Former Twitter engineer: Jack Dorsey's return brings hope for more diversity

Just months after it was reported that Twitter employed only 49 African Americans out of a 2,910-member staff, Leslie Miley, an African American engineer who left the social networking company last week, has penned a Medium post highlighting the struggles Twitter faces as it attempts to become more diverse.

According to Miley, there is hope in the form of Jack Dorsey, the company’s co-founder and newly appointed CEO, who returned to Twitter in August after seven years.

“The return of Jack Dorsey has the potential to change the diversity trajectory for Twitter. It is my belief that Jack understands the use case of Twitter better than anyone else, understands how diversity can be additive to growth, and is committed to making that happen,” Miley, who until Friday was an engineering manager at Twitter, wrote on Tuesday.

Miley believes that Dorsey can help make Twitter a more diverse companybecause he has met with Blackbird, an employee resource group for Twitter’s black employees. Miley told the Guardian that as far as he knows no other “C-level executive [the top tier of bosses], Dick Costolo, Anthony [Noto], Mike Gupta, Ali Rowghani, met with Blackbird”.

“In addition to Jack, other executives including our COO Adam Bain, vice president of engineering Jeremy Rishel, and vice president of diversity and inclusion Janet Van Huysse have met with Blackbird and individual members to discuss their professional development at Twitter and ways that they can continue to support Blackbird,” a Twitter spokeswoman told the Guardian. Dorsey and Rishel are Blackbird’s executive sponsors.

When Dorsey returned to Twitter in August, Miley wrote, he answered Miley’s questions about “committing Twitter to a measurable diversity goal” and “publicly committed to diversity in front of every Twitter employee in attendance”. Weeks later, on 28 August, Twitter publicly announced diversity targets, including increasing the percentage of its staff who are “underrepresented minorities” to 11% in 2016. By the end of 2016, minorities are due to fill 9% of tech roles and 6% of leadership roles, according to these targets.

In a follow-up meeting, Dorsey also shared with the staff a video made by the New York Times to highlight the different ways that black users – known colloquially as #BlackTwitter – have used the platform in the recent years to launch movements such as #BlackLivesMatter.

Miley leaves the company “very conflicted”, he wrote.

The departing engineer told the Guardian that he wrote the Medium post to highlight the challenges employees face when companies start to work on becoming more diverse and to explain how difficult it is “to speak up without explicit support and action from leadership”. The post, he hopes, will start conversations.

Before he left Twitter, Miley pitched to be given the role of “diversity engineering manager” in hopes that he would be able to help further the company’s efforts to build “a more diverse Twitter”. Miley had worked at Twitter for almost three years and has been working in the tech industry since 1999.

“Increasing diversity at Twitter is the key to unlocking Twitter for the mass market,” Miley wrote in that proposal. “Only by having diverse engineering, diverse product, and diverse management can we build a product that is fully embraced by more people. This is a critical time in tech and at Twitter.”

This year Twitter has been struggling to increase the size of its user base – especially in the US, where over the last six months Twitter has not added any new users. The number of US users has remained flat at 66 million since the first quarter of 2015. This lack of growth is one of the reasons why former CEO Dick Costolo was ousted and replaced by Dorsey.

While diversity at Twitter might be lacking, among its users it is not. In 2014, 27% of black internet users were on Twitter, compared with 25% of Hispanic users and 21% of white users, according to the Pew Research Center. But while the percentage of white users went up five percentage points between 2013 and 2014 and the number of Hispanic users went up by nine percentage points over the same period, the proportion of black users dropped from 29% to 27%.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, president of the civil rights organization the Rainbow/Push Coalition, who spoke at Twitter’s shareholders’ meeting earlier this year, told the Guardian that black people were not only great users of Twitter’s product but were also capable of working there and should be hired.

Twitter diversity graphic

“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.

One reason sometimes given for the lack of black employees at Twitter – that there is a lack of African American computer science or computer engineering candidates – has recently been debunked.

According to the Computing Research Association, about 4.5% of computer science or computer engineering students who graduated from prestigious universities in 2013 were African American and 6.5% were Hispanic. Yet the staffing and diversity data released by seven Silicon Valley companies revealed that on average just 2% of technology workers were black and 3% are Hispanic.

In his Medium post, Miley pointed to these statistics as well as the #Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter hashtags as the reason why it is important for Twitter to focus on diversity within the company in order to understand its black users.

“We’re committed to making substantive progress in making Twitter more diverse and inclusive,” a Twitter spokeswoman told the Guardian on Tuesday. “This commitment includes the expansion of our inclusion and diversity programs, diversity recruiting, employee development, and resource group-led initiatives.

“Beyond just disclosing our workforce representation statistics, we have also publicly disclosed our representation goals for women and underrepresented minorities for 2016, making us the largest tech company to put hard numbers around its diversity commitment.”

The spokeswoman said Twitter is actively recruiting underrepresented minorities. When asked about Dorsey’s vision to diversify the company, she referred the Guardian to a post announcing Twitter’s diversity targets.

This post was updated to include additional comments from Twitter spokeswoman.

Powered by article was written by Jana Kasperkevic in New York, for on Tuesday 3rd November 2015 23.31 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010