Apple’s biggest surprise at WWDC: Diversity

Apple’s biggest surprise at WWDC: Diversity

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple, famous for parading white male executives across the stage at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, changed things up on Monday, succumbing to growing pressure not just to talk about diversity but to actually show some.

At WWDC, two female Apple executives joined Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and other mostly white male executives on stage in presenting the company’s products to software developers.

Jennifer Bailey announced developments with Apple Pay and Susan Prescott unveiled the company’s News mobile app during the keynote presentation.

Their appearances marked the first time women executives from Apple took the stage at WWDC.

Apple also featured a surprise performance by The Weeknd, a Canadian singer and songwriter of Ethiopian descent as well as a cameo from rapper Drake.

But the increased diversity did not appease some critics who noted that Apple did not have any minority executives on stage apart from longtime Apple executive Eddy Cue, who is Cuban American.

Apple is broadly seen as playing catch up to Google, which has led the way in increasing diversity at corporate technology conferences.

At its recently held developers conference I/O, the Internet giant featured three women on stage: Aparna Chennapragada, director of product management; Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president of engineering; and Ellie Powers, product manager for Google Play developers.

Women were not just prominent on stage at I/O, they also were a bigger part of the audience, with their ranks swelling to 23% of attendees from 8% two years ago.

Apple spokeswoman Rachel Wolf declined to discuss the gender breakdown of WWDC attendees.

“Not having women involved and represented in companies who build products for women — whether it’s in the board room, on the engineering team, or on the conference stage — is short-sighted,” said diversity consultant Joelle Emerson. “In the conference context, the lack of women is often so remarkable that it becomes totally distracting.”

And it had started to become very distracting for Apple.

Criticism over the lack of women or underrepresented minorities on stage at Apple events has dogged the company for years, yet management largely ignored the issue — until now.

With the nation’s demographics dramatically shifting and with global ambitions swelling, technology companies have begun to pay a lot more attention to the optics of presenting such a homogeneous face to the world.

And, at a time when technology companies are competing for top talent, it’s difficult to make the case that your company has a career pathway for women and underrepresented minorities when the spotlight is always trained on white men.

Apple, like most Silicon Valley technology companies, has a diversity problem.

Less than a third of Apple’s global work force is female, according to demographic data Apple released in August.

In the U.S., more than half of its staff is white and 15% is Asian. The number of African American and Hispanic employees is higher than other major high-tech companies. African Americans account for 7% and Hispanics for 11% of staffers.

But those higher numbers are likely due to greater diversity among retail workers in its company stores. Unlike most other technology companies, Apple has refused to publicly release a federal form that breaks down race, ethnicity and gender by job classification.

Just 20% of Apple’s technical workers are women; 77% are white or Asian. Because technical employees include engineers from Apple’s corporate operations and Genius Bar employees from its stores, 13% are black or Hispanic.

Daily Dot’s Selena Larson is one of those critics who has called on Apple to showcase more women on stage at WWDC.

“It’s no longer OK for white, male employees to be the only chief representatives of a growing population that’s made up of people from different genders, races, sexual orientations, and economic backgrounds — all of whom use the products they are iterating, changing, and updating all the time,” she wrote after I/O.

Cook owned up to the lack of women at Apple keynotes in an interview with Mashable on the eve of WWDC.

“I totally agree with you,” he said. “You’ll see a change tomorrow.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has led the campaign to get technology companies to diversify, commended Apple for introducing diversity to its WWDC line-up.

He called it a “welcome departure from many tech companies to directly address tech diversity and inclusion in substantive ways.”