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Tech groups react to diversity training executive order

Several leading technology trade associations are pressing the Trump administration to rescind an executive order that, along with subsequent memos and guidance, has put diversity and inclusion training at federal agencies on pause.

The executive order, issued on Sept. 22, looks to purge diversity training curricula of concepts that Trump administration says communicate the "pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors…"

The order extends to companies doing business with the government. "Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees," the order states.

The Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued guidance Oct. 7 explaining the scope, reach and timing of the order with regard to contractors.

The requirements begin to apply to federal contractors on Nov. 21, 2020 – 60 days after the order was issued. However, the guidance also indicates that OFCCP will investigate complaints received before the order takes effect on contractors.

The effect on the federal workforce itself was immediate and has led to a pause in diversity and inclusion training governmentwide as the Office of Personnel Management reviews the content of such training for proscribed concepts.

Discussion of the order and related policy bubbled up in the Sept. 29 debate between President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The trade associations, including the Information Technology Industry Council, the Cybersecurity Coalition, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Internet Association, wrote in an Oct. 8 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia that the order is wrong on the facts of racism and discrimination in American society and an "unwarranted intrusion" into the internal operations of private companies.

Member firms represented by the groups include Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, HP, IBM, Salesforce, VMware, PayPal and more.

"Most federal government contractors have voluntarily instituted internal [diversity, equity and inclusion] programs because they recognize the importance of hiring, recruiting, and retaining a diverse and inclusive workforce," the letter states. The order "fails to acknowledge the realities of ongoing racial inequality and inequities in America and represents an unwarranted intrusion into private sector efforts to combat systemic racism."

The OFCCP guidance looks to define race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating and explain what kinds of training are permitted under the order. The guidance explains that unconscious bias and implicit bias training aren't banned outright but must be designed to "inform workers, or foster discussion, about pre-conceptions, opinions, or stereotypes that people--regardless of their race or sex--may have regarding people who are different, which could influence a worker's conduct or speech and be perceived by others as offensive."

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