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Twitter Releases Diversity Data, and Guess What...

Scott Lucas | July 24, 2014 | Story Tech World

If you were expecting anything other than another drip in the steady trickle of depressing news about the tech industry and its underrepresentation of women and minorities, well, um, sorry to be a bummer.

The diversity data that Twitter released yesterday afternoon, which showed a workforce predominantly made up of white and Asian-American employees, is as lob-sided as everyone expected. After all, we've now heard the same tale out of Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and seemingly every other company in town. However, it's still sobering: Twitter is a testosterone sauna. Overall, its employees are 70 percent male, with 90 percent of its tech workers and 79 percent of its leadership made up by men. Its non-tech positions, happily, are equally split between men and women.

On ethnicity, the company is largely made up of white and Asian-American workers. White employees are 59 percent of its overall workforce, 58 percent of its tech workers, and 72 percent of its leadership. Asian-American employees represented 29 percent of all its workers, and 32 and 24 percent of its tech workers and leadership, respectively. Black employees are 2 percent of its overall workforce, 1 percent of its tech workers, and 2 percent of its leadership. Latinos are 3 percent of all workers, 3 percent of tech, and not represented in leadership. At all.

Those figures lead civil right leaders like Jesse Jackson to criticize Twitter yesterday, calling the numbers "pathetic" and stating, "It does not reflect the nature of California or Twitter’s users." It's hard to disagree with Jackson there.

According to the US Census, California's racial makeup is 39 percent white, 38 percent Latino, 14 percent Asian-American, and 6 percent African-American, making white and Asian-Americans way, way over-represented at Twitter, and those of other ethnicities way, way under-represented. Women of all races are under-represented in most categories.

Worse yet, compared to data reported in the LA Times, Twitter's gender disparities are more pronounced than those at Facebook, Google, Yahoo, or LinkedIn. And this from a company whose users are perhaps more diverse than those others. A 2013 study by Pew Research found that African-American internet users were more likely to use Twitter than whites or Latinos (no data was given for Asian-Americas).

What's trickier to figure out is the causes of the disparities. Evidence of outright racism in the tech world can be hard to gather—but that doesn't mean more subtle problems aren't creeping in. As many outlets have pointed out, part of the issues at work in the technology sector are cultural biases. There are also effects of the education system. A recent US Census report found that women receive only 41 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Similar disparities occur with regard to ethnicity—71 percent of STEM undergraduate degrees are award to white students, 14 percent to Asian-American, 7 percent to black, and 7 percent to Latinos.

It's not like any of this comes as news to Twitter. “Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do,” Janet Van Huysse, VP of Diversity and Inclusion said in the blog post. “A Twitter that we can be proud of is diverse, and it’s inclusive.”

We'll see when that happens.

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