- With Jack Dorsey stepping down as Twitter’s CEO, the tech giant is at a cultural turning point.
- New CEO Parag Agrawal faces diversity challenges, including the representation of people of color.
- CEO consultants say Agrawal has the opportunity to make Twitter a leader in diversity and inclusion.
Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey leaves behind a complicated legacy as he steps down as CEO. The tech entrepreneur created the internet’s premier forum for public conversation; he democratized how news is shared. But the platform has also been used to amplify misinformation, violent political rhetoric, and harassment.
Dorsey has become a notable social-justice and antiracism advocate, speaking out about the importance of diversity and donating millions of dollars to Ibram X. Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp.
But Twitter has struggled with representation and inclusion among its ranks for years, as evidenced by controversies such as a frat-themed company party and a report that an executive had told an Asian employee she could pass as white if she wore sunglasses.
The company’s internal diversity numbers also still miss the mark. Black and Latino people collectively represent just 11% of leaders (though Twitter has announced a goal to have 25% of its executives be people of color or women by 2025).
With Twitter’s new CEO, Parag Agrawal, assuming power, the tech giant is at a crossroads. CEO consultants who specialize in diversity, equity, and inclusion say Agrawal could make Twitter a company that promotes truth and equity, or let the progress Dorsey made slip through the cracks. The result has implications for not just the company’s 5,500 employees, but the world.
“This will be a heavy lift for Agrawal,” Slma Shelbayah, a DEI advisor and communications consultant at Yardstick Management, told Insider. “These are big shoes to fill, not just because of Dorsey, but because of the social expectations around the world and at Twitter. Everybody has been asking for change and representation.”
A Twitter spokesperson said, “Since our March 2020 inclusion and diversity report, we’ve made significant progress, and representation of underrepresented minorities has increased overall in tech roles and in leadership roles, though we still know that we have more work to do […] We are excited to do this work with Parag at the helm. He’s long been a champion of Twitter’s journey to be the world’s most diverse, inclusive, and accessible tech company.”
Double down on transparency
Twitter shares its workforce demographic data publicly, but, like most companies, it doesn’t share information about employee turnover, retention, and promotion levels broken down by race, age, or gender.
“Twitter’s leadership hasn’t really pushed the envelope,” Thompson said. “We need to disaggregate this data. Where are Black, Latinx, and Native American employees getting stuck? Where is the churn? What are the struggles they face?”
Making this data public and discussing it with employees can help managers identify better ways to promote and sponsor underrepresented workers, Thompson said. This could lead to better representation of people of color not only within the company but on the platform. Multiple consultants said Twitter’s lack of Black leaders was especially upsetting given the power and presence of Black Twitter, which has driven social discourse on topics ranging from Trayvon Martin’s killing to the #MeToo movement.
“The murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, the reality of street harassment, the racial crisis brewing in the Dominican Republic—these are all stories that became of major importance because Black Twitter made sure the world understood what was happening,” the Daily Beast journalist Stereo Williams wrote in a 2015 feature.
Twitter’s new CEO has the opportunity to improve representation in leadership, listen to marginalized employees, and better represent some of its most important users.
“Agrawal needs to find diverse leadership that can provide accurate representation at the top of the company,” Shelbayah said. “People have asked and waited for far too long.”
Blaze a trail for honest conversations
Under Dorsey’s leadership, and assisted by Twitter’s head of DEI, Dalana Brand, the social-media giant has invested significantly in improving its culture, especially over the past two years.
In 2020, Twitter compensated leaders of employee resource groups (like the employee group for Black workers), added additional mental-health support options during a rise in anti-Asian racism and around Derek Chauvin’s trial, and partnered with visionaries like Kendi to host antiracism talks.
Twitter’s corporate culture is still being built. In 2019, Twitter hired Dantley Davis, a vice president of design, to help reshape its culture. His task was to address complaints from some people in the company that it was “too nice” and didn’t promote criticism and innovation, The New York Times reported this summer. But employees described his style as blunt and harsh, and they said it aggravated workers. Twitter investigated complaints against Davis, who remains in his post, and he said he would take a step back to reconsider his management style, the report said.
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment saying, “We do not discuss private employment matters out of consideration and respect for everyone involved.”
Agrawal has an opportunity to reshape the way Davis and other leaders communicate with employees, said Celeste Headlee, a DEI consultant and author who has worked with dozens of tech companies.
“As a communications and diversity expert, the sense that I get is that there are perhaps not fully honest and authentic conversations happening during meetings at Twitter,” Headlee said.
She suggested Twitter execs and employees get communications training on how to have authentic conversations where workers feel safe expressing themselves.
“Execs need to make sure voices are heard and that people have the psychological standing that they need in order to speak up about things that are bothering them or ideas that they have,” she said. “That’s how progress is made.”