Twitter Sets Modest Goals to Diversify Its Workforce

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Twitter Wants to Be (Slightly) More Diverse by 2016.

SAN FRANCISCO – The percentage of underrepresented minority workers at Twitter fell 2 percentage points from 2014 to 2015 and the company appears to have no African-American or Hispanic leadership at all in the United States in 2015. If those numbers seem oddly specific and low, that’s because increasing employee diversity has been an ongoing struggle for tech companies, and saying it out loud – or, in Twitter’s case, publishing its diversity goals online for all to see – doesn’t necessarily make it easier. “Last year there was a trend to release [diversity] data, which was great,” said Melinda Epler, the founder of Change Catalyst, a platform that supports women entrepreneurs. “Setting goals is a next step in the right direction.” Many diversity experts agree goal-setting clearly sends the message that companies are are serious about diversity. A House of Cards spoof comparing Netflix’s discriminatory policies to, well, the ruthless manipulation and politics of series protagonist Frank Underwood.

But, like Epler, they can’t shake the modesty of the numbers. “I bet you they’re benchmarking to two things,” said Silicon Valley angel investor and chief executive of photo editing service, Jonathan Sposato. “They’re probably benchmarking to their peers, like Facebook and Google, and they’re benchmarking to existing numbers,” he said. Exactly how many staffers Twitter would need to hire to reach its goal isn’t known because the company has not released its U.S. staffing numbers for 2015.

Despite the drop, Twitter has taken a step forward by articulating its staffing goals and telling the world about it, said Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a Palo Alto, Calif. firm that helps companies with diversity issues. “Setting goals is something we’ve only see a few companies do externally,” she said. “I think they still deserve credit for taking a hard and probably pretty scary first step.” “Doing so will help us build a product to better serve people around the world,” the company’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, Janet Van Huysse, said in a statement on its website. More than a quarter of black Internet users in the U.S. are on Twitter and “Black Twitter” — the congregation of black users on the service — is considered one of the driving forces behind the company’s popularity and success. “This annual type of reporting is a very useful sort of exercise for employers,” said Murray Simpson, a quantitative analyst with PeopleFluent, a Waltham, Mass.-based company that does human resources management and technology. But at firms such as Twitter, which has 4,100employees, or Facebook, which has around 10,000 employees (32% female, 9% underrepresented ethnic groups in the U.S.), or even Google, which has more than 50,000 employees (30% women, 9% underrepresented ethnic groups) it could take hundreds of hires before an incremental percentage change appears. And while ambition is important – Pinterest, for example, has explicitly stated it wants to increase its female engineering workforce from the current 21% to 30% – recruitment experts warn against setting “unhealthy” goals.

While critics of Twitter’s and Pinterest’s hiring goals may be quick to draw a comparison with various affirmative action initiatives that have in the past resulted in backlash and accusations of reverse discrimination, some diversity experts say it’s not a fair comparison. “Right now, people are hired because of their gender and race due to unconscious biases, so we have to do corrections when it comes to that,” Epler said. “I’m much less worried about the backlash. For so long it’s been biased in the wrong direction.” Sposato also believes this is less about favoring people of a certain gender or ethnic background, and more about correcting a course that has long favored white and Asian men. “I’m absolutely confused when people say there’s a pipeline problem or a lack of qualified [female] candidates, because what they really mean is they feel a qualified candidate looks, walks and talks like a man,” Sposato said. “That’s the problem.” Since disclosing their diversity numbers last year, companies such as Apple and Facebook have reported a modest increase in the diversity of their workforce. And while the various diversity programs and initiatives are commendable, the next step is going to be changing company cultures and values so once people from underrepresented groups are hired, they stay.

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