In recent months, we have seen a series of controversies arise around the hiring of public figures in the media, sports, and entertainment industries after inflammatory comments they made on Twitter several years ago were brought to light. The Wall Street Journal explored the role of social media in recruiting through the lens of these stories earlier this month, noting that the vetting of candidates’ social media is increasingly common but still fairly new and less standardized than other forms of candidate screening.
Some of these controversies have led organizations to rescind job offers or terminate new hires on the basis of their old tweets, fueling extensive debate over whether these decisions chilled free speech, unfairly took people’s words out of context, or overreacted to flippant past remarks that did not necessarily reflect the person that candidate or new hire is today. In industries where talent has a public face, or in high-profile companies, employers are becoming more wary of what prospective hires have written on social media in the past, which anyone might dig up and use to damage their reputation and that of their employer.
In general, US companies are paying more attention to the social media histories of their prospective employees, not only in high-profile businesses like journalism and entertainment, according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder:
Seventy percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates (on par with last year), while seven percent plan to start. And that review matters: Of those that do social research, 57 percent have found content that caused them not to hire candidates. …
Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel has published an extensive report about the difficulty Twitter has had throughout its ten-year history when it comes to addressing user complaints about harassment and hate speech. The piece offers a fascinating look at how an organization’s culture affects its product—especially when that product is culture, or at least a vehicle for it—and, assuming the criticisms are accurate, a cautionary tale of how internal questions of values, communication, and diversity can have far-reaching consequences:
This maximalist approach to free speech was integral to Twitter’s rise, but quickly created the conditions for abuse. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, which have always banned content and have never positioned themselves as platforms for free speech, Twitter has made an ideology out of protecting its most objectionable users. That ethos also made it a beacon for the internet’s most vitriolic personalities, who take particular delight in abusing those who use Twitter for their jobs. This spring, the Just Not Sports podcast posted video of sports fans reading a sampling of the hateful tweets that the sportswriters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro received while writing and reporting. The video amassed over 3.5 million views on YouTube. Its message: This level of depravity is commonplace on Twitter. …
Looking back on Twitter’s early years, multiple former senior employees cite Twitter’s disproportionately white, male leadership — a frequent, factual critique of Silicon Valley’s biggest and most influential tech companies — as creating an environment where building tools to combat harassment was a secondary concern. “The original sin is a homogenous leadership,” one former senior employee told BuzzFeed News. “This is part of what exacerbated the abuse problem for sure — because they were often tone-deaf to the concern of users in the outside world, meaning women and people of color.”
Twitter has come under appreciable pressure in recent months to address the lack of diversity in its staff and particularly its leadership. The hiring of Jeffrey Siminoff as its head of diversity at the end of last year sparked controversy, with some observers questioning why a white man was chosen for the role. Now, in a move clearly meant to deflect some of that criticism, the social media company has added Debra Lee, the chair and CEO of BET Networks, to its board of directors. CNN Money has the story:
Lee is a long-time media executive, having served as chief executive of BET for the past 10 years. BET is owned by Viacom. In some ways, the appointment is an acknowledgment of Black Twitter, a name given to the large number of African Americans on the site. Chris Sacca, an early investor in Twitter, recently referenced the high number of African Americans who use the platform.
“Twitter is ‘Black Twitter’,” he said on stage during Collision. “That is a brand that Black Twitter has given itself. That’s where the hashtags happen … where the excitement is.”
As of May 1, the social media company will offer 20 weeks of fully paid leave to any new parent on its staff, Michal Lev-Ram reports at Fortune:
The rationale? Family structures have changed, and allowing for more evenly distributed parenting equals happier employees, both male and female (within, of course, both heterosexual and same-sex couples). “The goal of this change was to expand how we think about parental leave,” says Jeffrey Siminoff, Twitter’s newly-appointed VP of inclusion and diversity (the exec joined the company from Apple about eight weeks ago). “Primary caregiving is something that’s hard to define.” …
According to [Twitter’s director of compensation and benefits Laura] Brady, Twitter is looking into bringing in outside trainers to help managers understand how to manage their team and workloads under the more generous parental leave policy. It isn’t clear just how many employees will now be eligible for the 20 weeks of paid leave, but Brady says the company has a “typical demographic” for the tech industry.
While most organizations still offer more leave to women who have just given birth than to new fathers or adoptive parents (or give more to “primary caregivers,” usually meaning mothers), gender-neutral policies like Twitter’s are seen as a way to encourage couples to share responsibility for parenting, as well as to break the stigma around parental leave by mainstreaming it among employees of both genders. Within the past month, Etsy and Bank of America have announced gender-neutral leave policies, and one lawmaker is trying to get the Pentagon to provide the same benefits for male and female members of the armed forces.
As predicted, Twitter has named Leslie Berland, former senior vice president of digital partnerships at American Express, as its new chief marketing officer. CEO Jack Dorsey announced the hire in a tweet early Tuesday morning, less than two days after revealing that four members of Twitter’s c-suite were leaving the company. Twitter is also expected to add two new board members. The departures announced Sunday led analysts at Stifel Nicolaus to downgrade Twitter’s stock—now trading well below the price of its 2013 IPO—from “buy” to “hold,” though other investment banks have not followed suit. The instability at the top of the Twitter pyramid has fed speculation, such as by Reuters columnist Robert Cyran here, that another major tech firm might look to buy the company.
So what does all this rapid change mean for Twitter’s ability to attract the kind of talent it needs to grow? Inc. reporter Tess Townsend asks tech recruiter Rick Devine, better known as the man who introduced Apple CEO Tim Cook to his predecessor Steve Jobs:
Four Twitter executives, including its head of human resources, are leaving the company in what looks like a shakeup of the social media giant’s leadership. CEO Jack Dorsey announced in a tweet Sunday night that senior vice president of engineering Alex Roetter, senior vice president of product Kevin Weil, vice president of global media Katie Jacobs Stanton, and vice president of human resources Brian “Skip” Schipper “have chosen to leave the company” and “will be taking some well-deserved time off.” The gaps left by these departing executives, Dorsey explained, will be filled by COO Adam Bail and CTO Adam Messinger taking on additional responsibilities.
Writing about the departures for the New York Times, reporter Mike Isaac relays information from anonymous sources depicting a “major overhaul of [Twitter’s] top ranks,” including an expansion of its board of directors:
In recent months, corporate diversity initiatives, particularly in the tech sector, have come in for increasing criticism for failing to foster and retain diverse talent. Much of this criticism has focused on the ways in which that industry’s culture is indirectly hostile to women and minorities.
A key voice in this conversation has been Leslie Miley, a former engineer at Twitter who is black, whose critique of the social media company’s approach to diversity illuminated several blind spots, such as the pressure non-white employees feel to suppress their identities at work. That pressure is so intense that it often drives them to quit, even after attaining roles they had pursued for years:
Is a prerequisite to working in tech as a minority that one is expected to, in the eyes of the majority, sublimate your racial identity to ensure a cultural fit? In attempting to achieve the appropriate level of blackness that makes me palatable to tech, had I unwittingly erased the importance of maintaining my blackness in a sea of white faces?
As Miley points out, the pressure for diverse employees to fit in can be tremendous; that’s why hiring for “cultural fit” can be unintentionally discriminatory. In majority-dominated corporate culture, openly being who you are is often considered impolite. In a recent interview, recruiter Torin Ellis stressed how this pressure to “cover” aspects of their identity that others might associate with negative stigmas makes it impossible for these employees to reach their full potential: