The XX Factor

Twitter CEO Speaks Out About His Company’s Woman Problem by Telling a Carrot Top Joke

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo shouldn’t just promote tweets

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Twitter filed its initial public offering last week, drawing back the curtain on the cadre of top officials who run the social media site. As Claire Caine Miller reports at the New York Times, they are overwhelmingly male: “The board? All white men. The investors? All men. The executive officers? All men but for the general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, who has had the job for five weeks.”

Miller outlines a number of barriers to getting female employees into the most powerful jobs in tech—namely, that they’re still grossly underrepresented on the bottom rungs, too, meaning that the pipeline isn’t exactly gushing with future female execs. Miller also quotes Stanford Rock Center for Corporate Governance fellow Vivek Wadhwa, who is working on a book about women in tech, and is unimpressed by that excuse. “This is the elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia, the Twitter mafia,” Wadhwa says. “It’s the same male chauvinistic thinking. The fact that they went to the I.P.O. without a single woman on the board, how dare they?”

Twitter declined to comment on Miller’s story. But on his own platform, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo hit back at Wadhwa personally. His response: “Vivek Wadhwa is the Carrot Top of academic sources.”

Achieving racial and gender diversity in the tech industry is a serious challenge. Responding to that challenge by comparing an Indian-American who has launched a book-long project about gender issues in tech as a clownish, irrelevant, ghostly-white dude? That means you’re not up to the task. As one critic tweeted at Costolo: “I thought [Costolo] cared about including women.” But “even if [he] doesn’t care about including women, I thought he was socially savvy enough to respond, ‘We can all do better.’”

As tech entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash noted, a personal attack on Wadhwa fails to neutralize his central critique. After all, everyone is capable of counting to zero. But Costolo’s response maligns more than just Wadhwa. When a CEO refuses to respond to questions about gender representation at his company except by way of a not-very-zingy zinger, he sends a message to women that he is not serious about hiring them. We’re a long way off from the equal representation of women in tech, and getting there is hard work. In the meantime, let’s at least expect the CEOs of major tech companies to refrain from directly alienating women through condescending tweets. That’s a piece of cake.