Can CEO Tim Cook Move From Transparency To Action And Make The Apple Workforce More Diverse?

Written by Dana Sanchez

Apple CEO Tim Cook got personal about diversity and inclusion Thursday while visiting his alma mater, Auburn University, saying in an interview with the student newspaper that he hadn’t yet accepted his sexuality as a gay man when he attended Auburn in the 1980s.

Recently, some Apple shareholders have been pressuring the company to increase minority representation on Apple’s board and among Apple’s executives, Business Insider reported.

Cook spent most of his speech talking about diversity, specifically about how Apple has worked to build a culture of diversity that helps create great products, according to 9 to 5 Mac. He said many people who are Apple engineers and computer scientists are also musicians and artists:

“We believe you can only create a great product with a diverse team,” Cook said, “and I’m talking about the large definition of diversity. One of the reasons Apple products work really great – I hope you think they work really great – is that the people working on them are not only engineers and computer scientists, but artists and musicians.

It’s this intersection of the liberal arts and humanities with technology that makes products that are magical.”

After the speech, Cook discussed diversity, issues facing gay people, and engineering education in an exclusive interview with the  Auburn Plainsman‘s Corey Williams.

If more women don’t enter science and engineering fields, Cook said he believes the gender imbalance at tech companies could hurt the American tech industry.

Apple’s top management is largely white and male, but the overall workforce is becoming more diverse, Apple Insider reports.

Apple released employment diversity statistics in November. Data showed that 73 of Apple’s top 107 executives and senior managers are white males. Just 20 are females, 15 of whom are white; 14 are Asian, three are black or African American and one is Hispanic.

The results were largely unchanged from the previous year “despite a very public push for diversity in the workplace,” Apple said. “It appears progress is being made below the company’s upper echelons, however.”

Apple’s middle management jobs are still dominated by white males — 48 percent — but 18 percent are white women. Minorities are better represented with 23 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent black and 1 percent multiracial.

Cook did not discuss his personal life until three years ago in a Bloomberg editorial, where he publicly identified himself as a gay man:

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Cook told the Plainsman that he is disturbed by gender disparities in science, technology, engineering and math careers. “Not just at Auburn, but throughout the country”:

‘I think the U.S. will lose its leadership in technology if this doesn’t change,’ Cook said. ‘Women are such an important part of the workforce. If STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related fields continue to have this low representation of women, then there just will not be enough innovation in the U.S. That’s just the simple fact of it.'”

Cook added that he believes job growth for engineers and scientists will “outpace all others by a fair amount for the foreseeable future.”


Explaining away lack of diversity

Three explanations are commonly used to explain away or minimize the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, says Maya Beasley, a fellow at the policy institute, the Center For American Progress:

  1. Diversity is an issue everywhere.
  2. There is a lack of qualified black workers.
  3. The tech sector is investing in diversity initiatives that will yield results soon.

“Some in the tech sector in Silicon Valley make claims to justify the lack of diversity in their work forces,” Beasley said. “The claims include that it is a nationwide problem as a result of an insufficient educational pipeline and that training biases out of individuals involved in hiring decisions can help alleviate it.

“Yet most of these claims lack empirical evidence. And in fact, the claims are inconsistent when measured against one another. One cannot simultaneously say diversity can be solved through training while also asserting a lack of qualified people of color are available to hire. And these claims are easily dispelled with actual data.

“The lack of diversity is not an issue everywhere. Indeed, most tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley are noticeably more racially diverse,” Beasley said:

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Silicon Valley’s tech workforce is 2.2 percent black and 4.7 percent Hispanic. In comparison, Houston’s metropolitan area tech workforce is 11.9 percent black and 12.6 percent Hispanic, and the New York metropolitan area’s tech workforce is 7.3 percent black and 9.6 percent Hispanic. The Atlanta and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas both have large numbers and proportions of black tech employees—20.6 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. Miami and Los Angeles are each comprised of a high number and proportion of Hispanic workers as well, at 29.9 percent and 12.7 percent. All of these metropolitan areas employ 1.5 times to 3.3 times the number of black and Hispanic tech workers as Silicon Valley.”

Apple says it’s trying

Toward greater inclusion, Apple says it launched an “Inclusion & Diversity” campaign. It also curates and publicizes employment statistics that claim to show “slight improvements in hiring practices as part of an overall upward trend toward a more diverse workforce.” Apple says 37 percent of new global hires are female, while women account for 32 percent of the company’s existing employees. In the U.S., underrepresented minorities account for 27 percent of new hires.

In the past year Apple says it identified and closed pay gaps to reach pay equity between men and women in the U.S. The company is analyzing salaries, bonuses and annual stock grants of employees worldwide, promising to fix any gaps that are discovered.