Does Twitter have a problem with diversity?
Leslie Miley, a a high-ranking African-American engineer at the microblogging service, thinks so. He took aim Tuesday in a blog on Medium saying Twitter’s failing to diversify its workforce is hurting the company.
By failing to add more African Americans, Hispanics and women to its engineering team, he said, Twitter ignores a large segment of its users. He cited a Pew Research Center survey where about a quarter of African-Americans and Hispanics online use Twitter. However, Miley soured after attending contentious meetings and stalled projects centered on diversity.
Former Twitter engineering manager Leslie Miley said the company’s lack of diversity is hurting the company.
“Each of these moments caused me to rethink what role I was playing at Twitter and in tech and how I could participate in dismantling what I describe as the diversity problem in tech,” said Miley, who worked at Twitter for nearly three years. “I want to be a leader in eliminating environments where I am the only African-American in engineering leadership.”
Miley’s comments come after he was among more than 330 Twitter employees laid off last month as the company works to streamline its operations. He also claims to have refused taking severance package so he could speak on Twitter’s diversity issue.
Diversity continues to be a hot button issue in Silicon Valley. Tech giants including Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Intel are grappling with diversity as they vow to make their white, male-dominated workforces more inclusive. Twitter wants to increase minorities in tech jobs in the United States to 9 percent and in leadership roles to 6 percent. Its current US workforce is 1 percent African-American and 3 percent Hispanic, while women make up 13 percent of its ranks globally.
Miley blogs about asking about creating a diversity engineering position during a meeting and a senior vice president replying, “diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar.” Miley later said the vice president asked him create a tool to track the ethnicities of potential minority engineering candidates by using their last names to see where they fell out of contention.
“While not intentional, his idea underscored the unconscious tendency to ignore the complex forces of history, colonization, slavery and identity,” he said. “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.”
It’s not the first time ex-employees have complained about the company’s lack of diversity. A former software engineer is suing Twitter for using a “subjective, secretive promotion process” favoring men. Mark Luckie, who is black and Twitter’s former manager of journalism and news, left in May due to low minority representation. He praised Miley in a tweet for speaking up.
Even major Twitter investor Chris Sacca chimed in, saying many tech users don’t look like managers running them.
“Look at the user base of Twitter: You have black users over-indexed on Twitter, but you don’t have any representation of that audience in the upper management. That’s weird,” he said. “We’re guiding things we can’t address.”
Twitter declined to comment specifically about Miley, but said in a statement it’s committed to diversity.
“This commitment includes the expansion of our inclusion and diversity programs, diversity recruiting, employee development, and resource group-led initiatives,” the San Francisco-based company said. “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.”
Miley isn’t sold, saying Twitter may find it difficult to make changes to its culture and overall product. He noted his departure leaves Twitter without any managers, directors, or vice presidents of color in engineering. He believes that lack of diversity could impact Twitter’s growth as with 320 million monthly active users, it’s about a third of rival Facebook’s 1.55 billion.
“Twitter’s issues with growth and engagement and the issues with internal diversity are somewhat related,” he said. “Any change would be approved by people who all think alike.”
Miley, who was not immediately available for comment Wednesday, blogged while Twitter has empowered underrepresented people and chronicled social movements like Black Lives Matter, more diversity is necessary.
He’s hopeful Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who was tweeting from the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, will bring change.
“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,” he said.