Twitter’s Diversity Problem: Has Anything Changed Since A Black Engineer Turned Down A Severance Package To Talk Publicly About It?

Written by Dana Sanchez

Software engineer Leslie Miley made national news in 2015 when he turned down a severance package so that he could speak publicly about lack of diversity at Twitter. Miley was frustrated over the company’s overwhelmingly white workforce and what he described as an internal resistance to changing it, according to a report in NPR.

Everyone knows Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. It has one of the most innovative collections of people not only in the U.S. but perhaps anywhere, ever, Harvard Business Review reported. Yet it has one of the least diverse sectors of the U.S. economy, lagging behind the general population in diversity. And the problem is worst in the technical jobs.

Has diversity improved since Miley left Twitter?

Twitter unveiled its latest diversity report in January showing it made some progress in 2016, but the bottom line is that underrepresented minorities continue to be underrepresented, USA Today reported on Jan. 19. Nine of 10 employees are white or Asian and about two thirds are men, according to the company’s latest EEO-1 report.

The EEO-1 report is federally mandated data on worker demographics that companies supply each year to the Department of Labor.

The report shows the overall percentage of African Americans and Latinos in the Twitter workforce barely budged in more than a year. Twitter says in 2016 it increased the share of African-American workers from 2 percent to 3 percent. Four percent of workers were Latino or Hispanic, the same as in August 2015, the last time Twitter reported its diversity numbers.

Soon after the report was released, Twitter announced that its head of diversity is leaving but said the departure was unrelated to the report, Telecrunch reported.

When Jeffrey Siminoff was hired from Apple as Twitter’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, some people were skeptical of the fact that Twitter hired a white man to lead its diversity and inclusion efforts.

Miley was going to be laid off as part of a wave of layoffs at Twitter, but he quit before that happened, saying he turned down a severance package so that he could speak publicly about lack of diversity at Twitter, TechCrunch reported.

Twitter users are disproportionately minorities, but diversity is not reflected in Twitter’s managers, directors and vice presidents in engineering and product management, Miley said in an essay at Medium. The rise of Black Twitter has been integral to the company’s growth, he said: 27 percent of black adults online use Twitter, compared to 21 percent of white adults.

Twitter is not alone in lacking a diverse workforce, Inc reported. Google and Facebook’s 2016 diversity reports both failed to increase representation of African Americans and Hispanics and made only marginal gains when it comes to women. Facebook and Google risk discouraging a generation of minority candidates from pursuing careers in tech, Salvador Rodriguez wrote in Inc in July.

“It’s time for Silicon Valley to stop making excuses on diversity,” the headline said. Many people in the tech diversity community are angry at tech companies and questioning the work that they do.

“These guys are so innovative, and they’re constantly changing the world. Why can’t they change this?” said Everette Taylor, a tech entrepreneur and proponent of the tech diversity movement in an Inc. interview. “It baffles me.”

This is the industry that constantly aims to “make the world a better place.” These are the companies that use the term “moonshot” literally to describe their ambitions.

In the top 75 Silicon Valley tech firms, women, Hispanics and blacks make up 30 percent, 6 percent and 3 percent of employees, according to a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report. In non-tech firms in the region, women hold 49 percent of the jobs, Hispanics have 22 percent and African-Americans have 24 percent.

“It’s not just engineering… they don’t want to be innovative,” said Angela Benton, CEO of NewME, an accelerator for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups. “They’re being lazy about solving this problem.”

Twitter has been more sharply criticized than other tech companies for its lack of African Americans in the workforce, according to USA Today. Of black Internet users in the U.S., 27 percent are on Twitter, according to 2014 figures from the Pew Research Center.

“Black Twitter,” the dynamic conversation about issues that matter to this online community, has become a cultural force in the U.S., capable of influencing the nation’s dialogue and the course of events.

Yet Twitter’s 2016 EEO-1 report shows that 90 percent of Twitter employees are white or Asian. Out of a total workforce of 2,952 people, 291 are underrepresented minorities or belong to two or more races.

Of the 291, Twitter employed 76 African-American workers as of September 2016, according to its most recent EEO-1 report. None of the 47 people serving in executive or senior positions were African American or Latino. Of 399 people in manager roles, nine were African American — that’s 2 percent, and 14 were Latino — 3.5 percent.

The ranks of women grew from 34 percent in 2015 to to 37 percent in 2016 , surpassing Twitter’s 35-percent goal, Twitter said.

Twitter made some gains with underrepresented minorities in technical roles. Their ranks grew from 7 percent to 9 percent. Underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rose from zero to 6 percent, according to Twitter.

Twitter says it has set new goals for 2017. It aims to increase the share of underrepresented minorities to 13 percent of workers, 11 percent of technical workers and 8 percent of managers. It also wants to boost the share of underrepresented minorities in non-technical roles to 14 percent.

“We are not going to be relevant unless we are inclusive, unless we are representative of who we serve,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorseysaid.

In an effort to attract more women and minorities, the tech industry is trying everything from unconscious bias training to partnerships with minority tech programs, USA Today reported. It’s not going well, frustrating civil rights activists who want faster action. Underrepresented groups are still missing in action at all levels of tech companies, from the board of directors to the rank and file, keeping large portions of the population from being included in the tech economy’s rapid wealth and job gains.

In an NPR interview, Miley talked about recruitment at Silicon Valley tech firms:

At a lot of the tech companies, I’d say maybe 40 percent of new hires from most of the tech companies and most of the unicorns (startups whose value exceeded a billion dollars) probably come from university recruiting or new grads.

The recruiters know what the hiring managers and the directors want to see: CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) grads, Cal grads, Stanford grads. They understand that those people have the highest likelihood of being phone-screened, of being interviewed, and of getting the job. So that’s who they’re going to over-index on.

There’s a document at Twitter that lists the schools that Twitter wants to recruit from. This document was penned by Alex Roetter, the Senior VP of engineering. He had his other directors contribute to it, modify it and refine it. It listed Cal, Stanford, CMU, Waterloo, MIT, typical schools like that. Never listed any state schools. Never listed any HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). It listed certain companies and excluded certain companies. It excluded certain titles. So if you’re a software engineer in tests (an engineering role) at Microsoft, that’s not a “real” software engineer. And some of the best engineers I know are software engineers who test for Microsoft.

 

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