Did Twitter’s Layoffs Affect Black Employees Disproportionately? Some Say Yes


    Does Twitter have a lack of racial diversity on its staff? According to one former executive, it does, and now leaders are calling for more transparency after a recent layoff at the social media giant’s headquarters.

    Twitter Engineering Manager Leslie Miley was the only black engineer in a leadership position at Twitter, and he announced at the end of October that he parted ways with the company. Among his reasons, according to a post he made on Medium.com, was Twitter’s poor handling of problems surrounding diversity and inclusion in the company.

    Although Miley had already given Twitter notice that he would leave at the end of October, he ended up being laid off as part of the cuts they made that month.

    Twitter cut about 336 jobs, or 8% of its 4,100 employees, in positions all around the globe. Miley, who had worked there since January 2013, was one of the 300-plus workers laid off.

    Miley wrote that he had long been a proponent of diversity at Twitter, but senior management didn’t seem to take his suggestions very seriously.

    During one meeting, Miley wrote, he asked the company’s leadership about what steps were being taken to increase diversity at Twitter. Alex Roetter, senior VP of Engineering at Twitter, had responded that “diversity is important, but we won’t lower the bar.”

    At another meeting with Roetter, which Miley considered to be a tipping point, Roetter suggested tracking the diversity of the candidates by their last names. Yet this idea was “problematic,” Miley said.

    “What I also found disconcerting is this otherwise highly sophisticated thinker could posit that an issue this complex could be addressed by name analysis,” Miley wrote of Roetter’s idea. He did not identify Roetter by name, only by his position in the company.

    In fields like tech, where advanced degrees are the norm, diversity is especially important. Social media and cloud computing companies are growing at an alarming pace, and even the number of Americans employed at server manufacturing companies stands at about 9,566 people, according to recent figures.

    The irony of Twitter’s lack of diversity is especially strong, considering the site’s presence of “Black Twitter,” or Twitter users who routinely discuss issues that affect the community openly. Now they could be discussing these claims about Twitter itself.

    The platform was also instrumental in the organization of the “Black Lives Matter” movement following the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. According to Miley’s post, one of the walls at Twitter’s headquarters was emblazoned with “#Ferguson” during the height of the controversy.

    Yet Miley isn’t the only one upset by Twitter’s lack of follow-through when it comes to diversity on the staff.

    Rev. Jesse Jackson also called for more transparency with regard to Twitter’s recent layoffs.

    “Twitter already has an appallingly low number and percentage of African Americans and Latinos working at the company, around 60 total in the workforce and zero in your boardroom and c-suite leadership,” Jackson wrote in a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. “We are concerned that a disproportionate number and percentage of Blacks and Latinos were adversely affected in your recent layoffs.”

    Twitter spokeswoman Natalie Miyake responded to Jackson’s concerns in a statement, saying that the layoffs “did not adversely impact underrepresented groups.”