Apple’s Head of Diversity Apologizes for Saying ‘12 White, Blue-Eyed Blond Men in a Room’ Are Diverse

Denise Young Smith said she gets frustrated when the term diversity is only "tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.”

Denise Young Smith

As the representation of Blacks, Latinos and women in Silicon Valley continues to move at a snail’s pace, Denise Young Smith, Apple’s vice president of inclusion and diversity, offered that “12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room” equates to diversity.

Representing the tech giant, whose leadership has historically been predominantly white and male, Smith — formally Apple’s head of HR and ultimately responsible for the company’s hiring — participated in the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia last week. Despite data showing that diversity — whether racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities — is critical for a company’s performance, she said diversity of thought might be enough.

During a panel discussion Aamna Mohdin of Quartz asked Smith if she would be focusing on groups of people, such as Black women, in attempts to make Apple more inclusive.

“I focus on everyone,” Smith responded. “Diversity is the human experience. 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 or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around…because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads.

“And I’ve often told people a story — there can be 12 white, blue-eyed blond men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation. The issue is representation and mix and bringing all the voices into the room that can contribute to the outcome of any situation.”

Smith has worked at Apple for 20 years and was just promoted to her D&I position in May. After hearing her comments, panelist DeRay McKesson, a Black Lives Matter activist, said that “white privilege” must be acknowledged when discussing diversity and representation, according to Quartz.

Twelve blue-eyed blond men in a room at Apple may be the norm. According to the company’s 2016 diversity report, its non-white workforce only grew by a percentage point compared to 2015. However, white employees in the U.S. increased by 2 percent to 56 percent. Black employees went from 8 to 9 percent, Latinos from 11 to 12 percent and Asians from 18 to 19 percent.

The percentage of Black managers based in the U.S. remained at 3 percent; the number of Latino managers in the U.S. increased slightly to 7 percent, up from 6 percent in 2015; and women managers at Apple remained at 28 percent globally.

In contrast, companies on the DiversityInc Top 10 list reported more than 31 percent of their total management included Blacks, Latinos and Asians, and 47 percent of their total management being women.

After the intense backlash from diversity advocates, Smith emailed a letter of apology to her team at Apple.

“Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion. … I regret the choice of words I used to make this point,” Smith said in a memo obtained by TechCrunch.

Read the complete letter

Apple Investor Seeks Diversity

On Feb. 7, USA Today published an op-ed by Apple investor Tony Maldonado titled, “My Hispanic son: Why is Apple so white at the top?”

“The unfortunate fact is that only 7 percent of Apple’s leadership is Hispanic and 3 percent Black,” Maldonado wrote.

“Only five out of Apple’s top 107 executives are Black, Hispanic, Native American or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

“The company’s eight-member board includes one Black man and two women (one of whom is Asian).”

Maldonado submitted a proposal at the Feb. 28 Apple shareholders meeting to increase diversity within management and on the board, calling the lack of diversity a “business risk.”

His proposal was rejected, receiving 4.91 percent of the votes this year, compared to the 5.1 percent of the votes the proposal received last year.

“Apple argued that its efforts to increase diversity are ‘much broader’ than the ‘accelerated recruitment policy’ that the proposal puts forth,” according to The Street. “Instead of focusing on Apple’s senior management and board, the company takes a more ‘holistic’ view extending to anyone who wants to work in the tech sector in the future.”

Investors, such as Maldonado, have been the ones pushing the needle toward diversity and inclusion on boards, according to PwC’s (No. 4 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) 2016 annual corporate survey.

The survey also highlighted the fact that having more women on boards means greater financial performance for a company.

“Research has shown that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of female directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of female directors,” the report states.

S&P 500 companies have approximately 19.9 percent of women serving on their boards, while women represent 31.4 percent of the boards of DiversityInc’s 2017 Top 10 companies.

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  • There is diversity in that room, but not as much as there could be if half were women (approximate to our population), or if one was black and/or African American, one Asian, one Native American, etc. I don’t think she needs to be beat up for saying something true without extra caveats. What someone looks like doesn’t equal fact about ethnicity or heritage, but sometimes it’s used as a proxy, and instead of taking immediate offense, we should listen for the spirit of the message.

      • Frank McCloskey

        Given the broader context of Apple’s D&I performance and the setting for when the question was asked and answered, I believed I would have personally responded differently.

    • It doesn’t matter how diverse in thought those men are. None of them have the experience of living as a Black, Hispanic, or Asian person. None of them, unless they had a change, have the experience of living as a woman. So, no, the necessary diversity is not there. There thoughts and opinions are not something that people can see on a daily basis. And as citizens of this country, their life experiences, although may be different, all have the same common thread of white male privilege.

  • monique matthews

    She is the wrong person for the job; if Apple or any company truly cared about diversity, this would not be a talking point. She successful, but puts me in the mind of someone like the Honorable Clarence Thomas.

  • Here we seeing the competing objectives of “diversity”. From the under-represented, the focus is being represented. For the organizations, it’s capitalizing off “diversity” through inclusion so the whole is greater than the sum. Somehow these two focus areas must align. Both sides sides must be considered to move forward an inclusive climate is the way forward.

    • There cannot be inclusion unless there is diversity. “Inclusion” is a lot like “unconscious bias”. There to make white people feel good about the horrendous current state.

      One example-more than half of 4 year degrees were earned by women since the late 1980s, yet there’s only 20% women in top management in Fortune 500 companies. Is that due to “unconscious bias”, or being treated like garbage and subjected to Trump/Ailes/Weinstein pussy grabbing?

      Nomenclature please.

  • Diversity of thought often not appreciated by the diversistas. Ask that Google guy, Damore. Or even ask that DiversityInc commenter, reibson.

  • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

    The grim fact is that in the corporate world those 12 guys are almost guaranteed to be upper-middle-class or better, that they did not experience serious childhood poverty or homelessness, that they went to good schools (private or affluent suburban) and colleges, that they are straight or closeted, that they have no known disabilities, etc. “Diversity of experience” should not just mean “You went to Yale and I went to Stanford and Jenkins here went to MIT” or “You played tennis and I played squash and Wentworth played polo.”

  • Cynthia Reyes

    It goes to show that context and word-choice matters – because she is right about the broad meaning of diversity. Diversity of thought is also diversity. But many people default to diversity as under/mis-representation of certain groups, and all of us who support diversity must remember that. The fact is that in this day and age, any team that’s made up of only one group feels outdated and irrelevant, and definitely not inclusive. You just know that something is wrong when you see a picture like that. If we truly plan for INCLUSION in our teams and organizations, we will see the difference soon enough.

  • Her comment reminds me of President Obama’s comment on Katrina — that it wasn’t a racial problem so much as an economic problem and that you needed to have someone doing your disaster planning that understood that some people couldn’t just throw a case of spring water in the SUV and evacuate.

    Yes, 12 white men can still be diverse because they come from different backgrounds but you still won’t get the depth of experience you would if you opened the party to everyone. If you can’t see that, you’re suffering from monovision.

  • As a college-educated African American female, there is a saying in our community that pertains to Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms like Denise Young Smith, Clarence ThomAss, “Colon” Powell, Omarosa, Oprah, Ben Carson, Whoopie, and Condoleeza Rice: White people can pay them a nickle to sell out their own people (or dear grandmother). They have no conscience and are sociopathic in their betrayal which directly targets the poor and needy in general or African Americans in particular.

    Racist whites in corporate AmeriKKKA [and the legal profession as judges] maliciously and intentionally hire Black sociopaths with latent inferiority complexes like Denise Young Smith to perpetuate white supremacy (also to do their dirty work). Blacks like those above flock to these jobs because they LOVE the praise of whites and the prospect of money and prestige more than they love themselves and the progress of their own people.

    More than likely she has a blond, blue-eyed white man in bed with her every night or voluntarily has sex with her blond, blue-eyed white boss. This is the reason some Blacks disapprove of interracial liaisons with white people; the racial betrayal of these psychotic blacks makes it impossible for them to be trusted to uphold the progress of their own race. Whites LOVE these O’Bama-type, Denise Smith race betrayers. They ALWAYS call on these Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Toms to justify their racism whenever there’s a race-related controversy. Racist whites hand them a script and these self-made, money-grubbing real ni@@ers proudly defend their white, modern-day slave masters.

    • Zazi – I was with you until you got to Whoopi. A man has to have limits and you reached mine. Whoopi?

      • Mark R: ZaziJams is a troll who frequently posts on Diversity threads. Thank goodness for search engines.

  • Her statement holds little value and does not properly represent diversity as it relates to application, forget definition. While I agree with the variety of ideas being a small piece, its more about the variety of perspectives you bring to the table that make the “room” diverse.” Speaking from experience, I’ve sat in the conference room with a bunch of white males, and the conversations prior to the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting, did not relate to any of the perspectives I shared, and they were appreciative. Actually its too funny, because they called it “out of the box” thinking. But who’s box?

  • 2 things immediately struck me (as in “hit”) with her statement:

    1) her phrasing “THE people of color” “THE women” “THE LGBT”. i re-read this statement several times to see if i could receive it in a non-objectifying manner. i could not and cannot conclude that the emphasis is mine.

    2) she forgot to include “THE disabled” as a major group required to be protected.

    regardless of the meaning that she may have mis-expressed, these 2 errors appear to me to be “fatal flaws” for anyone dealing with inclusion.

  • Smith should probably be let go. If she thinks the 12 white guys is representative enough to understand the needs, wants and desires of her company’s targeted demographic (which is pretty much everyone in the world) then the likelihood of her company being able to realize the maximum opportunity is not very good.

  • Educated but no damn common sense. If she isn’t willing to push diversity, why did she accept the position.

  • I totally understand what Smith was saying.
    Any group can be diverse due to age, sexual preferance, religion etc. It really shouldnt be about women or women of color. To mw that is short sided. If that is the measurement tgen you are just hitting numbers . .

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