Twitter releases diversity figures: mostly white, mostly male

Twitter's diversity figures, supplied from its blog.

Surprise, shock, flabbergasting awe -- these are all completely invalid responses to Twitter's revelation of its diversity figures, which the disruptive San Francisco tech company released today (in a tweet, of course).

Twitter divided its diversity statistics into three categories: tech, non-tech, and leadership. Guess which area had the most white folks? If you guessed tech, you get a (vanilla) cookie.

Twitter's tech employees are 90 percent male. Its ethnic figures are more diverse: their tech employees are 58 percent white and 34 percent Asian. Just 1 percent of Twitter's tech-oriented employees are African American, and 3 percent are Latino.

In a blog post by VP of Diversity and Inclusion Janet Van Huysse, the company admits it has a long way to go:

...we are joining some peer companies by sharing our ethnic and gender diversity data. And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do."

"It makes good business sense that Twitter employees are representative of the vast and varied backgrounds of our users around the world. We also know that it makes good business sense to be more diverse as a workforce – research shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of.

We are keenly aware that Twitter is part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity — and we are no exception.

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.

Twitter is not the only tech company to struggle with its diversity, and it joins Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo in self-reporting its diversity data. In her blog post, Van Huysse points to many efforts made by Twitter to help build a better education pipeline to the tech industry. The number of women and underrepresented (African American and Latino) minorities obtaining Computer Science degrees pales in comparison to their white and male counterparts, a widely recognized problem.

As the Guardian revealed, the San Francisco Unified School District is working on integrating computer science courses into all of its high schools. SFUSD Board of Education commissioner Matt Haney said he'd love to talk about establishing a jobs pipeline established between SFUSD (which is highly diverse) and Twitter (which isn't).

"If they partnered with SFUSD and other local school districts... in a serious, strategic way, we could go a long way in immediately expanding acccess and diversity in their workforce," Haney said. "I'd love to see the numbers on how many of their workers are SF public school graduates."

The education pipeline is oft-mentioned in diversity discussions. But less talked about is Silicon Valley's pervasive "bro" culture, rife with subtle racism and misogyny that pushes out the small number of minorities who make it in. A study of start-ups by an East Bay nonprofit, the Level Playing Field Institute, addressed this head on.

As we reported in our cover story last week "The Age of the Brogrammer," LPFI surveyed more than 645 engineers, and found underrepresented people of color (Latinos and African Americans), and women were more likely to encounter exclusionary cliques, unwanted sexual teasing, bullying, and homophobic jokes.


Twitter's diversity figures, by ethnicity. Graphic via Twitter.

The study's authors also found that white men were the most likely to believe that diversity was not a problem that needed addressing in the tech sector.

This may be because the problem is much harder for people of privilige to detect. As Kate Losse points out in her piece, "Speculum of the Other Brogrammer," this pervasive racism and sexism is often much more subtle (and insidious) than say, the "Titstare" gaffe at TechCrunch Disrupt

LPFI isn't the only one to point this out. In this article on Slate, an Asian tech worker talks about reverse-bias: people assumed, since he was Asian, that he knew how to program (spoiler: he didn't). And in this article, an African American man recounts the racism he faced at a tech company. And in this piece, a tech engineer explains how bias pervades the hiring process at many startups.

Yes, the education pipeline to Silicon Valley needs fixing. But as many have shown, Silicon Valley itself needs fixing too.