A little while ago, @dtwps published a piece on Model View Culture entitled “Your Half-Assed Diversity Initiatives Aren’t Going to Cut It In 2016”, in which they asked “Has Twitter learned their lesson?” I thought the answer to that was yes. I thought it was getting better at Twitter. I’d just come off a private talk with some members of the Blackbirds group, the Twitter Employee Resource Group (ERG) for black employees, and heard some promising things. I even contacted the author of that piece on Twitter to say so.
I was wrong.
Yesterday Jeffrey Siminoff announced that he was joining Twitter as their new head of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s not getting better.
Jeffrey Siminoff is a white man, replacing a white woman in the role. Not just any white man, Jeffrey Siminoff is the white man who ran diversity and inclusion at Apple. Friends of mine (who will remain nameless) have left Apple because they were facing the same struggles surrounding working at there that I felt at Google, that boil down to this: they didn’t feel included and didn’t feel like Apple really gave a damn about that. Prior to his time leading Apple’s less than stellar diversity efforts, he lead diversity and inclusion at Morgan Stanley: the Morgan Stanley that had a racial discrimination suit brought against it during his tenure. So now the man who cultivated those environments is bringing his act to Twitter. Let’s just say I would be very surprised to learn that any of the ERG’s at Twitter were involved in his hiring. I would be completely unsurprised to learn that he was hired by a team of white men (and maybe a white woman, because #FFFFFF Diversity), who didn’t at all see the problem with that.
What irks me the most about this is that no company, Twitter or otherwise, should have a VP of Diversity and Inclusion. When the VP of Engineering (for example) is thinking about hiring goals for the year, they are not going to concern themselves with the goals of the VP of Diversity and Inclusion. They are going to say “hiring more engineers is my job, worrying about the diversity of who I hire is the job of the VP of Diversity and Inclusion.” When the VP of Diversity and Inclusion says “your org is looking a little homogenous, do something about it,” the VP of Engineering won’t prioritize that because the VP of Engineering doesn’t report to the VP of Diversity and Inclusion, so knows there usually isn’t shit the VP of Diversity and Inclusion can do if the Eng org doesn’t see some improvement in diversity.
Diversity and Inclusion should be a priority for all employees, but the person who leads the efforts and holds people accountable should be nobody but the CEO. Of course there should be others on the Diversity and Inclusion team, but the leader should be the CEO. If you’ve never worked in a corporate office with a CEO or been around or near when the CEO says they want something done, I’ll tell you what happens: people move. The CEO says they want it done and by any means necessary, people will get it done. No VP wants to tell the CEO that they didn’t prioritize the CEO’s request to improve the diversity of their organization. No VP will even consider not prioritizing a request from the CEO. Nobody, VP or otherwise, wants to tell the CEO that they didn’t do what was asked of them.
If Twitter wants to make sure Diversity and Inclusion is a priority at Twitter, the head of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitter should be Jack. Likewise, the head of Diversity and Inclusion at Google should be Sundar. And Stewart at Slack, and Marc at Salesforce (or, rather, a CEO who doesn’t think it’s ok to ignore people of color while he focuses on women), etc. Selecting anyone else, besides the CEO, to run Diversity and Inclusion in the current tech environment is just another half-assed diversity initiative. Selecting a white guy that’s not the CEO for that role? That’s a signal from Twitter that they’re incapable of hiring anything but white men, even at the top of the organization, even in a role where having the experience and viewpoint of someone other than a white man is critical. That sends a message to everyone at Twitter that though leadership talks a good diversity game, they aren’t capable of or don’t care to put it into action. Nobody but the CEO is going to be able to fix that.