At the end of December, Twitter introduced its new Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion to the world. Jeffrey Siminoff, who replaced Janet Van Huysse, found himself right at the heart of a fierce debate about Twitter’s ability, or lack thereof, to improve diversity within its company. The argument against this appointment is that since Jeffrey Siminoff is a white man himself, he only perpetuates the ongoing diversity issues some claim Twitter has.
Its annual diversity report, released in the summer of 2015, found that 59% of staff were white and 34% were women. Although the company has stated it is committed to increasing diversity, it has pledged to raise the number of women working for it by only 1%, and to increase diversity among other underrepresented demographics in the US from 10% to 11%. At a time when the technology industry is mostly male and white, the company is under a lot pressure to diversify its staff. A survey conducted by Fortune found that among nine top technology companies in Silicon Valley, 66% of the workforce are male, with 72% of leadership roles being held by white men and women.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, the controversial American civil rights activist, says, “Starting with a white man as your new hire to start the search for black and brown people and women isn’t exactly the right signal to send.”
In a similar furore, April 2015 saw the announcement that Nick Wilkie – a man – had been appointed Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust in the UK. But is it really necessary that representatives of minorities also be members of minority or under-represented groups? The associate professor of management at Bentley University, Marcus Stewart, a man who describes himself as being from a minority ethnic background, disagrees: “That mindset that you have to have black people doing black stuff and white people doing white stuff is very limited and limiting. It’s about competence and commitment.”
And many would argue that Siminoff is, indeed, competent. As a Founder of Out Leadership – an advising firm which advocates for the LGBT community in business leadership – he is sensitive to the struggles of marginalised groups. Crucially, he has held similar titles at Morgan Stanley and Apple, working to improve inclusion and diversity.
The issue is a very sensitive one, and both sides of the debate present important points that deserve to be taken seriously. Had Twitter decided to hire somebody from a minority demographic, a powerful message of commitment would have been sent to the world. But Marcus Stewart highlights another advantage of Siminoff being appointed; one that works in favour of those he is trying to represent: “Since [Siminoff] is a white man, he should have lots of advantages to effectively diversify Twitter. People won’t be looking at him and saying, ‘Of course he favours the black candidate or of course he favours the woman candidate.
“He doesn’t have to fight that battle, and it’s a great one