Facing Big Tech Regulatory Scrutiny And Attacks, Apple Follows Facebook With Racial Equity Investment

Facing Big Tech Regulatory Scrutiny And Attacks, Apple Follows Facebook With Racial Equity Investment

Facing Big Tech Regulatory Scrutiny And Attacks, Apple Follows Facebook With Racial Equity Investment Photo: (AP Photo/John Locher)

Despite continued promises and initiatives to hire more Black people, big tech continues to have poor representation. As many tech firms face regulatory scrutiny, some are taking some new actions. Apple, like Facebook, has just launched a new Racial Equity and Justice Initiative project that it says will “challenge systemic racism” and “advance racial equity nationwide.”

Apple rolled out the next big investment to come out of its $100 million commitment to racial equity and justice, The Verge reported. The project includes:

  • The launch of an Apple Developer Academy in Detroit
  • Founding support for an Atlanta tech hub for HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities)
  • New grants, scholarships, and investments for Black students and entrepreneurs.

These new projects will help create a pipeline to Black talent, and thus increase the number of Black people as company employees, Apple said.

Over the past six years, big tech has been tracking diversity and publishing diversity reports but very little has changed. Black representation at Facebook went from 3 percent to 3.8 percent of workers in the past five years, CNBC reported. In May and June 2020, Facebook promised to spend $200 million to support Black-owned businesses and organizations in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

While Apple’s workforce is 9 percent Black, Black people in leadership roles account for 3 percent.

“One flaw is not thinking about it from the outset of the company formation. That’s having ripple effects that are now being seen several years later,” Richard Kerby, general partner at Equal Ventures, told CNBC. “You’re not seeing movement because it’s not being tracked or monitored — there’s no incentive alignment for someone to improve on the numbers.”

The new projects, according to Apple, will change this.

Twitter reacted to the news.

“While I applaud the thought, $100mm represents 0.5% of the available cash that Apple has,” a user tweeted. “This is a token of what can be done for the cause. Focus should also be on promoting people of color to the upper ranks of the organization. That will provide role models for our youth.”

The Apple Developer Academy in Detroit will be the “first of its kind in the U.S.,” Apple stated in a press release. 

The academy is focused on “young Black entrepreneurs, creators, and coders” and will feature training in iOS app development. Apple expects the academy to teach around 1,000 students annually.

Another Apple project is in Atlanta, where the company is partnering to help launch the Propel Center, a tech-focused hub for HBCUs. This center will offer in-person and online courses focused on technology, entertainment, and business. It’ll be located in the Atlanta University Center that links four HBCUs — Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine. Additionally, Apple will be offering grants for HBCU engineering programs and is expanding its scholarship program with a focus on underrepresented communities.

Apple also announced new grants and investments including a $10-million investment with Harlem Capital, a VC firm with the goal of “investing in 1,000 diverse founders over the next 20 years.” Apple also earmarked $25 million for Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund, which is focused on minority-owned businesses.

On Twitter, some respondents were unimpressed.

“Apple hasn’t provided a diversity report for their employee base since 2018. The best way big tech can contribute to racial equity in tech is by both diversifying their ranks & investing in startups helmed by URMs. $10M to 1000 startups over 20 years?” tweeted Dare Obasanjo, partner group program manager at Microsoft.

Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t address that when he described the initiative. “We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world — and these new projects send a clear signal of Apple’s enduring commitment,” said Cook said. “We’re launching REJI’s (Racial Equity and Justice Initiative) latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple.”

In June 2020, Apple announced REJI in the wake of protests around the world following the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, according to the Apple website.

“Every individual deserves equal access to opportunity regardless of skin color or zip code,” said Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, Lisa Jackson, who is leading REJI. “For too long, communities of color have faced gross injustices and institutional barriers to their pursuit of the American dream, and we are proud to lend our voices and resources to build new engines of opportunity that empower, inspire, and create meaningful change.”

Apple’s investment is more about bragging rights than moving the needle, Abasanjo suggested. “That Apple’s investment effort boils down to $500K/year of startup investments given to 50 URM helmed companies per year won’t move the needle. There are individual FAAMNG employees who can afford to do that much and brag about it on their Twitter bios.”