Was Apple’s ‘Clarence-Thomas-Of-Tech’ Diversity Chief Fired?

Written by Staff

Six months into her job as Apple’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith has decided to resign. Or she was fired. Either way, she has drawn renewed attention to diversity leadership in tech.

Was Young Smith fired for her controversial remarks that appeared to defend Apple’s overwhelmingly white and male leadership?

If so, that raises so many questions.

Isn’t that what she was supposed to do in a public relations role?

Was she fired for failing to criticize the establishment?

How could she have misunderstood her role so completely?

Is Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global director of diversity, next? When Williams faced increased scrutiny about Facebook’s lack of diversity, she said the company is not in the business of giving away jobs. That comment didn’t help Facebook’s position with people of color.

Do a Google search and you’ll see that the word “fired” shows up maybe twice in 20 news reports related to Young Smith’s departure from Apple.

These are the comments that got Young Smith in trouble, made during a One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia:

“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

“Diversity is the human experience,” she said, according to Quartz. “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.”

Denise Young Smith. Photo: Getty

Young Smith’s remarks caused an outcry because they suggested that being a minority or a woman are not the only criteria for diversity, according to New York Post.

Young Smith apologized. She told staff that her comments “were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it.” In an email, she said, “More importantly, I want to assure you Apple’s view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.”

Young Smith’s comments do little to change Apple’s overwhelmingly white male leadership team, Daily Mail reported. In 2017, 3 percent of Apple’s leaders are Black. Women hold 23 percent of tech jobs and female leadership is at 29 percent, Apple said.

Half of Apple’s new hires are from historically underrepresented groups in tech, the company said in its latest diversity report.

“Meaningful change takes time,” the company said. “We’re proud of our accomplishments, but we have much more work to do.”

Young Smith’s replacement is Christie Smith, who will not report directly to CEO Tim Cook, but instead to human resources boss Deirdre O’Brien, according to Fortune.

Clarence Thomas as a metaphor for diversity

“The Black faces in Silicon Valley are in many cases no better than U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” digital media entrepreneur Jamarlin Martin said in a recent Moguldom opinion piece.

Martin identified two models in diversity leadership.

One is a shallow diversity model where the corporation hires a Black woman. An all-white group decides who is the best Black person or person of color to fill the role. That’s the Shallow Clarence Thomas Diversity Model. The other model keeps it real:

“The Shallow Clarence Thomas Diversity (SCTD) company usually just reacts to press scrutiny and rarely comes out with bold thinking about inequality, diversity and inclusion, internally or externally. The SCTD company may have all white members on its board of directors going into 2018 and may agree to hire a non-white after feeling pressure or following others. There is no real genuine conviction (Facebook).

The other model, KIRM — the Keeping It Real Model — has highly talented Black leaders with authenticity and connectivity to the broader Black business community, and Black People in general. They are star performers, they speak up, they criticize the establishment, and they have executive roles within the organization outside of the “diversity department.” They have their own identities with real power to make an impact within the organization.”

 

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