Your Half-Assed Diversity Initiatives Aren’t Going to Cut It In 2016

Companies have made it crystal clear that they don’t actually care about the diversity they’re supposed to be working on.

by Riley H on December 14th, 2015

Anyone marginalized in tech has heard the song and dance before, the soul-sucking tune of performative activism with no direction or action. If there’s any lesson tech companies need to learn from 2015, it’s that half-assed diversity initiatives are going to be swiftly cut off by those who know… anything at all about how it works.

Maybe it’ll be when your company gets sued (again), or publicly lambasted (again), or maybe, just maybe, when engineers who refused to take the company’s nice little hush money package decide to reveal the truth behind your meaningless promises to do better.

Or perhaps you’ll get caught with algorithms that decide it’s a good idea to label photos of Black people “gorillas.”


Well, regardless of which veritable fountain of absolute fail and fuckery you’ve witnessed this year, companies have made it crystal clear that they don’t actually care about the diversity they’re supposed to be working on. Of course, some of us already knew that, because we’re capable of reading between the lines of statements like: “we want diversity, but we don’t want to lower our standards” and “we’re going to focus on gender diversity right now”… as the numbers remain the dismal same.

A stamp that reads "fail" in red on a piece of paper.

Photo CC-BY Hans Gerwitz, filtered.

Let’s start with Twitter’s ongoing public disaster thanks to repeated internal racist views. To start with, Twitter has been promising a new, diverse version of itself since a post written by Janet Van Huysse, the extremely white VP of Diversity and Inclusion, in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, Twitter’s, ahem, “diversity” statistics show they’re a pillar of colossal fail with all of 14 Black women working at the company throughout ALL fields. Fast forward a year and sure enough, Janet is writing us another post… pretty much saying the same thing, only this time with exact numbers they plan to increase the very vague “marginalized groups” in their US offices.

That’s weird. I thought Twitter was committed to diversity LAST year, when they realized they were terrible at it. A full year later, and not only does Janet Van Huysse still have her job despite being clearly awful at it, but their numbers haven’t budged despite doing the usual university hiring cycle.


I could talk about how anyone expects a blond white woman to be able to manage diversity or inclusion, considering how very little white people actually know about these topics, but the depths to which Twitter has fallen this year are just too good to diverge from: The shit didn’t truly hit the fan until Leslie Miley wrote about his departure from Twitter in an enlightening piece on the racism behind closed doors while Van Huysse peddles “devotion to diversity” topside. With Miley gone, Twitter now has no managers, directors, or VPs of color in engineering or product management.

In fact, several people have left Twitter in the last couple of months after seeing just how far gone the rotting root is, punctuated by rude layoffs where employees discovered they no longer had jobs when they tried to log in and found their work emails shut off.

Has Twitter learned their lesson? That their obviously fake devotion to diversity, their promises this year and last year that have amounted to absolutely nothing, aren’t going to cut it anymore? I don’t think so, since Janet is miraculously still employed. And so is Alex Roetter, Twitter’s senior VP of Engineering, who in a turn of sheer white supremacist genius, decided that instead of having a working Diversity program at Twitter, it’d be better to try to guess race by name…or something. According to Miley, Roetter actually suggested a tool to analyze race and ethnicity by candidate last names to find where they were falling through the pipeline cracks. Miley is generous and says he understands why this might seem logical as a fellow engineer, but let’s be realistic. Roetter is making how much money? To be a supposedly intelligent human being? And yet couldn’t bother to do even moderate research on why this is a terrible idea. Or, you know, maybe just return to 7th grade history class. Hell, he could have just watched a movie about slavery in North America to figure out why that wouldn’t work for some of the most marginalized groups in this country.

A cracked egg.

Photo CC-BY UnknownNet Photography, filtered.

But Twitter is far from the only one! The faux diversity initiatives have spread so far that people are making companies about it. Companies full of white people are hiring more white people to fix the diversity at companies like Slack and Pinterest! Take Joelle Emerson’s little…gig, Paradigm, a company that “uses social science to increase diversity”, run by — as Joelle said to me in a public Twitter conversation — three women, one of whom is “an LGBT”.

A quick peek on Paradigm’s website reveals three white women and a white man as employees. Last I spoke to Joelle, I asked her how she thought a group of white people could possibly fix a problem that white people had caused and continue to cause. She claimed to be “really trying to hire two Black women right now”. Hm. Interesting how they haven’t seemed to materialize!

And yet major tech companies think that four white people can somehow solve diversity for them, when those white people can’t even find employees for their own company. That’s the level of absolute fuckery we have hit in tech-diversity-but-not-really, y’all.

Meanwhile, I personally know at least three different BLACK coders who could singlehandedly do the job that Paradigm claims they can do and produce actual results. Who have successfully done it already. All the money wasted on Paradigm’s fees could have gone to any one of them and the problem would almost assuredly be fixed. And all of them know better than to call one of their partners “an LGBT”.

How do people who don’t know any marginalized people in tech purport to find marginalized people in tech? When numerous companies have reported that their biggest failures in hiring are because they focus primarily on recommendations – their monochromatic coders only suggesting the same – why would you pull in more of the that to try to fix the problem?

But hey, what do I know? After all, if I were to be hired by any of these companies, it’d probably mean they’d have to, um, lower their standards, since I’m a struggling student from a no-name school who can’t afford to spend a part-time job’s worth of time I don’t have for an “interview” doing nothing but answering questions more suited to a college-level programing contest than any actual coding job.

Everyone knows there’s only one way to be a good programmer, and everyone knows that brown people can’t really do this stuff, right?


A hammer smashing a lightbulb.

Photo CC-BY Pete Swiatowy, filtered.

Unfortunately, company fail is not the only kind that went around this year. Even the preeminent “women-in-tech” conference, Grace Hopper, found itself with more headlining white male speakers than Black women speakers. Then again, it’s not too hard to do that when there are zero of the latter. On top of charging speakers to present, and mostly being a scrounging ground where companies try to pilfer the very few brown women senior engineers from each other, Grace Hopper has simply not been living up to its name, prompting a subsequent conference called NotGHC to address the problems multiple women engineers of color have had with the conference.

At the end of the day, the numbers say it all. They’ve been saying it all. And they’re telling us that despite all the posts on company blogs, all the promises made, these places are still either actively against diversity, or they know so little about it that they’re hoping some other rich white people can fix their problem.

Instead of throwing away your business’ money on lip, why not give it to people with real track records? Look for the conferences that are coming up, created by Black and brown engineers to support Black and brown engineers, and give them that money. (Hi. Hello. I created a speaker lineup with 50% Black women engineers in 2 days. A personal friend of mine put together a team that was 80% trans, 100% woman/femme and 40% Black.)

Either way, marginalized coders will live on and continue our work with or without your support. But if the massive engineer flight from Twitter is any indication, a company’s lies about their diversity initiatives will come around to haunt them… sooner, rather than later.

Do better in 2016, or you might find that you’re being shown the door.