SAN FRANCISCO — As part of its push for greater diversity in the tech industry and in its own ranks, Twitter has increased the number of women attending its annual mobile developer conference.
This year about 29% of attendees who registered for the Flight conference were women, up from about 18% in 2014, the company said Tuesday. The conference which is attended by more than 1,000 software developers kicks off Wednesday.
Twitter created a task force to encourage female developers to attend, reaching out to organizations working with women, underrepresented minorities and youth such as Girls Who Code and TechWomen, student groups and employee resource groups at other companies.
On the eve of the Flight conference, Twitter also held a #ILookLikeAnEngineer panel featuring a group of diverse engineers at its San Francisco headquarters. The panel was moderated by Twitter vice president of engineering Nandini Ramani.
Ramani says Twitter wanted to focus on increasing the representation of Latinos, African Americans, women and LGBT workers in tech. The #ILookLikeAnEngineer panel took its name from the popular hashtag that challenged popular stereotypes of engineers.
The panel was introduced by Twitter’s chief operating officer Adam Bain and was organized by Twitter’s employee resource groups: Alas for Latino and Latin American descent, Blackbird for the African diaspora, WomEng for women in engineering, TwitterOpen for the LGBT community and SWAT which stands for “super women at Twitter.” Last year Twitter hosted a #womeninflight panel.
“This year we are definitely taking it a step further,” Ramani said. “The problem is not just women. The problem is broader than that.”
Diversity may become an even higher priority under new chief executive Jack Dorsey, the Twitter co-founder who is also CEO and co-founder of digital payments company Square which recently revealed plans for an initial public offering.
As Square’s CEO, Dorsey recruited women to serve on his executive team and women and minorities to serve on the board of directors.
For example, of the five executives listed in Square’s initial public offering paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, three are women. In June, Square added Earvin “Magic” Johnson to its board of directors in a move that gave the company both star power and diversity at the top. In August, educator Ruth Simmons joined the Square board. Simmons was the president of Brown University until 2012 and the president of Smith College until 2000 where she established the first engineering program at an American women’s college.
Twitter faces growing pressure to increase diversity. The service is very popular among minorities. Blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans account for 41% of U.S. users, making Twitter more racially diverse than any other social network, including Facebook. More than a quarter of Black Internet users in the U.S. are on Twitter, a rate higher than other ethnic groups, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center.
Yet, like other major tech companies, Twitter’s workforce is mostly white and male. Asians make up about a third of its U.S. employees.
Over the past year, the percentage of women in its workforce and in technical roles increased. But the percentage of underrepresented minorities such as Blacks and Hispanics shrank 2 percentage points to 10%, down from 12% the previous year. Twitter says it’s aiming to increase those ranks to 11% by next year.
Twitter says it’s also looking to have 6% of U.S. leadership roles filled by underrepresented minorities. Currently it has no underrepresented minorities in those roles, a sharp decline from 4% last year.
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