For the first time in two years, the proportion of women within Microsoft's ranks has grown. The Redmond company made slight progress in its efforts to increase racial and gender diversity within its workforce in 2017, boosted in part by its acquisition last December of LinkedIn.

The combined companies' global employee base was 27.3 percent female at the end of September, compared with 25.8 percent at Microsoft alone last year.

Microsoft and big tech companies across the world have faced increasing criticism in recent years about their workforces, which tend to be made up of more white males than the general population. Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google two years ago started reporting their diversity breakdowns, which have often revealed that women and people of color make up slowly growing minorities of their employee bases.

"While we have had and we're seeing good progress from a representation perspective ... we really do recognize that this only puts us in a position to do more work," Iesha Berry, Microsoft senior director of global diversity and inclusion, said about the overall results.

LinkedIn contributed heavily to the makeup of female employees; it said last year that its employee base was 42 percent female. Without the workforce at the professional networking site, Microsoft's share of female employees rose just 0.1 percentage point, to 25.9 percent in 2017.

That's still down from three years ago, when Microsoft's female employees made up 29 percent of the workforce. The company attributes much of that decline to its winding down of Nokia operations, where many women worked in plants globally.

Women are generally most starkly underrepresented in technical roles, which is still the case at Microsoft, but the company did see a gain. Women now make up 19 percent of technical positions, rising from 17.5 percent last year.

The company is focused on keeping and promoting the women it hires, Berry said, through growing mentorship and training programs. Microsoft also forms partnerships with outside organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute, which produces the Grace Hopper Celebration to support women in technology.

"We are making leadership visible, accessible and real," she said.

Women in leadership roles within the company at the director level or above saw an uptick this year, from 17.9 percent to 19.1 percent.

The majority of Microsoft's U.S. workforce is white -- about 56.2 percent, compared with 58 percent last year. Combined with LinkedIn, 55.5 percent of workers are white.

Microsoft, separate from LinkedIn, noted an increase of African-American and black employees within its 74,191-person ranks in the U.S. -- from 3.7 percent last year to 4 percent in 2017.

That dipped a bit -- to 3.9 percent -- when its workforce is combined with LinkedIn, which is less racially diverse.

Microsoft, which has 125,416 workers globally including LinkedIn's, does not release the racial breakdown of its international employees.

Overall, 5.6 percent of Microsoft and LinkedIn's combined workforce is Hispanic or Latinx, and 31.8 percent is of Asian descent -- both slight increases from last year, when the figures were 5.5 percent and 30.5 percent, respectively, for Microsoft alone.

In a blog post announcing the diversity breakdown, chief people officer Kathleen Hogan said the company is making important progress, but it is "not content" and will keep working to increase diversity.

Seattle entrepreneur Trish Millines Dziko noted that the demographics haven't changed much since she left Microsoft 21 years ago. Millines Dziko now runs a nonprofit, Technology Access Foundation, that helps bring STEM education to low-income students and students of color.

Companies that really put an effort into changing their cultures to create welcoming work environments for underrepresented employees will someday find themselves ahead, she said, as more people of color enter STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

"The tide is going to change," she said. "At some point the companies that got ahead of the game are going to have an easier time finding and developing the talent that traditionally they have not been looking for."

Millines Dziko said she isn't familiar with Microsoft's specific diversity strategies, but noted that with any large company, it takes a lot of time and effort to "turn a big ship around."

Microsoft still faces challenges. A 2015 lawsuit brought by three women who have worked at Microsoft, alleging widespread gender-discrimination across the company, is winding its way through federal court.

The plaintiffs in the case are seeking class-action status for the suit, to encompass more women who have worked at Microsoft.

The diversity team itself is going through changes in Redmond.

Gwen Houston, longtime chief of diversity and inclusion at Microsoft, will leave the company in December after nine years in the role. She decided to "take some time for herself, rejuvenate and embrace new experiences," a Microsoft spokeswoman said.