Twitter’s Diversity Problem And Why It Could Hurt The Company

November 17, 2013  |  

Twitter, which recently had its IPO (or Initial Public Offering, its first issuance of stock to the general public), has drawn major criticism for the lack of diversity on its board  of directors, which consists entirely of white men. Women and people of color are wholly excluded from the decision-making positions at the corporation, reports The Grio.

African Americans are not even represented in the senior ranks and the executive team. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s newly hired general counsel, a woman of Indian descent, is the company’s only non-white male executive officer.

This more than troubling, consider blacks love of Twitter. Slightly more female than male, 74 percent of people between the ages 15 and 25 use Twitter and they are dominated by black people.

“A 2013 Pew study found that 26 percent of black internet users prefer Twitter, as opposed to 19 percent of Latinos and 14 percent of whites.  In 2010, 13 percent of blacks used Twitter, while 18 percent of Latinos and 5 percent of whites used the social-networking site.  Twitter is also the most popular choice for urban dwellers—20 percent, as opposed to 14 percent of suburbanites and 12 percent of people in rural areas,” reports The Grio.

Many observers say that the diversity problem is reflective of the larger high-technology industry. Moreover, it could be a problem for the company. “This is the elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia, the Twitter mafia,” Vivek Wadwha, a fellow at Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, recently told the New York Times.  “It’s the same male chauvinistic thinking. The fact that they went to the I.P.O. without a single woman on the board, how dare they?” he added.

Wadwha also told  the Washington Post that women become discouraged when they see an “all-male universe,” a boys’ club from which they are excluded.  His solution is to fix the board by simply adding diversity. The current board is not comprised of all tech people (there are actually a couple of college dropouts and even one philosophy major), so it shouldn’t be that difficult.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo responded with a personal attack: “Vivek Wadhwa is the Carrot Top of academic sources,” referring to the over-the-top comedian.

One reason blacks are so drawn to Twitter is it’s cell phone friendly, and blacks are more likely to access the web through mobile devices. In fact, in 2011, blacks owned mobile phones at a rate higher than the national average—44 percent vs. 35 percent. Blacks also used their phones twice as much as whites, with 200 more text messages per month.

Plus, black celebrities are more active on Twitter than are white celebrities, so naturally their fans would follow them on the social media network. In addition, blacks, whose median age is seven years younger than whites, are a higher percentage of the 25-34-year-olds that prefer Twitter most.

We have seen the strength of  “Black Twitter” in driving trending topics which push issues of sometimes social and political importance and even helping to turn the ABC’s Scandal into a big hit.

But the wide racial disparity between Twitter executives and Twitter users is troubling. It also shows the corporate leadership is missing out on a untapped market, putting the company itself at a strategic business disadvantage. “This is a systematic problem that you’re seeing in the technology industry which must be fixed, because it’s damaging the technology industry, it’s bad for our economy, it’s bad for innovation,” Wadhwa said.

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