"My fingertips danced with delight as I frantically typed away at my computer,' Mark S. Luckie begins his new Medium essay What it’s actually like to be a Black employee at a tech company. “'I just saw a new Black person! Does anyone know who it is?' I circulated the email to the “Blackbirds,” Twitter’s internal group for Black employees. In my three years as Manager of Journalism and News at the company, I was always thrilled whenever a new hire of color joined our ranks. By the end of the day, the Blackbirds were buzzing amongst ourselves. We lavished the new employee with our customary welcome to Twitter’s vibrant workplace."
Luckie went on to leave his post at Twitter, taking up instead the role of novelist — his debut book is Do U — in part an expression of his desire to see more people of color represented in literature. As he puts it, at Twitter's offices, "witnessing firsthand the lack of faces of color instilled in me the desire to apply my technology skills toward the visibility of Blacks in media."
While at Twitter, Luckie and his fellow Blackbirds — an estimated 4 percent of the company — worked to increase their numbers and the power of their voice. "We had three tenets," Luckie tells SFist, "employee retention by creating programs that focused on diversity or black issues, outreach to the rest of the country, and last, educating the rest of the company about what was needed and what was possible."
Like many, Twitter has made a stated commitment to a more diverse company, one that might better reflect the plurality of its user base. One employee goal set for 2016 is to "increase underrepresented minorities overall to 11% (in the US)." Juxtapose that, however, with the fact that 27 percent of Twitter users are black and 25 percent are hispanic according to the Pew Research Center.
"Many news stories," Luckie explains, "from the mostly white membership of the Academy Awards to the slaying of a seemingly unending number of black people at the hands of police, gained traction because of a highly conversational network of black social media users known as “Black Twitter.”" Understanding and validating this so-called black space for conversation and expression isn't just fair, says Luckie — it's good business. As he tells SFist, "Black Twitter is where a lot of conversations happen, social TV shows with black themes — Empire, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder — and you have this huge block of users that are looking at advertising and having a big financial impact on the platform. Internally, they don't know what to do with that."
But privilege is a system of self-perpetuation. As Luckie writes, "White Americans have 91 times as many white friends as Black friends, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Three-quarters of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. If current employees don't know any people of color then they have none to recommend."
So Luckie wants to see hackathons as prevalent and popular as science and book fairs. "To ignore the racial makeup of a workforce is also a disservice to the company itself," he writes. "The best teams don’t share similar backgrounds or perspectives. Without a variety of voices contributing ideas, the workplace becomes a homogenized environment where potential brilliance may never be achieved. Diversity should rightly be seen as a benefit to growth, not an obstruction to avoid."