We know we can do better.”
The latest data show Microsoft employs a smaller portion of women than peers Google, Apple or Facebook, companies that are among the more than a dozen major U.S. technology firms that disclose data on the composition of their workforce.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson brought his campaign to broaden the employee base of technology companies to Seattle last year, asking Nadella at the company’s shareholder meeting to release more data.
Nadella agreed, and the company publicly posted in December the workforce- diversity data it is required to report to the federal government.
The topic is likely to emerge again at next week’s shareholders meeting, set for Dec. 2, which Jackson plans to attend.
Microsoft will have some progress to show the civil-rights leader. Overall, the company employed 115,905 people worldwide at the end of September, including 60,515 in the U.S. Of those, 42,991 worked in Washington state.
In the U.S., the share of employees identifying as racial minorities rose modestly from a year earlier. The company doesn’t detail the racial breakdown of its non-U.S. workforce.
There are reasons to be optimistic about a more-diverse pipeline of workers coming up the ranks, Houston said, citing increases in the percentage of women, African Americans and Hispanics among Microsoft’s hires straight out of college, and in some internship programs.
“These are trends that are a work in progress, and we’ve got to hold onto and build over time,” Houston said.
In a statement, Jackson said Microsoft had made progress in having a more diverse leadership team, and praised the company’s supplier-diversity programs.
But, like most other technology companies that have released data, “they’ve yet to ‘break the code’ and make qualitative, dramatic breakthroughs in increasing black and Latino representation in their workforce,” he said.
About 29.3 percent of Microsoft’s U.S. employees identified as Asian, up from 28.8 percent a year earlier. Hispanic employees totaled 5.4 percent, up from 5.1 percent.
African-American/black employees and those identifying as multiracial were little changed at 3.5 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
The percentage of American Indian/Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander was unchanged at 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.
Houston said Nadella’s group of senior advisers about a year ago started receiving monthly briefings on the company’s initiatives to build a more diverse workplace.
Those efforts include internship programs targeting underrepresented groups, employee training in unconscious biases, and funding for education programs designed to stimulate interest in science and math education.
Microsoft also detailed for the first time the racial breakdown of the workers in its retail-store arm, which now includes more than 100 stores.
About 46 percent of the retail unit is white, compared with 59 percent of its total U.S. workforce.
Amazon.com shows a similar situation. The ranks of the e-commerce and data-center giant are likewise more diverse in its warehouses than in the sales and technology-development offices at its Seattle headquarters.
“Certainly it’s a different pool if you’re hiring for retail” than product managers and software developers, Houston said.