Blind Spots: How Twitter is Doing (or not Doing) Diversity

Organizations and coalition groups across the U.S. hope to address the lack of diversity in American tech companies by offering job training courses and Silicon Valley connections that aim to teach minorities tech skills and recommend them for tech-related job placements. Organizations and coalition groups like the Level Playing Field Institute are advocating directly to tech companies for them to adopt employment practices that result in more diverse staff members inside their companies. These organizations efforts to address diversity has had mixed results, and the major lesson learned by those who are designing these initiatives to address diversity is their effort can only have an impact when paired with a commitment from tech companies, to make measurable diversity an important of their hiring practice and company fabric. The commitment to diversity Jack Dorsey, CEO, and founder of Twitter pledged is what is needed to address a serious lack of diversity on Twitter’s product and engineering team.

According to the 1st Twitter’s Diversity Report, African-Americans and Hispanics comprise of > 30% of Twitters (US) monthly active users but comprise of < 5% of staff in its engineering and product management combined. What implications does the lack of diversity on Twitters staff have on its product and user experience as a social media tool for news gathering and reporting? The first sign of recoil, as a result, Twitters diversity problem has begun to show.

Source: http://pxlnv.com/blog/diversity-of-tech-companies-by-the-numbers-2015-edition/

A trending post published on medium.com is authored by @shaft a man who self-proclaims he was the only black person on Twitters engineering and product team before he left Twitter for the same lack of diversity reason. Claiming he often felt as his voice was being drowned out, in the post the former Twitter employee writes, “With my departure, Twitter no longer has any managers, directors, or VP’s of color in engineering or product management.”

In addition to losing the already scarce amount of ethnically diverse talent it had to begin with, Twitter could suffer the punishment of a boycott coming from public backlash, and it’s majority-minority users if they decided to take action against Twitters diversity problem. A boycott would be similar to what the Black Entertainment Television (B.E.T.) Network experienced in October when ratings for the BET awards show significantly dropped. The public sentiment sparking the boycott of BET was a notion the network profits off of its black audience but does not take the time to consider the role many believe it should assume to heal the societal issues black audience members are facing in their day-to-day lives. Meanwhile, in regards to Twitter and as first reported by Rupert Neate of the Guardian:

“Despite appearing to do little to increase the diversity of its employees, Twitter is actively exploiting its large number of minority users to secure more advertising dollars. The company has appointed a “multicultural strategist”, Nuria Santamaria, tasked with helping advertisers directly target Twitter’s minority groups.”

Twitter must not neglect its black users, and it should play a role in helping to heal the problems black activists on Twitter are using the social media platform to mobilize around. Twitter has given everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers, and this is what makes Twitter a powerful tool for community organizing and activism. Twitter activism has given birth to #BlackTwitter, #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter hashtags that are channels linking the work of black activists around the country and allowing them to mobilize as a collective to demand the end of police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, and other American systems of oppression plaguing black communities.

Maybe Twitter executives do not need to denounce the systems of oppression plaguing black people in a press release but instead do what it can to imagine what type of innovations can aid community organizers and Twitter activists. And a good place to start would be if Twitter’s leadership better reflected the diversity of people who use its platform.

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