Tech-heavy industries have always enjoyed an element of forward thinking attached to their brand. These companies represent the cutting edge of technological trends that shape how humans behave, communicate, and relate to one another; and they have seen the benefits of those attributes spilling over into their general reputations. This idea – that technologically forward thinking industries are inherently culturally advanced as well – has unfortunately been proven to be more myth than reality. In fact, their performances in terms of diversity and fair practices are far behind the times.

Time and time again, companies in Silicon Valley have been forced to contend with PR nightmares stemming from abhorrent realities of corporate culture: sexual harassment, exclusionary hiring practices, and a shocking lack of diversity. Not exactly the ultra progressive, skinny-jeans-and-hoodie narrative that we are sold.

Ironically, these sad and frustrating occurrences likely stem from the same attributes that have been extolled as reasons for forward thinking in the tech industry: youth, inexperience, brashness, etc. While these things do lead to a culture of disruption and innovation, they have also left many companies with corporate cultures that lack diversity, inclusiveness, and maturity.

Twitter, for example, is currently embroiled in a bitter gender discrimination lawsuit, lobbed at the social media giant by a former employee, Tina Huang, who is alleging that the way Twitter promotes people in technical roles is discriminatory towards women. The suit details that Twitter’s promotion policy is really not much of a policy at all, featuring largely subjective criteria and an unorganized, “shoulder tap” method of even letting candidates know that a position has opened up. Now, it is, of course, not illegal to make use of less structured promotion policies; however, many institutions in the business world are heralded for their decreasing reliance on rigid and outdated methodology (open office plan, for example). In the case of Twitter’s promotion policy, though, there are clearly some red flags.

First of all, numbers never lie.

2015 Twitter Diversity Data

(Source: http://www.blog.twitter.com)

If, for example, Twitter’s top engineering-related positions we’re filled by a relatively even mix of males and females, a lack of complete transparency in terms of jobs available, candidates being considered, and required prerequisites wouldn’t be such cause for alarm. That, however, is far from the case. The reality shows a far less balanced state of affairs. While Twitter states on their blog that they know well that it “makes good business sense to be more diverse as a workforce – research shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of.” Unfortunately, the numbers have yet to back up this sentiment.

In fact, by their own account, males account for 66% of their overall global workforce, 78% of leadership roles, and 87% of tech-related positions. Race-based exclusivity is just as prevalent, unfortunately. As of the beginning of this month, Twitter employs only 82 African-American employees. The workplace as a whole is 59% white. This is not diversity. This is exclusivity, plain and simple. So, when those types of positions do become available, it’s important that the process of finding a replacement is transparent and clearly defined for potential applicants. If numbers like those continue to be the norm, then companies like Twitter owe it to all of us – as both consumers and applicants – to be honest about what they are doing to fix the problem.

Shady, “shoulder tap” methods of promoting applicants does the exact opposite of that, and the ensuing lawsuit has severely damaged Twitter’s brand (during a time when investors are already concerned about their decreasing earnings). Compounding this issue of hiring practices are legitimate concerns about Twitter’s general corporate culture. Recently, the company suffered yet another PR blow when the media became aware that certain departments had held a “Fraternity” themed office party. Mind you, this is during an ongoing lawsuit alleging that the company’s culture is not accepting of women in the workplace. Interim CEO Jack Dorsey has since promised to make diversity a company priority, but recent events have undoubtedly placed his company in a “we’ll believe it when we see it” position with investors and the general public.

What will the diversity solution (if there will be one at all) look like?

Facebook has one idea: recently they have rolled out an initiative to offer their own company-wide diversity program as an available resource for other Silicon Valley companies to interpret, initiate, or just be inspired by. Facebook, however, has much to answer for in their own right, considering the fact that if taken as a statement of “Here’s how we did it”, the initiative rings as nothing more than a hollow and embarrassing PR stunt. After all, attached to the message regarding other companies using their methods is a current state-of-affairs report, one which shows how much is left to be desired on their end of things as well.

The report shows that men held 84% of tech-based positions at the company (up only 1% from the previous year) and that African-Americans made up the most underrepresented minority in the entire company – at just 2% of the workforce.

While these numbers are unacceptable, we think the way Facebook is releasing them is actually reason for some optimism. Whereas Twitter’s report was released as an apology for ongoing idiocy, Facebook is simply laying out the current state of their diversity initiatives, admitting that it represents a major problem, and calling on other companies to join them in their efforts to fix it. The verbiage in the report seems to reflect a sincere desire to improve: “[The initiative] includes partnering with other organizations working to achieve the same goal, and developing new recruiting strategies to drive our search for talent and attract diverse candidates.”

The release goes on to list, in detail, some of these organizations that will be a part of their ongoing quest for increased diversity: the Anita Borg Institute and National Center for Women & Information Technology, “pipeline” programs including Girls Who Code, National Society of Black Engineers, and even collaborating with the Yes We Code organization in its mission to connect 100,000 low opportunity youth to programs teaching them to code.

Twitter, too, has now taken that proverbial first step – acknowledging the problem.

In August, Twitter rolled out a plan similar to Facebook’s, vowing to take their diversity problem head-on in the coming year. The goals, they laid out in the announcement, however, were relatively modest:

  • Increase women overall to 35%
  • Increase women in tech roles to 16%
  • Increase women in leadership roles to 25%
  • Increase underrepresented minorities overall to 11%
  • Increase underrepresented minorities in tech roles to 9%
  • Increase underrepresented minorities in leadership roles to 6%
(Source: http://www.blog.twitter.com)

While these are all technically improvements (if they come true), the margins of increase are all fairly small. One can only hope that with increased conversation and attention paid to things like this, tech companies will begin to see the light and diversify their workforces in more dramatic ways.

Overall, Facebook appears to be doing a far superior job at showcasing a desire to improve that is believably genuine and (most importantly) a plan of attack that is detailed enough to be considered legitimate. All of Silicon Valley has to answer for the lack of diversity that its companies have displayed thus far, but it’s good to know that at least one of its giants is taking the problem seriously enough to develop a plan with real, concrete steps and goals. That doesn’t mean that they are off the hook – it just means that of all the examples of exclusivity the industry has to offer, theirs is one that seems to be fading, even if the process is sure to be an excruciatingly and unacceptably slow one.