A gender discrimination lawsuit has been filed against Twitter by an ex-employee. She alleges that women are denied employment opportunities because Twitter has arbitrary promotion policies that favor men. This would be an unlawful practice.
The lawsuit has been filed by Tina Huang, who was staff software engineer for Twitter between October 2009 and June 2014. She said that she:
Worked on the mobile team which included the redesign of the mobile website and the creation of the SMS fast follow feature. Built the notifications service that currently sends all email, push and sms notifications at Twitter. Worked on the developer productivity team including work on the Twitter build system, pants, and thrift.
She has now filed a discrimination claim against her previous employer at a California state court. Her complaint states that the promotion system at Twitter has created a glass ceiling for women. She cannot find any justifiable explanation for this glass ceiling, and there is no clear business purpose for it. Indeed, there are no published promotion criteria with Twitter, nor are there any internal application processes, advancement or hiring processes for existing employees.
She has also claimed that she was not promoted in 2013, and that no explanation was given for this. After complaining about this situation to the CEO, she was put on indefinite leave.
Despite being one of Twitter’s oldest employees, Ms. Huang’s career at Twitter was irreparably derailed for making a complaint. After three months without explanation as to the status of the investigation, or mention of any possible time frame for her return to work, she felt she had no choice but to leave the company for the sake of her career.
In her complaint, she had highlighted her concerns about a perceived “tap on the shoulder” culture that exists within Twitter. She noted that many employees who are reasonably new to Twitter have been advanced to very senior positions, and all of these are men. Indeed, there are now seven men who have been advanced to senior staff engineer positions.
Huang has claimed that Twitter recognizes that they have a discrimination problem. Various internal diversity studies have been conducted, and these looked at the barriers that are in place, stopping women from advancing their careers. Additionally, the company is now providing training in “bias mitigation”.
A diversity report had been released by Twitter in the summer of 2014. In it, it was noted that the ratio of men to women is 70:30. The skew is even higher in tech employment, where the ratio is 90:10. Within leadership teams, the skew is 79:21, again favoring men.
Twitter has provided a statement in relation to Huang’s complaint, in which they explained that leadership had tried to persuade her to stay within the company, but she left voluntarily. Twitter claims to be fully committed to creating a diverse workforce, and they believe that Huang was treated completely fairly.
This particular case is the latest in a long line of sexism allegations against various Silicon Valley companies, particularly within the tech industry. Similar lawsuits had been started against Facebook, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Tinder and Google. Some of these suits have now been settled out of court, so it isn’t clear whether discrimination has been identified or not.
Various high profile cases are clearly popping up, however, and these certainly demonstrate that the tech companies need to have a stronger focus on diversity. This is supported by their own diversity reports. Indeed, these reports often also show that there is insufficient representation of ethnic minority groups, particularly in leadership positions across. The question is whether this is intentional or not.