Why do Blacks often leave tech companies once they break the glass ceiling? How about “it’s raining glass…”
This was the headline and opening paragraphs of a TechCrunch article last week: ‘Twitter Engineering Manager Leslie Miley Leaves Company Because Of Diversity Issues’. Twitter Engineering Manager Leslie Miley, the only black engineer in a leadership position at Twitter, just publicly announced that he has left the company. In his post, he says his reasons for leaving have everything to do with the way Twitter is addressing diversity and inclusion.
Though Miley was laid off as part of Twitter’s cuts in October, he says he had already told Twitter that he had planned on leaving at the end of October. He also passed on the severance package so that he could speak openly about his experience at Twitter. So, it seems as if Twitter was hoping to silence Miley by bundling him into the company’s layoffs.
A particular low moment for Miley, he wrote, happened when he asked a question at Twitter’s engineering leadership meeting about what specific steps Twitter engineering was taking to increase diversity. Twitter’s senior VP of Engineering responded, “diversity is important, but we won’t lower the bar.” Miley did not name names in his post. A visit to the leadership page on Twitter’s website will reveal that the company’s SVP of engineering is Alex Roetter.
A friend of mine knowing my own long and storied history with the tech industry asked me why would anyone leave after putting in all that hard work? It was a fair question and I had to think only for a second before telling her why. It’s something I have had to deal with working with technology firms for the last 30 years and have decided to get it off my chest.
Why do we leave? Because we’re not wanted.
We never are. And it’s hard to work someplace where there is a subtle but distinctive air of “Why don’t you just leave already? You know we don’t want you here. Why stay? We’re only going to make you miserable.”
And they do.
It’s statements such as: “diversity is important, but we won’t lower the bar.”
Ah, yes — because obviously people who don’t look or think or experience the world exactly the way you do can’t possibly be actually qualified for a given position.
It’s this subtle micro-aggression which Whites don’t see as utterly demeaning which pepper the workday of the average person of color who works in the technology industry.
Micro-aggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” was one of the litanies heard at any meeting I held regarding information technology. I was the head of several different companies IT departments at one time or another. Yet, it was the province of the lowest qualified White person who knew nothing about IT to be able to challenge any decision I made regarding my department, its staffing, our planning or our schedule for IT upgrades, revisions, or improvements.
It wasn’t as if they offered better suggestions. It wasn’t as if they could understand the answers I would present to them in justification for my actions. This was done purely as a statement to imply there was doubt in the project. No other staff leader EVER had to put up with this level of scrutiny.
Adding insult to injury, I had learned early in my career to put EVERYTHING in writing because my bosses would have selective memories about how the project was laid out when they needed to attempt to undermine it to prove my “inefficiency.”
As a result I had already written a treatise, usually an in-depth analysis of the plan, the project, the goals, the staffing required, the estimated downtimes, and the ultimate cost-benefit analysis long before the project was begun. So the statement “Are you sure?” was as much of an insult as you can get, because: Of course I was sure.
I wrote you a thirty page report indicating what my goals were. I spent three months preparing this report and analysis to refute this very statement! Most often, the analysis went unread by everyone on the management team.
Yes, this meant I worked in the most hostile environments possible and it didn’t grow easier as I moved up the food chain. In fact, the more I earned, the more overt the micro-aggressions became.
Yet, I wanted to be in this industry. The technology industry was on the forefront of the Human experience. Technology was changing the world, enabling the world to do things never before considered, helping people in ways we could scarcely imagine. I only knew there wasn’t any place in the world I wanted to be more than at the forefront of the tech industry. And I stand by that statement until this very day.
People were paying me for the knowledge they knew they would never want to learn.
So why would we leave?
Because most White men…
(yes, I don’t know every white man working in the tech industry, but I can make the assumption based on the thousands I have had the unfortunate opportunity to work with in my time in the tech industry, coupled with the dismal representation numbers of the world’s greatest tech companies as a supporting backdrop for the statement so I am okay with it)
…working in tech spend the bulk of their time justifying reasons why Black people can’t work there, can’t be hired there, don’t know enough to work there, can’t be trained to work there and lack the “cultural” affinity to work in a space where the Blacks are the minority.
What they really mean is:
- We don’t want to work with Black, Brown, minorities in anyway if we can help it.
- We have been trained from childhood that Blacks are inferior;
- which gets reinforced in our Ivy League schools where most of us attended because our parents were incredibly wealthy;
- And that most of their wealth is based on how effectively they leveraged their Whiteness and exploited minorities to grow wealthy.
- Hence the hypocrisy of Blacks not being good enough has more to do with their previous training and exploitation of People of Color more than it has to do with actual Black ability.
From where I sit, having worked in the tech industry for 30 years, I can safely say, I have NEVER worked anywhere that had more than three Black people in it at the same time in the same proximity, until I became a senior manager and mandated it to be possible, against the judgment of my superior.
When I was finally in those hallowed ranks of management: manager, director, vice president, senior vice president, my every breath, my every decision, my every suggestion was second-guessed, my every decision rigorously undermined and when I was able to be successful despite the lack of help or support from any of my other members of management.
I either got back-handed complements (also known as insults) or attempts to make my work their own (also known as appropriation). Many times, these insults would be bandied about at company functions over wine and cheese.
The real piss-me-off though lies in the supposition most of them had about my innate inferiority because I arrived at a position of power without an Ivy League education and support network.
Once they find this out, they become overtly hostile because what it really means is: I worked my way there.
- I worked my way to prominence against the oppression presented along the way by White people, against their often open hostility, against their absolute belief in my inferiority, despite their lack of support, and despite their attempts to sabotage my work.
- I arrived at the same level in the field they have, not by nepotism enjoying the benefit of my vice president title by way of my father who owns the company, or by cronyism where a frat brother gets me a job at the senior level because of our college affiliation.
- No. I arrived by long hours studying while working a part-time job. By tutoring rich kids in college while they sit in amazement saying “I don’t believe how smart you are.”
- By working crappy night jobs to pay off my educational loans I am so often reminded I got due to “reverse racism” or “affirmative action” taking away opportunity from more deserving White candidates.
I arrived at that senior VP office working late nights, two jobs, fourteen to eighteen hours a day for over a decade.
I arrived by DINT OF EFFORT. By way of the supposed meritocracy they claim makes the workforce equal but they know does not actually exist. I earned my way despite their constant opposition.
Merit does not get you a job in America. You can be as skilled as the days are long but it is the connection which makes the difference not your abilities. You have to have “the complexion that makes the connection” or you sit outside until you have a skill they literally can’t do without.
I have never met a White man who didn’t have a problem suggesting I was INFERIOR to him, despite the fact my path to success was through the most challenging route possible, fraught with racism, attacks on my character and occasionally my person. But they have no problems saying so. They do it in subtle ways. Ways designed to make you angry, to undermine your self confidence. Ways just shy of harassment but you as the subject of that harassment know exactly what they are doing when they do it. And they know it too.
One day, when lesser aggressions would not do, I have had a senior manager call me a nigger to my face. I expect his efforts were meant to cause me to lose my cool. He wanted me to punch his lights out, call me aggressive and get me fired.
I laughed. I told him: I have been called nigger for free. You are going to pay me a six figure salary for the privilege. I took his insult to the bank.
Trust me, People of Color don’t WANT to leave such companies when we finally arrive there. We have sacrificed so much to get there. Time with our families, often our health suffers due to the hours, the commutes and the overwhelming stress of putting up with assholes who we know shouldn’t be allowed to walk dogs in public, let alone run multi-million dollar corporations.
We are driven out, sometimes by the entire management staff once they realize we defy the myth of Black Inferiority and undermine the Myth of White Superiority. And we don’t plan to dumb down our accomplishments to play “Step and Fetch It.”
White men are in love the idea they are the best thing that ever happen to America, they are the keepers of the Flames of Knowledge from the hands of the inferior minorities who might otherwise sully American greatness. This is why companies like Twitter have 85% men running their company when the world is 50% women. They don’t like to be told they’re wrong.
Judging by the number of White men who have spent their careers getting rich from my work, White American greatness is either vastly overrated, or the people who made America great, as usual aren’t getting the credit.
White men would rather watch their company go down in glorious startup flames (absconding with as much wealth as possible while this happens, usually through insider trading) than hire someone who will challenge their world view of Great White Maleness. And from where I been watching, Twitter may get the opportunity to burn in the venture capital fires of their arrogance.
There are plenty of People of Color out there who would love to tell you their stories. But they have jobs they are trying to keep.
But know, as long as the hostility of White men in these corporations remains the status quo, as long as companies recruiting staffs have mandates which say: “We only want people whose names sound like these, and people who have gone to these particular Ivy League schools — another way of saying ‘only Whites need apply’” the numbers will remain skewed, the workforces will remain minimally minority and those industries will continue to remain hostile to new and maybe even better ideas.
And the irony is not lost on me. These are the same people saying: We can’t find any people of color who are qualified. Of course not. The major qualification is to be ‘White’. We’ll never qualify for that.
I say, get your marshmallows ready: there gonna be a lot of bonfires to stand around real soon. Maybe when enough venture capitalists lose enough money to the Great White Unicorns in the sky, maybe they will mandate a bit of diversity on their investment.
Dickey, Megan Rose. “Twitter Engineering Manager Leslie Miley Leaves Company Because Of Diversity Issues.” Techcrunch.com. N.p. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <techcrunch.com/2015/11/03/twitter-engineering-manager-leslie-miley-leaves-company-because-of-diversity-issues/>
Biddle, Sam. “Twitter Is So Hopelessly White Its Only Black Engineering Boss Just Quit in Protest.” Gawker.com. N.p. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <http://gawker.com/twitter-is-so-hopelessly-white-its-only-black-engineeri-1740617917>
“Microaggressions: More than Just Race.” Psychologytoday.com. N.p. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race>
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based speculative fiction author and technology consultant who has worked with computers since the 1980’s as a graphic designer, teaching computer science, managing developers, building sophisticated computer networks and as an IT executive. He has published two speculative fiction books, Hayward’s Reach and Broken Glass.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, Panel and Frame, Science X and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.
Thaddeus is a popular and well-read writer on the Q&A site Quora.com in over fifty subjects. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over a thirteen hundred articles in a four year period.
He is an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here. He also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on Medium.com.
This article originally appeared on Medium for Human Parts.