Is Twitter's Diversity Problem the Root of its Growth Problem? One Ex-Engineer Thinks So
In August, Twitter released a diversity report outlining how little diversity there is at the company, along with a set of goals to increase the presence of underrepresented voices in the company that could be described either as modest, or outright disappointing.
Disappointment is also the key word to describe Twitter's lack of growth and subsequent performance on Wall Street. Now Leslie Miley, a former managerial engineer at Twitter who has also worked at Apple, Google, and Yahoo, says those two problems are connected.
Miley, who is black, left the company "very conflicted" last month after working there for three years. This week he took to his Medium blog (via Re/code) to explain why Twitter's diversity problem has led to its growth problems.
"Twitter's issues with growth and engagement and the issues with internal diversity are somewhat related," stated Miley. "The over-reliance on a limited number of schools and workplaces for talent has caused a type of group think to dominate."
This group think has led to the company making bad decisions, and not acting on other decisions in a prudent manner. "Any change would be approved by people who all think alike," wrote Miley. "There was very little diversity in thought and almost no diversity in action."
Miley isn't exactly a jaded ex-employee, as in the same blog post he praised Twitter's commitment to workplace diversity and the "work many people have done, and continue to do in diversity at Twitter" as important.
The platform itself, noted Miley, had also proven to be an important tool for minority empowerment. "During my time at Twitter I experienced the pride an sense of purpose on seeing #Ferguson and #blacklivesmatter on the most prominent wall at Twitter HQ. This is something I will never forget."
But Miley continued, "And yet there were moments that caused me to question how and why a company whose product has been used as an agent of revolutionary social change did not reflect the diversity of thought, conversation, and people in its ranks."
In particular, Miley described trying to propose measures to increase the company's focus on upping the staff diversity in the company's engineering ranks, where Miley worked as the only black person in a leadership position, to Twitter's senior VP of engineering. The executive responded by suggesting developing an analytical tool based on job applicants' last names to "classify their ethnicity."
Miley understood the logic, but left the meeting quite unnerved. He explained how "classifying [ethnicities] by name is problematic as evidence by my name." As an engineer, Miley also turned to the data, showing how one name analysis tool scored 0 percent on correctly identifying Jewish or African Americans at Twitter.
But that wasn't the main takeaway from what ended up being his last consequential meeting at Twitter. "What I also found disconcerting is this otherwise highly sophisticated thinker could posit that an issue this complex could be addressed by name analysis," wrote Miley. "While not intentional, his idea underscored the unconscious tendency to ignore the complex forces" involved in diversity issues. Miley continued:
"I left that meeting wondering how I could, in good conscience, continue to work in an organization where the Sr. VP of Engineering could see himself as a technology visionary and be so unaware of this blind spot in his understanding of diversity. Leadership keeps citing the pipeline when the data does not support it. They continue to churn out ethnic and racial minorities and women but still claim a commitment to diversity.
Twitter responded to Miley's criticism in a statement released to Re/code, reiterating its stance on diversity.
"We're committed to making substantive progress in making Twitter more diverse and inclusive," a Twitter spokesperson wrote, continuing:
"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 under-represented minorities for 2016, making us the largest tech company to put hard numbers around its diversity commitment."
As we previously noted, those hard number goals include increasing the overall proportion of underrepresented minorities from 8 percent to 11 percent, but only in the U.S. As it stands, currently only four percent of Twitter's U.S.-based staff is Latino.
Another goal is to up the number of women in Twitter's global workforce to 35 percent by 2016. That represents a one percent increase -- in terms of Twitter's global staff of about 4,100, it means hiring 41 more women through the next year.
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