It's safe to say that Twitter has a bit of an image problem when it comes to diversity -- and a recent hire to address those problems seems to be backfiring on the firm.
In recent months, the company has become a go-to example of the lack of diversity in the technology industry. Sixty percent of the company's employees are white; that jumps to 72 percent when looking at leadership roles. Overall, fewer than 2 percent of Twitter's employees are black, and none are in leadership roles. While it's true that many major tech companies have similar diversity statistics, but Twitter's numbers stand out because so many of its users are black. And the disparity between the company and its users has not gone unnoticed.
To address some of those issues, Twitter announced that it has hired a new vice president for diversity and inclusion, Jeffery Siminoff. The fifty-year-old replaces Janet Van Huysse, and comes from a similar role at Apple. He is known for his extensive work with Out Leadership -- a group dedicated to demonstrating how equality in general makes for good business, with a particular focus on LGBT executives. He was also named in a TechCrunch piece identifying "10 Men Making Waves for Women in Tech."
But he's also a white man — something that hasn't been lost on those who've repeatedly criticized the tech industry at large for its lack of diversity. Many argue that Twitter's largely white and male workforce keep it from seeing community issues with its product.
For example, Twitter has faced the issue of harassment of women on its service, and has reacted to outside criticism from women's groups — the company, in fact, updated its guidelines Wednesday to strongly decry such behavior.
When it comes to racial diversity, however, the company had made fewer visible efforts to answer criticism. Siminoff's appointment has not sat well with many, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others who have repeatedly highlighted the need for a greater focus on racial diversity at the company. "Blacks and Latinos over-index on using Twitter, but their board of directors and C-suite leadership remain all white," Jackson told USA Today. "Jeff has a big mountain to climb, a tough task ahead. We hope he and Twitter’s leadership is up to the challenge."
And Mark Luckie, a former Twitter employee who has criticized the firm, said on Twitter that while Siminoff may be qualified for the position, his hiring doesn't communicate that Twitter is listening to criticisms about its racial diversity. (Luckie also used to work at The Post.)
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But others welcomed the appointment.
“Members of underrepresented groups in tech are tired of being the only advocates of cultural change in the field,” said Lucy Sanders, co-founder of the National Center for Women in Information Technology. “We encourage those who think otherwise to become more informed and consider the complexities.” She added that the industry needs more white men in diversity and inclusion roles advocating for more underrepresented groups.
Diversity and inclusion, of course, can mean many things to many people. Twitter's own goals for improving diversity include hiring more women and more "underrepresented minorities" into technical and leadership roles. Doing so, the company has said, will help it better understand its own community of users.
"We want the makeup of our company to reflect the vast range of people who use Twitter," Van Huysse wrote in an August blog post outlining the company's diversity goals. "Doing so will help us build a product to better serve people around the world."