So I was talking to Dr. Shirley Davis, former head of diversity at Society for Human Resource Management, recently about this and that, and she mentioned the new head of diversity at Twitter was a white man.
I’d heard of the appointment as we rang in the New Year, and my immediate reaction was, really? You couldn’t find a minority to fill that role? But I have to question that response for two reasons. One, why did I immediately question the appointment of a white man to a diversity executive role? It goes against the inherent principles behind diversity to query someone’s capabilities based on skin color. That brings me to reason No. 2: Can Jeffrey Siminoff do the job?
I questioned this appointment in the same way I would question a movie or a play where black or ethnic roles were given to white performers who had to wear wigs and makeup to look and “be” the part. It’s not as though the diversity executive pool is like the minority CEO pool — so shallow its few candidates are splashing rather than swimming.
Case in point, Pinterest just found a new chief diversity officer in Candice Morgan. But as far as what’s been reported in the media, when it comes to diversity, the only thing these two organizations have in common is their placement in Silicon Valley’s tech corridor.
According to a Wired piece I read, Pinterest has already announced diversity initiatives: “an apprenticeship program for three candidates from nontraditional tech backgrounds, such as coding boot camps; and an engineering internship for college first-years. Both offer paths towards employment at the company.” My reporting may be lacking, but I haven’t heard much by way of specifics from Twitter.
That brings me back to why we’re all in a lather about this. It boils down to: Is it right for a company that is overwhelmingly white and male to have a white male diversity leader?
I want to say yes, but that’s not the truth. The truth is yes and no, with a side of “it depends on the organizations’ diversity goals.” Yes, because Siminoff can relate to the majority of the workforce, and they can relate to him. He led diversity at Morgan Stanley, and he was the head of diversity at Apple, an even larger tech company also with a heavily white male workforce. He can guide the workforce toward a new way of thinking and acting in a way a diverse executive might not be able to.
Sadly, the Tweeps, as they’re called, might be more inclined to listen to him extol the virtues of diversity and why they should make room for it on their social media shelves.
But I said yes and no because we don’t know if Siminoff can relate to the non-white male part of the workforce. Further, can he push the necessary diversity agenda and enact real change? Change is needed. According to a recent New York Post article only 3 percent of Twitter’s employees are black or Latino, and only 35 percent are women — half of whom work in crucial technical jobs.
In light of Leslie Miley’s departure last year — Miley was Twitter’s only black engineering manager — he refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement as well as snubbing what was by all accounts a significant severance package so that he could speak about his racially motivated decision to leave — and other stories common to the lack of diversity and prominent “bromance” culture in tech, this appointment kinda sorta feels like a sop. A case of, “our stock value is sinking; we’re not innovating fast enough, and the world is pointing its finger, saying diversity is the reason why — let’s get someone in here.”
Of course, time will tell. So far we don’t know much about what plans CEO Jack Dorsey or Siminoff may have to increase diversity at Twitter. And I’ll thank you to remember that at the end of the day diversity isn’t solely a case of black and white. There are other dimensions to consider; not least of which is making a workplace welcoming for women and a variety of people with different sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Then there are veterans and people with disabilities to bring into the fold — all in the name of innovation and attracting and retaining the very best talent. People of color can’t be the only ones preaching the value of diversity and inclusion. We need white men on our team, or we’re going to lose this particular game.
The cynic in me says, what do you expect from a company with what a recent Nation article described as an “eight-member board of directors, which happens to include just one woman and one person of color but six white men, three of whom are named Peter.”
But I usually keep a muzzle on cynical Kellye because the optimist in me is hoping for the best. We’ll have to wait and see.