Seventy percent of Twitter's worldwide workforce is composed of men, and nearly 90 percent of its U.S. workers are white or Asian, according to new employment data provided by the social media company.
Women are grossly underrepresented in Twitter’s workforce, making up only 10 percent of the company’s computer programmers and highest-paid tech workers.
This is not groundbreaking news to anyone privy to the goings-on in Silicon Valley. The lack of diversity also is seen at other major tech brands such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn, which is an incessant topic of debate.
In March, for example, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at HP headquarters about Silicon Valley's poor record of including blacks and Latinos in hiring, board appointments and startup funding. After Twitter released its data, Jackson released a statement criticizing the company’s diversity numbers as "pathetic" but called the disclosure of the problem a "step in the right direction."
And a step in the right direction it is. Twitter is among the first major tech companies to acknowledge it has been hiring too many white and Asian men to fill high-paying technology jobs, which is commendable. The company already supports programs that teach women how to program computers, and is introducing internal training programs working to weed out biases.
"We are keenly aware that Twitter is part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity," Janet Van Huysse, the company's vice president of diversity and inclusion, wrote in a blog post. “By becoming more transparent with our employee data, open in dialogue throughout the company and rigorous in our recruiting, hiring and promotion practices, we are making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.”
It is important to note that much of this lack of diversity is rooted in complex socioeconomic factors at the macro level. In other words, this is not the kind of overt discrimination or explicit bias of the 1950s. Success in Silicon Valley often is rooted in who you know more than what you know, which gives untold advantages to those who graduated from elite universities. Much of the lack of gender diversity can be attributed to the fact that only 1 out of 5 computer science majors are female.
While some might be quick to claim Silicon Valley’s homogeneity is a microcosm of the predominant inequality in the U.S., this doesn’t mean that the tech giants are off the hook. Through educational outreach initiatives starting at the elementary level, tech companies can encourage student interest in computer science in areas where the subject often goes overlooked. Scholarship programs can help underprivileged but gifted students to go to college and become part of the Silicon Valley workforce. Many argue that this might actually be self-serving, as the most successful companies typically also are the most diverse.
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Based in Washington, D.C., Mike Hower is a writer, thinker and strategic communicator that revels in driving the conversation at the intersection of sustainable business and policy. He has cultivated diverse experience working for the United States Congress in Washington, D.C., helping Silicon Valley startups with strategic communications and teaching in South America. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@mikehower)