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MS shuts up on number of women engineers

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Dhaliwal's statement repeated the previous excuse given by Microsoft over its apparent ignorance of the gender issue.

He has left an opening, however. Instead of saying, as before, that data privacy laws prevent Microsoft from revealing how many MCSEs are women, he now says data privacy concerns may suppress the revelation.

"There are 1.7 million Microsoft Certified Professionals worldwide and it's vital that their confidential information is handled with the respect it deserves and that the impact of decisions affecting data collection and release are weighed very carefully," he said in the statement.

Dhaliwal and Kundhart are now understood to be reviewing what data they can reveal. Yet the longer Dhaliwal sticks to the privacy defence, the less credible his position looks, particularly in light of the Information Commissioner (Britain's custodian of data protection) discrediting Microsoft's story.

Incredulous of the earlier privacy defence given her by Dhaliwal, Ellen sought advice from the IC. The IC said, as you would expect, that statistics do not offend data protection laws. This was the official response Ellen got from the IC on 30 March 2005:

"Personal data is defined in the Data Protection Act 1998 as data which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that data. It follows therefore that Microsoft Learning would not be in contravention of the Act if they provided you with the general number of certificates held in the UK nor would they be in contravention if they provided you with this data broken down by gender."

Ellen forwarded the IC's email to Dhaliwal and Kundhart on the day she received it. She asked if this changed their position. Though she had previously been granted enough of their time to learn of their privacy defence, this time she received no response.

Now we can join the club.

When Microsoft does comes out from behind the wholly unnecessary barricades it has erected, we can only hope it will have found something valuable to add to this debate, like how few women MCSEs there are. The fact that there are so few may illustrate Microsoft's lack of care about this issue in the past. Now that Microsoft evidently does care (of course it does, or it would not have lent its public support for CC4G, would it?), perhaps it can tell us what it is going to do about it.®

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