Oracle chair Larry Ellison. Picture: REUTERS
Oracle chair Larry Ellison. Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco — Oracle Corporation should increase the racial diversity of its board, a group of US lawmakers have said, putting a greater spotlight on the company’s hiring and management practices.

“The fact that African-Americans make up 13% and Asian-Americans make up 5.6% of the US population but 0% of Oracle’s board and leadership team is inexcusable,” said the lawmakers in a letter dated November 22 from the House tech accountability caucus and tri-caucus, which includes the Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses.

The criticism is the latest call for the second-largest software maker and its billionaire chair Larry Ellison to improve diversity and inclusion. Former employees and the US government have sued the California-based company, alleging it systematically underpays women and people of colour.

Thursday’s letter is the second time this year that Oracle has attracted congressional scrutiny for its diversity practices. In January, the Congressional Black caucus and House tech accountability caucus wrote a letter to the company expressing dismay about allegations of pay discrimination.

The letter is signed by representatives Robin L Kelly, Joaquin Castro, Karen Bass and Judy Chu, who are chairs of the various House caucuses, among other lawmakers.

The tech accountability caucus has previously criticised Amazon for its tepid record of appointing non-white people to its board, and Facebook for allowing marketers to use ethnic affinity to target ads for housing, employment or credit.

Amazon has since adopted a policy pledging to consider a diverse slate of candidates for any open board seats, and added Rosalind Brewer and Indra Nooyi as directors. Facebook, in 2016, updated its ad policy to disable ethnic targeting for certain ads.

“We respectfully request a prompt response from Oracle regarding our diversity concerns,” according to the letter. The group requested an executive-level briefing with the Congressional tri-caucus to discuss the issue, but said it would otherwise accept a written response within 14 days or via a phone call. Oracle didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Oracle, in a February response to the earlier congressional letter, said it wouldn’t “intentionally discriminate against women and people of colour” and is committed to a diverse, non-discriminatory work culture, according to the lawmakers.

Oracle is also contending with a January lawsuit from the US department of labour, which alleged the company short-changed female and minority workers some $400m in wages.

The allegations stem from a 2014 audit by the unit, which enforces equal pay and other non-discrimination matters for federal contractors. Records show that Oracle paid women and minority employees less than others and steered them into lower-level jobs, the department has said in court papers. It also alleged that Oracle used H-1B visas to hire scores of Asians and paid them less than employees who are US citizens.

In 2017, three female engineers sued Oracle, alleging underpayment as compared to male engineers completing the same tasks. An analysis conducted on their behalf showed the company paid some women about $13,000 less per year on average compared to male counterparts. The plaintiffs are seeking to represent more than 4,000 similarly situated employees.

Oracle has denied the allegations in both cases.