Red-hot tech startup Slack released its diversity numbers on Wednesday. The report, which was published on the company’s blog, was packed with revealing stats about the ranks of women, minorities and LGBT workers at the company. But it also was interesting for a different reason: the timing of its release. Slack published the numbers on the same day Apple hosted its massive product unveiling event.
Why is that significant? Well, when Apple is talking, the tech press covers little else. If you’re another company that has news you want written about, it’s a rotten time to announce it. But if you’ve got something you’d like to say very quietly… Well, then it’s a prime time.
A Slack spokesperson says the timing overlap was unintentional, attributing it instead to “a confluence of small factors.” She also said, via email, that the company held the post until the afternoon to let the Apple news “die down and then pushed it as hard as we could.” Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield also retweeted the announcement, followed by a mini tweetstorm about the company’s commitment to “hire the best people we can…Remove layers of bias, bad practices & old ways.”
If it were just this one Slack announcement, it would be easy to chalk up the timing to coincidence. However, this isn’t the first time a tech company has released data on a day that seems custom-made for moving the information out of the news cycle as quickly as possible. The practice is one companies and politicians have been using to minimize bad or embarrassing news for decades. It even has a name: the Friday night dump.
Twitter posted its latest diversity stats on Friday, August 28th—a slow day in a slow month, when many people are away from their desks trying to squeeze in a last summer friday. (Via email, a Twitter spokesperson writes: “We hold our global all-hands meetings every other Thursday, and we wanted to share our data and goals with our employees before announcing them publicly on August 28th.”)
Then there’s Microsoft, which released its U.S. workforce demographic breakdown after the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended a Dec. 3 shareholders meeting to press the company on diversity issues. CEO Sataya Nadella reportedly pledged to make the information public by the end of the year. The company says the data was published on its site on Dec. 18, although a writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal wrote that he was unable to find it and had to ask Microsoft to send him a link to the information. That PSBJ story, the first I could find on the Microsoft numbers, ran on Jan. 2. That lag isn’t terribly surprising—the December holiday season is another good time to sweep news under the rug.
A Microsoft spokesperson, commenting via email, wrote: “In addition to the workforce diversity data that we have been sharing for a number of years, we publicly committed in early December 2014 to publish our EEO-1 report within the month and followed through within two weeks.”
I’m the first to admit that this is a far cry from a scientific study, but taken as a whole, these examples point to a problem. Part of the rationale for encouraging companies to release this information is to bring sunlight to issue of the diversity in tech. We know there aren’t enough women and minorities working in the industry. That’s not going to be any easy issue to resolve, but understanding the depth of the problem is the first step. If companies are releasing their workforce stats just to check the “Yes, we’re transparent!” box—while hoping the information dissipates as quickly as possible—we’re never going to make much progress. (In the interest of fairness, I’ll add that it’s the media’s job to find and report on this information no matter how stealthily companies may report it.)
Most tech companies have only started releasing diversity reports in the past year or two, so it’s not surprising that the process is still a work in progress. Perhaps these reports will eventually be released on a predictable schedule, similar to the way corporations report their financials. Regardless, I’d like to see companies release their diversity data with the same approach they use to announce new products or new hires.
We get it: The numbers aren’t always pretty, and no one wants to go fishing for bad press. But releasing the information in clear, straightforward manner sends a message that your company is moving in the right direction.
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