When you’re Apple’s VP for diversity and inclusion and you make public comments that seem to downplay the importance of advocating for underrepresented groups in the workplace, you’re going to get blowback.
That’s what Denise Young Smith did, and she has apologized to employees in an email, obtained by TechCrunch and confirmed as accurate to SiliconBeat by an Apple spokesman Monday.
The controversial comments, as reported by Quartz last week:
“I focus on everyone,” Smith said at a summit in Bogota, Colombia, when she was asked about whether she would focus on black women at Apple. (She is black.) “Diversity is the human experience,” she went on. “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.”
She then said “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde 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.”
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But Apple, like many other giant companies, is already majority white and male. Of course those males can have different perspectives and experiences. But Silicon Valley has in the past few years measured progress in its push to diversify its workforce by the increase (or lack thereof) in numbers of the very groups Smith expressed feeling “frustrated” about when it comes to characterizing diversity.
“Do you even know what ‘diversity’ means?” wrote Michael Herrot at the Root, a magazine for African-American culture. “If literally anything can be diverse, then there is no such thing as diversity.”
In her apology email, Smith said, “I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense. My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I’m sorry.”
Apple’s workforce demographics in 2016, according to its latest diversity report, were not much different from previous years, and some of the numbers actually declined from the year before.
- Overall, 56 percent white, 19 percent Asian, 12 percent Hispanic, 9 percent black and 3 percent multi-racial and other.
- Its workforce is 68 percent male and 32 percent female.
- Makeup of tech workforce: 55 percent white, 27 percent Asian, 8 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black.
- The company’s leadership is 67 percent white, 21 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black.
- Makeup of retail workforce: 59 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black and 7 percent Asian.
Smith, who has worked for Apple since 1997, in May became the company’s first vice president for diversity. She had been VP of human resources for the company. She is the only black person on Apple’s executive profiles page on its website.
“Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone,” Smith also said in her email to employees Friday.
Photo: Denise Young Smith, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Apple. (Courtesy Apple)
Tags: Apple, Denise Young Smith, diversity