Jeffrey Siminoff: ‘Twitter is the place where inclusion lives’
The tech giant’s head of diversity on staying politically neutral, tackling Twitter’s diversity issues and why he’s the middle-aged white guy for the job
Unconscious bias towards “people like us” is something we’re all guilty of. We feel more comfortable among those whose race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, accent, even sense of humour, mirror our own. It explains why, with the best intentions in the world, even governments and companies aware of inclusion have, for example, far fewer women than men in management.
This is something Jeffrey Siminoff, the vice-president for inclusion and diversity at Twitter, is trying to change – within his company and on the company’s platform in a sort of symbiosis.
Twitter has 3,860 employees worldwide and 313m active users a month, according to its corporate website. “Twitter is the place where inclusion lives,” Siminoff says, with a rhythmic familiarity that suggests he’s said it once or twice before. “What I mean by that is a democratisation of voices. We have a platform where people come together with no barriers to entry, to feel included and to feel a sense of belonging. The platform is designed to form communities.
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“If that’s what’s inherent in the business, it’s imperative for this company to live up to the promise of inclusion in its own workplace, too. When those two things meet and fuse, when your employees are marching lockstep with the mission of the platform itself, you create something rich.”
He’s not talking about positive discrimination, which is a form of discrimination in itself. “We don’t favour one group over another,” he says. “People spend a lot of time at work and we’re focused on creating an environment where people thrive, not despite their differences but because of their differences.”
At Twitter, this means thinking carefully about who is approached to join the company or to be promoted. “It’s one thing to mandate a specific result,” he says of the positive discrimination his company doesn’t practice, “it’s another thing to mandate a diverse pool of candidates.”
The global program Twitter is implementing is a form of mindfulness training for all employees: teaching them to reflect on the unconscious stereotypes we all have because of the way we’ve been brought up, or because of external influences such as culture and media. The idea is to run a “system check” in real time against those inborn tribal biases when creating and then surveying the pool of applicants, as well as when making an appointment.
It’s ironic that when Siminoff was appointed to the diversity role, critics in the media were ferocious about a middle-aged white male getting the job. But he has long been intensely and personally aware of the issues. When he was younger, he struggled with his identity as a gay man. As an employment lawyer at Morgan Stanley, he saw many cases of discrimination on all sorts of grounds, and jumped at the chance to organise an LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning] resource within the company as an extracurricular role.
“It was a transformative experience,” he says. “I felt much more present, much more connected and much more alive in my work.” When he was asked to step out of his lawyer role to lead the company’s diversity program, he embraced it, he says. He later took those skills to Apple and then to Twitter, where his job includes helping the platform enable equality and diversity.
Source: Found Remote