Twitter employs just 49 black people out of a total US workforce of 2,910. The tiny number of African American staff – 35 men and 14 women – represents just 1.7% of Twitter’s US staff.
The Rev Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, who has long campaigned for tech companies to be more transparent about their lack of minority employees, told the Guardian that black people are “becoming intolerant” of Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies’ lack of progress in making their offices more diverse.
The stark lack of black employees comes despite the company’s repeated pledges to make its staff better reflect the diversity of its 302 million users – and as Twitter actively exploits its large number of minority users to bring in more advertising revenue.
African Americans account for 13.6% of the US population, according to the 2010 US census, and Pew Center Research shows that black people use Twitter disproportionately more than white people.
Announcing a plan to “build a Twitter we can be proud of” last year, Twitter’s vice-president of diversity and inclusion, Janet Van Huysse, said: “We are committed to making inclusiveness a cornerstone of our culture.”
At the time, Twitter released brief statistics about its employees’ ethnicity. The company has subsequently quietly released its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) report, a legally mandated filing with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that shows the exact numbers of people of different ethnicities across all ranks of the company.
It showed that 93.8% of employees were white or Asian, with just 180 people out of a total workforce of 2,910 being drawn from other minorities. There were just 49 black members of staff, 68 Hispanics or Latino workers, 47 of “two or more races”, 13 native Hawaiians or other Pacific islanders, and three American Indian or Alaskan natives.
Twitter’s lack of minority employees contrasts starkly with the rainbow nature of its users. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that 27% of black adults and 25% of Hispanics use Twitter, compared to just 21% of white people.
“I am very disappointed,” Jackson said. “Black people are greater users of the product and capable of doing the jobs, but there has not been an adequate commitment to hire, train and maintain [black people].
“Some people call it ‘Black Twitter’ because we over-index so much, but they still don’t hire more black people. We are becoming intolerant with these numbers, there’s a big gap between their talk and their implementation.”
Jackson said Twitter “should set a timetable to make their workforce look like the market place, and a commitment to make the board of directors more diverse”.
He said that at the moment, Twitter is benefitting from black people’s love of its medium – which often leads to black issues trending worldwide – without paying enough back to the community. “They hire people they know, they trust and like,” Jackson said. “We’re not in that the circle.”
Arisha Hatch, managing director at Color of Change, a group campaigning for a more equal society, said Twitter and other tech companies had “really failed” in their attempts to make their workforces better reflect their customers. “It is really troubling that Twitter has so few black people, especially black women,” she said.
“It appears that the tech companies seem to treat it as a public relations issue rather than addressing the actual problem. African Americans use social media more than others, the corporations continue to build and profit from that, so it is especially problematic that they do not have an employee base that in any way reflects its users. They have really failed on this.”
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.
In a column for marketing website The Drum last week, Santamaria said: “These are changing demographics that our advertisers are aware of – just facts that they can’t ignore. They need to be able to focus on these consumer groups to be successful today and to be relevant in the future. That’s an important focus for advertisers, and by default it has to become an important focus for Twitter as well.”
“Advertisers know that multicultural consumers are over-indexing on mobile use and digital video consumption as well, so the combination of those two things is very powerful,” she added.
A spokeswoman for the company said: “Twitter has a very vibrant and demographic user base and as a company, we help advertisers connect with their target market, whether it be moms, millennials, teens, the multicultural population, or any other demographic.”
The spokeswoman said Twitter’s ethnic make-up had changed since the 2014 filing, but refused to provide any more up to date figures. She said a fresh EEO report would be filled “some time this year”.
She also pointed out that Twitter has set up six employee groups to promote diversity: Blackbirds (African diaspora), Alas (Latino and Latin American descent), Swat (Super Women at Twitter), WomEng (women in engineering), TwitterOpen (LGBTQA) and WomenUX (women in design).
The Blackbirds Twitter account, which says its goal is to “empower employees of color at Twitter and advocate for community enrichment”, has just 2,766 followers and last posted a tweet on 7 May. The Alas account has even fewer followers: 659.
As well as lacking in ethnic minorities, Twitter also lacks gender diversity, with its workforce being 70% male. Among its core technology employees, 90% are male and just eight out 37 (or 21%) of executives and senior leaders are female. Of that top leadership team, 21 out of 37 (or 57%) are white men.
Gender and racial diversity is weak across Silicon Valley tech firms, with Facebook found to have hired an additional seven black people (including just one black woman) out of an overall headcount increase of 1,231 in 2013. Just 2% of Facebook’s staff are black, 4% hispanic, 3% of “two or more races”. Fifty-five per cent are white and 36% Asian.
Google has only 2% black and 3% Hispanic employees, with 60% being white and 31% Asian. Seven out of 10 Googlers are male.
This article was written by Rupert Neate in New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st July 2015 12.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010