As Twitter (TWTR) looks for new leadership, critics are blasting its latest efforts at improving how it recruits and retains women and people of color. On Friday the microblogging network committed to increase the percentage of women in global technology jobs from 13 percent to 16 percent and to raise underrepresented minorities in the U.S. workforce to 11 percent from the current 2 percent for African Americans and 3 percent for Latinos.
Twitter also committed to filling 25 percent of its leadership roles with women, up from 22 percent now. Company stats have showed its high-paying tech jobs were overwhelmingly held by white and Asian men.
"This has made it worse because they are handling it more as a PR problem rather than a human resources crisis," said Arisha Hatch, managing director with Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group that last year joined with Reverend Jessie Jackson calling on Twitter to release its diversity numbers.
Twitter is not the only high-tech company in the hot seat over diversity and gender bias. Silicon Valley companies have come under increasing scrutiny after industry leaders like Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) reported similar workforce demographics.
Last March, Tina Huang, one of Twitter's original 100 employees, filed a class action alleging that she had been unfairly denied a promotion despite stellar reviews and a spotless work history. Huang's supervisor had initiated the promotion process for her to senior staff engineer in the winter of 2013. But she was ultimately rejected.
According to the legal filings, Huang was sidelined from her work when she raised her concerns internally about Twitter's promotion process. She ultimately resigned in the spring of 2014.
"The company's promotion system creates a glass ceiling for women that can not be explained or justified by any reasonable business purpose, because Twitter has no meaningful promotion process for these jobs," according to Huang's California state court complaint filed in March. "Promotion opportunities at Twitter are by managerial fiat: employees are tapped on the shoulder for advancement."
"These latest target numbers are dismal. They have a lot of work to do," said Jason Lohr, Huang's attorney. "Twitter has not followed the law. Diversity is not just an app."
In a statement released when Huang's papers were originally filed, Twitter maintained that Huang "was treated fairly" and "resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay."
Currently, two of Twitter's top 10 executives are female: Katie Jacobs Stanton, vice president for global media, and Vijaya Gadde, general counsel. Back in December 2013, Twitter tapped Dame Marjorie Scardino, who chairs the MacArthur Foundation, to be the first woman on the eight-member board of directors. For 16 years, Scardino was the CEO of Pearson (PSO), an international education and media business.
Historically, women have been way underrepresented in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educational pipeline. Although women are missing from STEM academic disciplines, they've been outperforming men for decades when it comes to graduating from college, getting their masters and going on for their doctorate.
Despite the major leap in educational attainment for women, they hold just 12 percent of computer science degrees, according to Lisa Dezzutti, president of Women in Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group. "It starts very early in grade school on up," said Dezzutti, who noted that 45 percent of women who enter the tech field end up leaving.
"You might get tired of being the only woman in the room, and we have seen studies that document there is a perceived bias in their performance reviews," said Dezzutti. "Add in the male water cooler culture and the sports and golf outings, and you realize its not just one thing."
However, she added: "We are beginning to see signs things are changing. Of the top Fortune 100 companies, 24 percent have a female chief information officer."