Yet another day, yet another reveal that the demographics of a large tech company are, well, pretty much what we thought they were — heavily male, mostly white. Yesterday, Twitter announced that its workforce is 70 percent men to 30 percent women, as well as 59 percent white, 29 percent Asian, 2 percent Black, and 3 percent Latin@.
Like its peers Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook, Twitter has publicly declared its commitment to improving these numbers: “By becoming more transparent with our employee data, open in dialogue throughout the company and rigorous in our recruiting, hiring and promotion practices, we are making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.” In other words, Twitter is about to start Leaning In, y’all.
While it’s never wonderful to see a company so incredibly unbalanced, the demographic data provide greater transparency behind who makes critical decisions about the product, features, and policies of a vital tool for digital feminism. These numbers help us to establish an understanding of where we are now so we can aim further tomorrow. And when we see that nearly 80 percent of leadership at Twitter is men, it’s hard not to think about how that impacts features like protecting users from online harassment and online threats. This difference of experience compels feminists like those from Take Back The Tech to call on social media companies (including Twitter) to be more responsive to online harassment against women. Chances are that folks who have never encountered online sexist vitriol might not be the best people to create effective policies against it.
It’s why projects like the San Francisco feminist hackerspace Double Union’s “Open Diversity Data” are so necessary. Built by bad-ass feminist coders, the project is a centralized resource that shows whether or not tech companies have released their demographic data to the public. Companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft are listed with links to their information while data from others like Living Social, Yelp, and Hulu are still MIA. The brilliant part is that you’re directed to let these companies know via social media that you want to see their numbers. The social media feedback loop, while typical in feminist digital spaces, helps relieve the pressure on the women/minorities working within these companies to carry this task alone.
This external pressure is important given that another recent report showed that executives from underrepresented groups are often punished for advocating for greater diversity. According to a study released yesterday by researchers from the University of Colorado, “Ethnic minority or female leaders who engage in diversity-valuing behavior are penalized with worse performance ratings than their equally diversity-valuing white or male counterparts.” The study is extremely frustrating, to say the least. Rather than relying on white men to call for more diversity since they are the ones who are less affected by further prejudice, we should support women/minority leaders in tech by collectively calling on their companies to do better.
Many feminists might find this request a bit odd — especially those who have no interest in learning how to program or design. However, as digital feminism/womanism/social justice-ism continues to interweave closer and closer with social media, particularly Twitter, we have an extremely vested interest in who creates the tool that has hosted incredibly important conversations like #YesAllWomen, #NotYourAsianSideKick, and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. It’s this type of innovation, this type of joint creativity, that feminists have and continue to bring to the tech world. In order to sustain the means of communication for our movements, it’s imperative that we demand to see increased representation of people of color and women within these decision making bodies.
So before you sign onto Twitter today, head over to Open Diversity Data to see which company needs to release their numbers next. While you’re there, appreciate the awesome ways that, thanks to the Internet and technology, feminists can raise their voices. Maybe it’s by teaching young women how to code and design, maybe it’s by supporting women who have already spoken out about sexism within the industry, or maybe it’s with a simple Tweet back saying, “Let’s start the change now.”
Suzanna is grateful for technology because otherwise Feministing would not be here.