Twitter Woos Black Engineers in Detroit, but Stumbles with 2 All-White Local Staff Photos

March 29, 2019, 5:44 PM by  Alan Stamm

"Optics matter" is overused, but it's born from truth -- just like most clichés.

Whatever we see can be taken as reality, fairly or not -- a lesson Twitter's team in Detroit relearns the hard way by posting a photo of CEO Jack Dorsey with some local staff members at their Woodward Avenue branch office. All eight people shown are white. (The race of two others at bottom right can't be determined.) 

Lots of call-outs flow, prompting a Friday afternoon response:

The reference is to a four-day event at Cobo Center through Saturday -- the 45th annual convention of the National Society of Black Engineers, nearly 16,000 college students studying computer engineering, information technology, electrical engineering and other disciplines.

Twitter recruiters are at Booth 215, staffed partly by members of an employee group known as Blackbirds. They hosted a two-and-a-half-hour food and music mixer Thursday night at State Savings Bank on West Fort Street. 

Dorsey, the 42-year-old co-founder, is the bearded guy in a black wool cap in the office photo near the top of this article. His Detroit team works mainly on sponsored content sales and other client relations with GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler ("the automotive vertical," in tweetspeak). 

The all-white photo is posted at Twitter Detroit, a three-year-old account that has tweeted just 231 times and has 8,100 followers. These seven people are tagged in the tweet, in addition to Jack:

  • Michael Montano, vice president of engineering at corporate headquarters (University of Toronto, '08)
  • Chad Rumminger of Rochester, Detroit-based group manager of automotive client services for the East Coast and Midwest regions (Michigan State University, '01)
  • Guy D. Schueller of Troy, automotive industry sales and marketing director (MSU, '00)
  • Sarah Elizabeth Graham, internal communications and culture manager at corporate headquarters (University of Alabama) 
  • Laura N. Trierweiler, Detroit account manager (MSU, '08)
  • Ilana Brooks Heitkamp of Franklin, Detroit account manager (University of Michigan, '09)
  • Jennifer Ball, Detroit staff (UM)

Team Twitter Detroit and three San Francisco guests visit hallowed ground.
(Photo: Twitter | Chad Rumminger)

Montano is here because of the Cobo recruiting event, which Dorsey also attended Friday. (In addition, he had a 75-minute #TweetUpDetroit live chat that afternoon with fellow tech CEO Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans. They spoke about entrepreneurship, technology and Detroit.)

On Thursday morning, Rumminger unselfconsciously tweets this class trip-style snapshot at right of Dorsey (center rear), two other headquarters executives and 14 local employees at a must-see landmark on West Grand Boulevard.

Updates: "A tech diversity deficit," as Twitter calls it, is a nagging concern among tech employers large and small. "Diversity of voices makes Twitter everything that it is, and we want our company to reflect our service," chief marketing officer Leslie Berland says at the start of a 17-tweet thread two weeks ago.

Blacks made up 4.5% of its full-time U.S. staff as of December, the firm says in a new report, up from 3.4% a year earlier. The company, based in San Francisco, had 3,920 employees last year.

It sets a target of 5% African-Americans on the payroll by this December, "We've got a long way to go, but we've made solid progress towards our goals," the mid-March decocument says.

"We want to do more and move faster," Berland says in her series of tweets, "and we believe increased transparency and accountability are key to doing that. . . .  Instead of publishing an I&D [inclusion and diversity] progress report annually, we will do so quarterly."

Here in Detroit, one response to Friday morning's photo with the boss comes from the City of Detroit's digital and social media director:

A sampling of replies from long threads under both company tweets above:

  • Let's chat. The Detroit black tech community exists and we've already organized ourselves in Slack. -- Jenifer Daniels
  • It's 2019. How did you not know any better?! We are tired of the same regurgitated apologies. Look at that room. Does it even reflect Detroit?! -- Marilyn Griffin
  • The Detroit the world knows is 83% black. Which Detroit is this? -- @hamilamtv
  • Can't find what you don't look for. Shameful! -- Andrea D. Morgan
  • Is this Detroit, Maine? -- @EdwardsChild
  • Y'all should be ashamed. -- LaKeidra Denay
  • Must be two Detroits. -- @‏ShayLoRain8891
  • Wow, if I were one of these people I'd be embarrassed. -- Kim O'Connor
  • Statistically, if all is fair in their local hiring practices, there would HAVE to be at least one black person -- more like half -- on this team. . . .
    And Twitter, you should be ashamed to post that picture in Detroit of all places. Not ONE black person? Seriously? -- Kai Nicole, blogging at Date Like a Woman
  • Is the one black person taking the picture? -- @‏SoMeloDramatic
  • This is really disheartening. -- Latasha James
  • Y’all really gotta explain this ASAP. Like y’all don’t study the data collected from users? . . . Get hip. -- @_1ofONE_
  • This looks more like Twitter Macomb. -- Frank
  • Gentrification at its finest. These are the same people who would've been scared to come to Detroit years ago. -- @tenilleterei
  • Please make sure to hire some black people in our majority black city. -- @BCHRISSSS
  • You've been here since 2016; you definitely need to do better. There's a whole university up the street from you.
    You need some hires in leadership to avoid posting things like this telling on yourselves. -- @AllyAllieAlley
  • Yikes, @TwitterDetroit. This is wrong, embarrassing and completely preventable. You have a wealth of eager and DIVERSE talent right in the city. Your team should reflect that. #DoBetter -- Jackie
  • The whiteness is blinding. -- @iamnevo
  • This is clearly the Twitter for Detroit, Kansas. -- @hairreason
  • Detroit has a higher percentage of black people than any city in the country, yet you couldn't seem to find ONE. Interesting. -- @MsDiannaT
  • And that's the Great American Tech industry in a nutshell. The industrial wing of the New Jim Crow. "To find a job is like a haystack needle. 'Cause where they live they don’t use Colored People. Living just enough for the city." -- @ShondaRhymin
  • How did you manage to purposely screw up this badly @TwitterDetroit? This was grossly intentional. Where are the black people? Where are the actual people of Detroit? -- @blackgirlgonekb

On a more positive note, a few enterprising job-seekers respond to the Twitter Blackbirds' tweet above by pitching themselves:

  • I am a native Detroiter who is a sophomore at The American University in Washington, DC, majoring in French Communication Media with a concentration in Broadcast Journalism. If you are looking to diversify your company, I might just be your answer. -- Mackenzie Galloway

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