Twitter Is the Latest Tech Company With a Woman Problem


On Friday, the New York Times published an article pointing out that as Twitter files to trade stock publicly, its board contains no women. In fact, the only woman who holds a top position is a lawyer who joined the company was promoted in August. And then the hubbub began.

Though Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo didn’t respond to calls for comment about the Times piece, as BuzzFeed notes he did appropriately (if confusingly) tweet back to a few who were critical of him on his chosen favorite media.

In the article, Stanford fellow Vivek Wadhwa is quoted calling the lack of women at Twitter part of the “elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia” and asking the rhetorical question of “how dare they?” attempt an I.P.O. without women. In response to this, Costolo referred to Wadhwa as “the Carrot Top of academic sources” on Twitter, which appeared to everyone else to be a dig.

But it wasn’t! says Costolo. He clarified that he was just trying to poke fun at Wadhwa’s “propensity for silly hyperbole,” before engaging in a deeper debate with Anil Dash (who has had some Twitter fights about “the women in tech problem” before, memorably with our best friend Pax Dickinson).

According to unnamed sources who spoke to the Times, Costolo has tried to find women for the Twitter board, “but has found it difficult,” an issue others who spoke to the paper attributed to the lack of available women in tech. Relatedly, the same article points out that Twitter and other companies manage to find many women to fill positions on the business side of their organizations just fine; it’s the technical side where they suffer.

That’s also not a coincidence: women have been banging against the glass ceiling for far longer in regular “business” than they have in tech. That being said, others took issue with the idea that there just aren’t enough women for these roles, like The founder and media writer Rachel Sklar, who points out that when companies do want to do things, “they move fast and break things” and is critical of Twitter:

“In a year they knew they were going to go public, knowing this was an issue, in the era of ‘Lean In,’ it was not a priority.”

Twitter told the Wall Street Journal that they want there to be more women in tech. “We are a technology company, but we are ultimately a company of people — we have roughly 2,000 employees worldwide of different experiences and backgrounds,” a spokesman said. But in a post on Techcrunch elaborating on his thoughts, Wadhwa wrote that the “severe gender imbalance” revealed by Twitter last week “is tolerable of companies in their infancy that can’t easily pick and choose whom they take money from and whom they place on the board.” He continued:

But the rules change once companies grow up and become public entities. They have a responsibility to the people they are taking money from: the public.

But if a company has goals of becoming larger than a baby-sized company – and most start-ups tend have grander aspirations (that’s why they’re called start-ups) – it’s not really tolerable or a good way to build up. Companies like Twitter aren’t created with women; they add them later as an afterthought on their way to become well-rounded, PR-friendly organizations. That means that their corporate culture doesn’t start from a place of acceptance: it starts from a place of – for lack of a better word – otherness. These women are othered from the start because they’re brought in once a company’s message and lifestyle has already been shaped by only men.

Women aren’t window dressing, even if that’s how they’ve been treated for most of history. Twitter will surely find a way to add at least one woman to its top roster for appearance’s sake, but for the other women who work there now and will eventually, it will take a lot of women and a lot of time to make it a company that’s about more than whether it looks good on an IPO filing.

Image via Julien Tromeur/Shutterstock.

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