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Published 08 October 2013 10:05, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has been engaged in a spat with some prominent online identities over the lack of women on the board of the social media company. Photo: Reuters
A spat between Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and some prominent online identities over the lack of women on the board of the social media company is a wake-up call for business leaders.
Costolo took to Twitter on October 5 to defend his company against criticism made in a New York Times article by Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance.
The article by Claire Cain Miller, quoted Wadhwa as saying: “This is the elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia, the Twitter mafia. It’s the same male chauvinistic thinking. The fact that they went to the IPO without a single woman on the board, how dare they?”
Costolo retorted with a tweet:
@rich1 Vivek Wadhwa is the Carrot Top of academic sources.— dick costolo (@dickc) October 5, 2013
“Carrot top”, according to the Urban Dictionary, refers to a person who is regarded as extremely obnoxious.
Social media entrepreneur Anil Dash took the CEO to task for criticising the academic and for not taking the lead on issues of gender equity, noting that Twitter executives such as head of international strategy, Katie Jacobs Stanton, and head of media, Chloe Sladden: “are women that a public market would be crazy not to want on a board”.
Sorely disappointed to see @dickc respond defensively to criticisms of industry sexism. Why not just lead, as Twitter does on free speech?— Anil Dash (@anildash) October 5, 2013
Criticizing @wadhwa as an advocate for inclusion on the grounds of academic rigor is ridiculous; all of us can count up zero board seats.— Anil Dash (@anildash) October 5, 2013
Then, as Buzzfeed reported, after some argy bargy the academic jumped in:
.@dickc No Dick, it isn't about checking a box and you didn't do enough. You have a social responsiblity. You have to lead--not make excuses— Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa) October 5, 2013
The issue “went off”, as they say, and more people piled into the argument about whether sexism is embedded in the company, while Costolo complained that the issue was much bigger than “checking a box”.
@wadhwa you're not seeing my point. you give people an easy out by just checking a box. The issues are much bigger than checking any 1 box.— dick costolo (@dickc) October 5, 2013
In an article for TechCrunch, Wadhwa, expands on the issue of sexism in Silicon Valley:
“Costolo isn’t alone in the way he responds to criticism about sexism. Here is the harsh reality: Silicon Valley is a boys’ club – a fraternity of the worst kind. It stacks the deck against women. It leaves out blacks and Hispanics. And it provides unfair advantage to an elite few who happen to be connected,” he writes.
“Yes, it is also one of the most diverse places on this planet, where anyone can strike it big. But that opportunity only comes of learning the Valley’s rules of engagement and mastering them. Very few can.”
The fact that this issue has now been reported all around the world should be a warning for those who are yet to take the issue of diversity seriously.
Granted, the IT industry has challenges in achieving a fair and representative gender (and ethnic) balance in its executive ranks, with the difficulties of attracting women into the technical areas of the business.
Costolo is right when he says it is not about “ticking boxes”, the issues are complex and hard to solve. However, part of the solution lies in the signals that are displayed by employers.
And, while many IT companies have led the way in their efforts to recruit, develop and promote dynamic women, a board stacked only with men and a flippant response from a CEO to criticism does not go down well any more.
It just becomes embarrassing.