Tough Twitter diversity exec has driven 'snowflake' employees to TEARS

Tough-talking Twitter diversity exec brought in to shake-up company’s ‘too nice’ culture has driven ‘snowflake’ employees to TEARS

  • Dantley Davis, 43, has been Twitter’s head of design since 2019
  • He was brought on to shake up company culture and boost diversity efforts  
  • Company investigated complaints about a ‘culture of fear’ on Davis’ team
  • Attrition rate was high and workers said they felt ‘psychologically unsafe’ 
  • Worker who complained about him to CEO Jack Dorsey was ignored and ousted 
  •  Allegedly told Asian colleague she could ‘pass for white’ with sunglasses

A Twitter executive brought on to shake up the tech firm’s ‘kind but stagnant’ culture left staff in tears with his tough talk and meetings where they were encouraged to slate each other. 

Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis, 43, was accused of making workers feel ‘psychologically unsafe’ after blasting poor work, firing staffers he was unhappy with – and sending scathing criticism of them to their former bosses.

Davis, a top design executive with prior experience at Netflix, Yahoo! and PayPal, was hired by Twitter in 2019 as vice president of design, and has since been promoted.

He has spearheaded a number of product innovations, including audio tweets and prompts to encourage reading an article before sharing it.  

A champion of workplace diversity and inclusion who often tweets about the topic, Davis was brought on to improve Twitter’s diversity efforts as well as shake up the company culture.

Leaders felt that Twitter’s kind and collaborative culture had grown too soft and stagnant, with employees unwilling to offer constructive criticism for fear of offending, according to the Times.

Davis is a champion of workplace diversity and inclusion who often tweets about the topic

But Davis’ emphasis on tough criticism quickly had some workers in tears during a two-hour meeting soon after he was hired, according to three people present.

He went around a room asking workers to offer compliments and criticism of each other’s work. The New York Times reported that the barbs soon began to fly, with multiple staffers left sobbing.  

Davis’ tough approach was the subject of several company investigations, as well as complaints to Dorsey, the report said.  

Twitter officials admit that sometimes Davis took his tough approach too far, but say that he has promised to tone things down and note that he was hired to shake up the culture.

‘This is actually a Twitter culture change that we’ve been trying to drive,’ Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human resources, told the Times.

Davis pushed for improved performance on his team, and quickly demoted or fired workers he found unsatisfactory, often following up on terminations with a note to his team criticizing the fired employee’s poor work, according to the report.

Twitter Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis (left) allegedly told colleague Liz Ferrall-Nunge (right) that she could pass for white with sunglasses on, after she shared concerns about diversity and referenced her experience as a woman of color

By later 2019, complaints about a culture of fear under Davis spurred an investigation by Twitter’s employee relations unit.

Davis addressed the concerns in a lengthy note to his team in February 2020, praising Twitter’s friendly culture but saying that the design quality was often poor and honest feedback was stifled.

By early 2021, another internal investigation had been launched, prompted by unusually high rates of staff turnover on Davis’ team and higher rates of employees feeling ‘psychologically unsafe’ on annual surveys.

Christie, the HR boss, told the Times that such complaints are not unusual for Twitter employees across other teams. ‘They talk about fear or psychological unsafety,’ she noted.  

Workers also flagged another incident which saw Davis, who is black and Korean, tell former Twitter research team leader Liz Ferrall-Nunge, who is Asian, that she could pass for a white person if she wore sunglasses. 

Ferrall-Nunge had complained about a lack of diversity at Twitter and referred to her experience as a woman of color, but Davis, who is black and Korean, appeared to dismiss her with the sunglasses remark, the people said.

Twitter told the Times that did not have a record of complaints about the incident being made to employee relations, and Davis did not immediately respond to a request for comment from on Tuesday.  

In another incident described by the times, Nikkia Reveillac, the head of Twitter’s research department, complained to CEO Jack Dorsey this May that the culture on Davis’ team was toxic and his defensiveness made it hard to offer feedback.

Dorsey, whom Davis reports directly to, never responded to Reveillac, and weeks later she was abruptly locked out of her work accounts and fired, according to the Times.

Davis’ tough approach was the subject of several company investigations, as well as complaints to Twitter CEO Dorsey (above), according to a new report

 In March, following a tough year of the pandemic and an onslaught of death threats from extremists who believed he was responsible for kicking them off Twitter, Davis repented and announced he was moving away from his tough approach.

‘My goal is for us to transition to a team of belonging, which is less transactional and more focused on care and support,’ he told his team in an email obtained by the Times.

‘I was not celebrating wins, I was focused entirely on what was wrong,’ he added. ‘Since then, I spent some time working on this. We have been celebrating wins, we have been finding ways for the team to come together.’   

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