Economy

Apple Shrugs Off Diversity Push, Calling It ‘Unduly Burdensome’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple’s board and senior management teams are dominated by white men. But its leadership still feels that speeding up efforts to change that makeup are “unduly burdensome and not necessary.”

Antonio Avian Maldonado, II, one of the company’s shareholders, has put forward a proposal that would force the company’s board to adopt an “accelerated recruitment policy” for diverse senior management and board seat positions, “bodies that presently fails [sic] to adequately represent diversity (particularly Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and other people of colour).” By Apple’s own count, the company’s leadership team is 72 percent male and 63 percent white, while it’s just 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black. Of the eight people on its board, just two are women and only two are people of color.

In Maldonado’s proposal, he writes that part of the impetus for pushing Apple along is that “The tech industry, of which the Company is a part, is characterized by the persistent and pervasive underrepresentation of minorities and women in senior positions.” He added, “The Company is at an advantageous position to be a leader in promoting diversity in senior management and its board of directors, based on its size, breadth and position as the largest company in the world.” But, he notes, although the company has said it is committed to diversity, efforts to increase it have thus far been “painstakingly slow.”

Yet the leadership of the largest company in the world feels that the adoption of Maldonado’s proposal “is unduly burdensome and not necessary” because it has already demonstrated a commitment to inclusion and diversity. It also pointed to recent appointments to its board as evidence that its nominating committee “actively seeks out highly qualified women and individuals from minority groups.”

Apple also claims that its current diversity efforts “are much broader than the ‘accelerated recruitment policy’ suggested by this proposal, which would be focused only on Apple’s senior management and Board of Directors.” Instead, the company wants to increase diversity across the company. But progress is slow there as well. Overall, its entire workforce is 69 percent male and 54 percent white. That’s barely improved over 2014, which it was 70 percent male and 55 percent white.

Apple’s current efforts, as it lays out in the response to the shareholder proposal, include scholarships for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and providing technology to underserved schools, sponsoring the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and working with other organizations for underrepresented groups in technology, and encouraging management “in inclusively leading globally diverse teams.”

Apple is far from the only company with mostly white male leadership. Women hold just 16 percent of board seats and 4 percent of CEO positions at companies in the S&P 1500 index. The problem is pervasive in the technology sector, where diversity numbers released from companies like Google and Facebook show that their workforces and leadership teams have few women and people of color.

And the United States doesn’t do a whole lot to push companies toward increasing those numbers. The only existing rule requires that they disclose if and how they consider diversity when picking board candidates, but it doesn’t define diversity, so only half take it to mean gender, race, or ethnicity, while others simply meet the requirement by saying they don’t consider diversity at all. Given all of this, a group of shareholders has been pushing for a greater say in board appointments as a way to appoint more people who would care about things like diversity.