Queer Your Tech Company: Face-Palming Over Apple’s Diversity


Feature image via Shutterstock.

Apple, the beloved tech giant headed by out CEO Tim Cook, is taking heat this week after its board voted against a shareholder proposal to adopt an accelerated recruitment policy that would “increase the diversity of senior management and its board of directors.”

Knowing that Apple lost its Diversity & Inclusion Director, Jeffrey Siminoff, to Twitter at the end of 2015 only makes the board’s argument that much more laughable; they called the proposal “unduly burdensome and not necessary,” citing existing “much broader” efforts and initiatives to foster diversity across Apple, now and in the future. Like not having a suitable replacement when Twitter swiped your guy to replace a woman after laying off their last and only African-American in an engineering leadership position? Yikes. (For those tempted to point out that Siminoff is gay, read this, this or even this and keep in mind that I was once the Diversity & Inclusion Committee chair at an LGBTQ nonprofit; I’ve seen firsthand what gay white men — and women — are capable of when status quo is challenged.)

Apple seems to truly believe that its vast plethora of Diversity & Inclusion efforts — and they are impressive, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in helping NCWIT launch Latinas in Technology, providing scholarships to and hiring from public and private HBCUs, and doing their darnedest to inspire kids from an early age with unfettered access to hands-on STEM programs — gives them a pass to gloss over the severe lack of parity at the top.

It doesn’t. Not when research shows that barely half of all black and Hispanic graduates with computer science degrees from leading universities are being hired by major technology companies, despite statements like this from Tim Cook himself: “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product; I firmly believe that.” If that’s truly the case, why is Apple’s tech staff comprised of just 7% and 8% Hispanic and black employees, respectively? Why are only 9% of them combined in leadership roles (three times what was reported in 2014)? Why do women make up an abysmally low 28% of leadership when even Slack, who’ve publicly struggled with the reality of their own lackluster diversity, has a whopping 41% in comparison?

It’s wonderful that Apple is so focused on shoring up a diverse pipeline for future generations, that Tim Cook seems to be genuinely invested in giving charitably, but when Pinterest is light years ahead of Apple in terms of data-driven diversity efforts, with real metrics and quantifiable goals for measuring success, they lose any credibility they’ve worked for when they dismiss attempts to diversify leadership as “unduly burdensome and not necessary.”

Candice Morgan understands this. She’s the new Head of Diversity for Pinterest, boasting ten years of global experience as senior director and consultant for Catalyst, a leading nonprofit for women in business based in Zurich and on Wall Street. She’s also a black woman. “Diverse teams — in terms of demographics and thought — outperform homogeneous teams on innovation and problem solving,” she said in a statement. Morgan will oversee two new recruitment programs and Pinterest will continue to employ the Rooney Rule (interviewing at least one woman and one underrepresented minority for each open leadership position), moving away from nuisances like whiteboarding exercises in interviews and traditional employee referral programs, which tend to exacerbate the lack of diversity in hiring.

Firms like Paradigm, who work with Pinterest and Slack, provide tech companies with sound guidance that starts with holding leadership accountable, not giving them a pass, and tracks internal data to monitor other key indicators of thriving diversity, like retention and advancement (would you want to stay at a company that didn’t give you an equal job title and equal pay for equal work?). When you incentivize leaders by making sure their success depends on the success — and growth — of their own teams, everybody wins.

…Or everybody loses. In early January, the Harvard Business Review published a study with the truly epic damning headline: Diversity Policies Rarely Make Companies Fairer, and They Feel Threatening to White Men.

The most commonly used diversity programs do little to increase representation of minorities and women. A longitudinal study of over 700 U.S. companies found that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women.

Wait, what? The article goes on to say that “even when there is clear evidence of discrimination at a company, the presence of a diversity policy leads people to discount claims of unfair treatment.” In a follow-up experiment, they found evidence that the mere mention of “pro-diversity values” made “white men believe that women and minorities are being treated fairly — whether that’s true or not — it also makes them more likely to believe that they themselves are being treated unfairly.”

WAIT, WHAAAAAT?! Hang on, it gets worse:

Compared to white men interviewing at the company that did not mention diversity, white men interviewing for the pro-diversity company expected more unfair treatment and discrimination against whites…And their cardiovascular responses during the interview revealed that they were more stressed.

Thus, pro-diversity messages signaled to these white men that they might be undervalued and discriminated against. These concerns interfered with their interview performance and caused their bodies to respond as if they were under threat. Importantly, diversity messages led to these effects regardless of these men’s political ideology, attitudes toward minority groups, beliefs about the prevalence of discrimination against whites, or beliefs about the fairness of the world. This suggests just how widespread negative responses to diversity may be among white men: the responses exist even among those who endorse the tenets of diversity and inclusion.

What fascinates me is looking at this in the context of an especially vile and persistent one-way dynamic in tech and gaming, in which women and minorities authoritatively know and do and accomplish incredible things yet are constantly made to defend or prove their merit, skill and excellence at all times. And to whom? People who we now know feel literally physically threatened and diminished by the idea of sharing a sphere with anyone who doesn’t look like them? For anyone who’s ever wondered how institutionalized racism is fertilized, incubated and then hatched into an infinite smog of halted social progress, economic growth and systemic oppression, there you go.

“It’s not that diversity policies are useless, it’s that they have to be grounded in science and evaluated to ensure they’re actually making a difference,” Carissa Romero, a partner at Paradigm, told the Huffington Post last week.

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excerpt from the Notice of 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders and Proxy Statement via Apple

Nowhere was that reflected in Apple’s 102-page Notice of 2016 Annual Meeting of Shareholders and Proxy Statement. In fact, it was reported elsewhere that they responded to the shareholder proposal by calling it an attempt to micromanage recruitment, but if Apple doesn’t put it to a shareholder vote, they might have the SEC to contend with (which sounds like a real — as opposed to perceived — threat to me).

While the 2015 Federal Employer Information Report EEO-1 hasn’t been made public yet, the 2014 version shows Apple’s white leadership at 87%. Of course, Tim Cook prefers that you use his numbers, publicly available on their Diversity & Inclusion page — those paint it an optimistic 63%, and we’ll have to see if they align with the official 2015 findings once that report’s released.

In the meantime, there’s a tiny paragraph on the Apple website, hidden at the very bottom of the What We’re Doing Today Diversity & Inclusion page. In it, Apple proudly declares that its partnerships with small, diverse financial firms are prized for their “strong ideas and points of view” that “gives us a broader financial picture and makes us more informed. We rely on these firms for some of our most crucial transactions.” Four firms named, four unique backgrounds cited, two co-managed bond offerings totaling a breathtaking $14.5 billion in four months’ time.




African American-owned.

It’s a tiny spark of hope; someone in the ranks gets it. Enough to list those names and their firms, enough to center diversity in leadership to the tune of over $14 billion. I just hope they know we’re rooting for them.

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Aja Aguirre is a perpetual late bloomer from SF who writes about style, fashion and beauty for Autostraddle. Her award-nominated style blog, Fit for a Femme, takes on both coasts' signature styles and draws on her experience as a personal stylist. Check out Instagram for her latest looks, and Twitter or Tumblr for QPOC Speakeasy x Femme Power vibes.

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    Very Interesting! Id love to hear more about this… and any working solutions. I think this is something Europe will massively experience in the coming years, as they realise the educational and professional qualifications of it’s new migrant-refugee population. It could be a disaster waiting to happen or a breath of fresh air and opportunity.

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    “Diversity Policies Rarely Make Companies Fairer, and They Feel Threatening to White Men.”

    This may seem ridiculous, but it’s a bit true. I also think it leads to some really shallow and what feels to me, personally demeaning recruiting styles. I feel like companies let it be known what they’re looking for and they go out of their way to find what they consider to be members of the LGBTQ or people of color, which may feel exclusive. I feel like it’s often about what someone looks like. Candidates for positions may be weak or ill suited. It creates bad work place environment in my opinion.

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    Thanks for publishing this post!

    I am queer and Asian American, and I work in the tech industry for a very successful international company. I’ve been here in Engineering for nearly 3 years, and every day for the past while I ask myself why I am still here. There’s maybe 7 women in an office of ~75, I’m the only out queer person, and the company’s senior leadership is all male, all white save for one. In meetings and in entire sections of the office building, I’m surrounded by all males. It’s dreadfully isolating and I’ve shrunk back socially to avoid being exposed to microaggressions. When people try and ask me what’s wrong, and I try to explain, I get 1 or 2 things: 1. disbelief/combating/discrediting of my experiences, or 2. demand for me provide them a 101 in racism/sexism/transphobia/homophobia/my gender/etc.

    I’m also part of a nascent female employee-led diversity and inclusion advocacy group, and pushing for change akin to pushing a boulder up a big hill. And, the people in power really don’t get it. I also read the HBR article about how the implementation of diversity initiatives can backfire and hurt the cause. It’s hard not to feel truly disheartened in light of this new research – it feels like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Today while doing some research for the group, I googled “cultural sensitivity training” and the 1st result is written by a white woman who sneers at the idea that white people have the burden to be sensitive/respectful/knowledgable of other people and their cultures.

    I haven’t worked extensively in many other industries, but the tech industry is where I happened to be working when I developed a social justice framework. The entitlement here runs so strong. Most people (OK straight while males) are terrified of talking about the rampant white privilege, male privilege, hetero privilege, able bodied privilege, etc. in the work space. What’s also important to note is that representation doesn’t lead to fairness or inclusion. And the temptation for people of all depts/genders/race to blame it all on “the pipeline”, but that is merely the way corporations and the entire industry can absolve themselves of any responsibility. I have a fantasy that all the women/GNC’s/queers/POC will all agree to exit and then start our own industry, cause the core of the existing one is rotten. But doing so requires capital, and who holds all the capital…? Right.

    It’s getting better. BS will always needed to be called out. At the end of the day, I have a stable job with lots of perks that fulfills my basic needs. But emotionally, I don’t know if I can hold on long enough to be around to see a newer day in tech. But as long as I’m here, I’m gonna keep pushing.

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