Why the FCC Should Make its Employment Data Public

By Hoda Abdalla

Complete and disaggregated data collection is necessary to advance equity and inclusion. One source of federal data collection includes EEO-1 data, which requires employers and federal contractors to submit demographic workforce data, including data by race, ethnicity, sex, and job categories.

Understanding the importance of this data collection to advancing media diversity, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights recently endorsed supplemental comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filed by civil rights organizations. As our letter notes, “The comments in the docket, including those previously filed by The Leadership Conference, reflect widespread consensus within the civil and human rights community that the FCC must once again be a leader in equitable employment obligations. This begins with collecting and publishing EEO-1 data by broadcasters, cable operators, and other multichannel video programming distributors and ensuring these data are made public via an easy-to-use portal that can also be used to aggregate data on state-by-state and regional bases and according to other factors, such as various demographic categories.”

The FCC should adopt rules requiring broadcasters and cable operators to submit their EEO-1 data, disaggregated by market, to enhance transparency and accountability and ensure that the communications sector maintains a diverse workforce. Here are five reasons why this data should be public:

A diverse media is foundational to democracy.

Our democracy and our civil rights protections rely on an accurate, independent, and diverse media. The FCC has an obligation to enhance representation and inclusion within these industries, and this obligation includes improving its data collection on the demographics of employment and publishing this data for analysis. Diversity within the broadcast workforce is not only essential to ensuring different perspectives and backgrounds are included, but that newsrooms reflect the diverse content they produce and the audiences they serve. 

Existing reports indicate there is a large problem of diversity in the media.

The findings of existing research indicate large issues of diversity in newsrooms, further justifying our call to make FCC employment data publicly available. Research by Pew Research Center reveals that newsroom employees are less diverse than U.S. workers across sectors, as 77 percent of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic, White people and 61 percent are men. Smaller news outlets are even less diverse, as people of color only make up 22 percent of the local television news workforce and only 13 percent of daily newspaper employees.

These alarming statistics reflect biases within the newsrooms’ hiring process that inhibit newsrooms from reflecting the diversity of our nation, as the report reveals that minorities with undergraduate degrees in journalism and communications are 17 percent less likely to find a full-time newsroom position within a year of graduation. This lack of diversity is particularly concerning as reports indicate that Black and Hispanic viewers are an increasing share of the newsroom audience. These findings indicate that calling for the public release of EEO data is not solely a precautionary measure, but that there is a strong indication that the data would reveal significant issues of diversity within newsrooms. 

Employment data collection is a widely held best practice to improve workforce equity.

Data collection is consistently held as a leading recommendation for improving diversity and inclusion. Because data collection is an established best practice for advancing equity in the workforce, publishing this data is necessary for public accountability. In order to increase accountability and transparency, leading academics argue that by “collecting and analyzing data on diversity over time, comparing those numbers to the numbers at other organizations, and sharing them with key stakeholders, companies can increase accountability and transparency around diversity issues.” Additionally, as stated in The Leadership Conference’s 2022 report on the need for improved federal civil rights data collection, “failure to collect data on specific topics can sometimes seem like a technical matter, but it has the effect, often intentional, of making it impossible to tackle a problem by disguising its existence or its scope.”

Furthermore, data that are not disaggregated serve to hide inequities. Currently available media employment data, which is not broken down by license, conceals which specific broadcast companies lack diversity. This inhibits our ability to make specific demands of companies, leaving us with only a broad picture of media diversity statistics. Without publicly available data that is disaggregated by market, it is impossible to know if diversity rules and policies are working and it is impossible to set narrowly tailored strategies and objectives.

If made public, academics and researchers will likely produce reports that will effectively analyze the data.

Members of the academy could use the data to produce reports if the data are public. For example, in 2003, a group of authors conducted a comprehensive analysis using the FCC’s employment data. Many other institutions prepare reports analyzing participation by various demographic groups in the media industries because the data are important for holding the industries accountable, but company-specific data from the industries subject to FCC rules are lacking. In fact, Congress was forced to resort to a GAO study to obtain more information about the participation of Hispanic people in the media industry. Similarly, the Women’s Media Center had to aggregate research from academia, industry, and professional groups, labor unions, media watchdogs, newsrooms, and other sources in order to find data on women in the media workforce. The existence of these reports despite such limited data indicates that members of the academy would use the FCC’s employment data if it were publicly reported. Other reports addressing media diversity outside of broadcasting, such as UCLA’s 2021 Hollywood Diversity Report, may be enticed to conduct research on broadcast data if they were readily available from the FCC. Their analysis would help generate public response and pressure that calls for more accountability for specific companies to examine biases within their hiring processes and seek to improve their numbers in future years.

Publicly releasing employment data is consistent with federal law and is being considered by other federal agencies.

As The Leadership Conference explained to the commission in its 2019 comments, “there are no constitutional barriers to the collection of these data…enforcing constitutional rights often requires sound data.” Demographic data collection has been explicitly approved when implementing diversity and inclusion efforts in federal employment. Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is highly considering requiring companies to publicly disclose EEO-1 data. Several investors, including Boston Trust Walden, the Connecticut state treasurer, Illinois state treasurer, and Washington State Investment Board are urging the SEC to mandate disclosure of EEO-1 data. This suggests that any legal concerns about publishing EEO-1 data are unfounded, and the benefits of releasing EEO-1 are recognized by other agencies as necessary to advancing their diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Finally, as The Leadership Conference’s letter says, the FCC can use EEO-1 data to advance the commission’s equity action plan pursuant to President Biden’s executive order on advancing racial equity through the federal government — because while better data collection will not solve the challenges created by systemic racism and historic levels of inequality, it is a necessary first step.

Hoda Abdalla was a summer 2022 undergraduate intern at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

This blog is the fourth in the series ”Data Disaggregation Deconstructed,” which explores how data disaggregation in various policy areas can enhance equity. The series is based on The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s report “Information Nation: The Need for Improved Federal Civil Rights Data Collection.” The report urges the Biden administration to restore and expand the scope, frequency, and public accessibility of federal data collections in order to identify equity gaps and solutions to remedy them.