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August 5 2016

Apple Takes a Small Bite Out of Diversity Shortfalls in Tech

Patrice L. Onwuka

Apple’s workforce is a little more diverse thanks to its efforts in hiring. It spent a year working to add more women and people of color to its ranks. Good to see the private sector stepping up, apart from White House pressure.

By taking what it calls a holistic approach, the company reported that its non-white workforce grew by one percentage point. African American employment increased from 8 percent to 9 percent, Hispanics from 11 percent to 12 percent, and Asians from 18 percent to 19 percent. Over half (54 percent) of new U.S. hires were people of color, but hires of white employees increased from 54 to 56 percent.  Males decreased by 1 percent to 68 percent of their workforce.

One or two percentage points are nothing to sneeze at. Apple employs 80,000 American workers and 125,000 workers worldwide. In addition, their diversity efforts haven’t just been limited to the U.S. Female hires worldwide were up 2 percentage points making its global workforce 32 percent female. Underrepresented groups (black, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander) rose 3 percentage points to represent 22 percent of the global workforce.

Apple’s efforts have resulted from many partnerships with organizations trying to boost diversity in tech, according to Mashable, that include with 37 STEM organizations, more than a dozen historically black colleges and universities, and even their own intern program which hired a handful of students.

Private business and private philanthropy worked together in this case to advance opportunity.

Despite Apple’s progress, the naysayers are still piling on:

This is all well and good, but I'd love to see more progress made toward getting women in leadership positions at Apple and in IT in general. In a statement about the numbers, Anita Borg Institute senior vice president of marketing, alliances and programs Elizabeth Ames sums up my thoughts on why addressing the shortage of women on the executive track and in visible leadership positions is just as important as hiring a diverse workforce:

"Apple's latest diversity numbers reported a 1 percent increase in the number of women in technical roles... However, we are disappointed in the lack of improvement in the number of women in leadership roles. We've found that having more women in senior leadership positions attracts more women overall, and therefore encourage Apple to take a closer look at the processes they have in place for hiring and advancing women as diversity of thought and perspective is what drives innovation and business success."

Workforce transparency is a relatively new trend in the technology industry. Tech companies are releasing data on the demographics of their workers, which has led to their shaming as some criticize the quantity of women and people of color among their ranks, leadership, and boards. The Obama Administration and former Civil Rights activists looking to remain relevant (like Jesse Jackson) have had a hand in turning this into a national issue, by pressuring companies into signing diversity commitments. Such pledges seem moot though when we see companies take action apart from government direction. Apple’s signature is notably absent from the pledge. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

A genuine desire to achieve a more diverse workplace that captures the perspectives, expertise, and experiences of women and men and people of all ethnicities is worthwhile when it’s also geared towards the goal of producing a better business, not when diversity is the goal itself. Workplaces can benefit from the richness that difference provides, but doesn’t benefit from forced arbitrary diversity quotas. Often those in the job don’t stay because the environment isn’t conducive and they don’t ear the full respect of their colleagues.

 Research demonstrates that forced diversity practices actually backfire. Harvard and Tel Aviv University researchers found that not only was mandatory diversity training ineffective, it was detrimental to improving the number of women and minorities in upper leadership. Voluntary programs that allow people to choose whether to attend led to growth among several communities of color.

Beyond race and gender, there are other types of diversity that received little attention: educational diversity? Are most hires at Apple for example, college-educated, or can a high school graduate find a place producing technology? Higher education has been uplifted as the ticket to the middle class, but millions of American students don’t get a four-year degree. What about their chances at success in the technology field? Like their colleague-educated peers, these young people are brimming with ideas and the desire to apply technology to the challenges facing their lives and communities.

It’s great to see progress that will genuinely make things better at Apple and let's hope the tech industry, but it can’t stop here and it shouldn’t stop with just race and gender.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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