Apple losing its star black executive is proof tech’s diversity efforts don’t work

Apple Music’s marketing exec Bozoma Saint John’s departure follows Apple’s rejection of a proposal to diversify leadership.

VP Programming of Emmis NY Ebro Darden, Bozoma Saint John, President of Island Def Jam Steven Bartels and COO of Epic Records Mark Shimmel participates in the “How Radio Creates The Next Star” seminar at Advertising Week on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in New York. CREDIT: Charles Sykes/Invision for Advertising Week/AP Images
VP Programming of Emmis NY Ebro Darden, Bozoma Saint John, President of Island Def Jam Steven Bartels and COO of Epic Records Mark Shimmel participates in the “How Radio Creates The Next Star” seminar at Advertising Week on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012 in New York. CREDIT: Charles Sykes/Invision for Advertising Week/AP Images

Monday is a big day for Apple fans. The iPhone maker will kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and is expected to unveil new software and at least one new device — a Siri-based speaker to rival Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

But more important than welcoming a new device, the conference could be a farewell to one of Apple’s most dynamic executives.

The world learned exactly who Bozoma Saint John was at last year’s WWDC. Apple Music’s global marketing executive stole the show with her vibrant presentation of the service’s new features. But she’s leaving the company, according to a report in Axios. The report doesn’t say where Saint John is going or why, but news of her impending departure is a serious blow to a tech company that has a shaky track record with diversity.

More so than your typical corporate executive, Saint John is a bonafide rock star, and wherever she lands next will surely be a positive move for her already blazing career. Before joining Apple Music after the company bought consumer company Beats, Saint John led Pepsi’s music and entertainment marketing, worked at Ashley Stewart, and got her start at Spike Lee’s advertising firm SpikeDDB, where she worked with celebrity clients including Janet Jackson and Beyoncé. Since taking the stage at last year’s WWDC, Saint John has been honored multiple times for her leadership at one of the world’s most powerful companies. That’s what makes her leaving such a blow.

Saint John, who is Ghanaian-American, was an example of excellence — black excellence — at a company that has talked at length about improving diversity throughout its ranks but, like the industry overall, hasn’t made much progress.

Only 3 percent of Apple’s leadership is black, according to the company’s latest diversity report. Seven percent of its executives are Hispanic and 21 percent are Asian. Those numbers have remained steady since 2014 and Apple’s most senior leadership has also stayed predominantly white and male.

News of Saint John’s departure follows Apple promoting its human resources head Denise Young Smith to VP of diversity and inclusion in late May. Smith’s role will be to help increase the number of employees of color and women, and keep Apple’s attrition rate down by making sure people aren’t leaving for competitors soon after joining the company. Regardless of industry, women and people of color tend to leave companies at a higher rate than their male and white counterparts, respectively. Saint John has been with Apple since May 2014.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously taken responsibility for the company’s, and the industry overall, diversity and inclusion problem. And despite its charity efforts to help with the industry’s pipeline problem — donating computers and devices to impoverished schools and $50 million to historically black colleges and universities and company — Apple has shrugged off diversity as “unduly burdensome.” That sentiment was reinforced earlier this year when the company’s board vetoed a proposal to actively diversify senior leadership.

Saint John in all her awesomeness will be missed, especially as Apple grapples with diversity onstage at events and behind the scenes. But one thing’s for sure, we haven’t heard the last of Badass Boz.

Update: Bozoma Saint John did not present at Apple’s WWDC Monday and it was a sad affair. She has been confirmed to be joining Uber and will be one of the company’s top black and female executives. May her radiance help save them from themselves.