A former Twitter employee who was once the company’s highest-ranking black engineer has published a medium post recounting the difficulties he faced when pushing for more diversity on the microblogging site’s engineering team.
Leslie Miley, who also previously worked for Google and Apple, was one of the 336 Twitter employees laid off in October at the behest of returning CEO Jack Dorsey. Miley says he had already told the company that he was leaving at the end of October, and passed on the severance package - which included a non-disparagement clause - so that he could speak openly about his experience at Twitter.
Miley’s post mentions a time when he asked Twitter’s senior VP of engineering what steps the team was taking to increase diversity. The response he got was: “diversity is important, but we won’t lower the bar.” Although Miley did not name the person in the post, Twitter’s website reveals its senior VP of engineering to be Alex Roetter.
Miley also wrote of another incident with Roetter - a meeting where the two were discussing ways to track the ethnicities of potential job candidates in order to better understand where candidates were dropping out of the employment pipeline.
As we continued the discussion, he suggested I create a tool to analyze candidates last names to classify their ethnicity. His rationale was to track candidates thru the pipeline to understand where they were falling out. He made the argument that the last name Nguyen, for example, has an extremely high likelihood of being Vietnamese. As an engineer, I understand this suggestion and why it may seem logical. However, classifying ethnicity’s by name is problematic as evidenced by my name (Leslie Miley) What I also found disconcerting is this otherwise highly sophisticated thinker could posit that an issue this complex could be addressed by name analysis. (For reference, here is a tool that attempts to do that. With Jewish or African/African Americans, this classifier scored 0% on identifying these groups in Twitter engineering). While not intentional, his idea underscored the unconscious tendency to ignore the complex forces of history, colonization, slavery and identity.
Miley believes that Twtitter’s stagnating number of users can be attributed to the lack of diversity in the company’s engineering team. According to its 2015 diversity report, Twitter’s tech employees consist of only 1 percent African-Americans, 3 percent Hispanics and 13 percent women. “This is why Twitter is stuck at 320 million users,” Miley said. “It doesn't have people making product decisions who understand the use case of the most prolific communities on Twitter.”
There is some hope for the situation, according to Miley, in the form of Jack Dorsey. Miley said that as far as he knew, the CEO was the only C-level executive (the top tier of bosses) to have met with Blackbird, an employee resource group for Twitter’s black employees. “The return of Jack Dorsey has the potential to change the diversity trajectory for Twitter. 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,” said Miley.
In 2014, 27% of black internet users were on Twitter, compared with 25% of Hispanic users and 21% of white users, according to the Pew Research Center.
“We’re committed to making substantive progress in making Twitter more diverse and inclusive,” a Twitter spokesperson said in response to Miley's blog. “This commitment includes the expansion of our inclusion and diversity programs, diversity recruiting, employee development, and resource group-led initiatives.”