After a brutal year full of desperate changes and constant criticism from users and investors, Twitter tried to end 2015 on a positive note by announcing the appointment of a new head of diversity who might finally help the company become as inclusive as the social network it operates.
And not a moment too soon: Just weeks earlier, Leslie Miley, the only black engineer in a leadership position at Twitter, was let go as part of a larger round of layoffs. He then publicly revealed a long series of frustrations with Twitter’s diversity efforts.
In particular, he lamented an executive’s ill-advised suggestion to solve the problem of too few non-white faces by “creating a tool” that would analyze job candidates’ last names to pinpoint ethnicities in the hiring pool.
“There was very little diversity in thought and almost no diversity in action,” Miley explained in a remarkably candid post about a hot button issue in Silicon Valley.
So it was that much more mind-boggling when Twitter, shamed by this issue in November, revealed its new head of diversity was… a white man.
The social network, long run by a board of all white men and a procession of CEOs who are white men, had disappointed again. The reactions were swift and damning.
“The choice of that particular person definitely matters,” says Monique Woodard, executive director of Black Founders, a non-profit focused on building opportunities in the technology world for black entrepreneurs. “The African American community loves to use Twitter, but we are not seeing the same makeup reflected in the company.”
Such is the challenge that the biggest names in tech face heading into 2016 as they look to prove to potential recruits, customers, legislators and, yes, themselves that Silicon Valley is more than just a bunch of white dudes wearing hoodies.
Like Twitter, many of the best known companies were founded by young white men who hired more of the same in their early days. As they expanded and matured, industry watchers say that simple fact left its imprint on each company’s DNA and hiring mentality. White men there early rose up the ranks and hired other people who went to school with them, worked with them, had the same background as them, looked like them.
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Main Photo: NewMe participants at Google (photo credit: Joshua Cassidy/KQED)