Apple voted down several proposals during its latest shareholders meeting on Tuesday. Chief among them was one that called for more diversity throughout the company, particularly within its senior leadership and board members.
Tony Maldonado, a minority shareholder and music producer, championed the diversity proposal, which 95 percent of shareholders voted against. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Maldonado and other other investors asked Apple’s board members to adopt an “accelerated recruitment policy” that would “increase the diversity of senior management and its board of directors, two bodies that presently fail to adequately represent diversity and inclusion (particularly Hispanic, African American, Native American and other people of color).”
But Maldonado told ThinkProgress that diversity isn’t just a social issue; homogeneity poses a business risk as well. We talked to him after the meeting, and he had a lot to say about how diversity can help Apple regain its reputation as an innovator.
What are your main concerns when it comes to Apple’s diversity or lack thereof?
Let me be very clear at the beginning of this: I don’t believe in tokenism and I don’t believe in racial quotas. However, what I’ve noticed after looking at the company, its history of 40 years, not much change has occurred. It appears that not many people of color have had the opportunity to ascend to senior leadership and on the board. That’s a big concern for me, especially for a company at this point, which is one of the largest companies in the world. Overall, it’s a large company that has influence in our lives. It influences business, tech, and personally — it affects everyone. How can a company of 40 years not be able to promote people of color — black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever — to senior leadership, that’s a little bit mind boggling. I find that suspect.
Are you going to tell me that there’s not a single person of color who can come up through the ranks?
As I stated in front of all of the board members and shareholders, how can it be that in 40 years you can’t promote people that are not in engineering — in legal, marketing, sales, operations? Are you going to tell me that there’s not a single person of color who can come up through the ranks?
There has to be some sort of systemic bias that’s occurring, cultural biases built in the company. It might be something that they don’t realize, but it’s happening.
[The discussion quickly pivoted to ideology, particularly how progressive companies don’t always live up to their ideals. Apple, among other Silicon Valley companies, has been staunchly opposed to policies and laws that infringe on individual rights. But Maldonado said that doesn’t always translate.]
It’s quite frustrating. Allow me to digress a little. I’m a conservative. I supported Donald Trump; I don’t agree 100 percent with things he says and does, but he’s our president and I will support him at this given stage. And I find it funny that so many liberals and progressives, who are a part of Apple, Apple supporters, it’s biggest fans, are part of the pushback against [the diversity proposal]. I call it hypocrisy. Because here I am, a conservative, I got called part of the basket of deplorables by Hillary Clinton, which is offensive, and here are the people who are supposed to be liberal, forward-thinking and they’re going backwards. How can that be?
Why do you think that is? Especially if you’re looking at it from an ideological standpoint where people who tend to advocate for equality, human and civil rights issues are voting against a proposal to increase the company’s diversity.
One of the problems that we have is that people love protesting and doing everything else progressive until it comes to themselves. Then they become deeply conservative, and they start thinking about themselves solely and individually. And at this point, there’s this given belief, especially among white males, that what’s being requested of people is to establish reverse discrimination [by instituting strong diversity proposals]. So they feel targeted.
No one is demanding anyone to be replaced, what we’re asking for is just open opportunities for everyone. Make it a level playing field.
[Maldonado switched back to ideology and how it’s hard for him to comprehend how progressive companies have a hard time implementing the policies they advocate for in public.]
I really am trying to get a grasp in what’s inside the mind of a liberal progressive, who can demand many different things for other people but the moment it starts affecting them it’s, “No, no, no, we can’t go there.”
For some strange reason, people can’t get past racism. They want to give some other name to it, so they can feel better. But the bottom line is that’s what this is, this is racism. The shareholders aren’t bothering to see the writing on the wall. Two-thirds of the money that’s coming into Apple is coming from abroad, and the majority of those people are people of color. So I can just imagine how they might feel if they hear the response of “Well you know what, we love your money but we really don’t want you making decisions inside of our organization.”
When you brought this up, what was the general sentiment in the room?
The look on the faces of the board members was a little bit shocked by some of the things I was telling them. It didn’t seem to register at first exactly what I was saying, that there’s an issue here that it’s kind of strange that [diversity] hasn’t occurred organically in 40 years. As far as the shareholders present, it seemed like ti was split 50–50. There were people shaking their heads in agreement and others you could just see — I don’t know if it was anger but it wasn’t favorable. Like a disdainful look behind their eyes: “How dare you bring this up. How dare you call us racists.”
But overall it was good.
From a pure business stance, the more diversity you have, in terms of people from different backgrounds and experiences, the better you can solve business problems. Was that argument presented? Did it resonate at all?
No, it didn’t. They’re not accepting that. They’re going by [CEO] Tim Cook and his team are Apple and they’re the creative geniuses and they will keep generating money for us. It’s obvious that they’re suffering from group-think, they’ve been making quite a few mistakes over the past few years.
What are some of the missteps you think Apple has had recently that could have been prevented if the leadership was more diverse?
If you remember there was a launch about two years ago where they released the U2 album on everyone’s iPhone and iPad. Someone in engineering must’ve thought, “Hey I love U2, everyone else must love U2.”
Exactly, so what if you don’t listen to that type of music? How dare you do this and shove your thoughts and your taste into someone else’s device. That was a big, calculated mistake.
Another was with India and China. [Apple] thought it could conquer China because it’s Apple and we have the iPhone. But they forgot about one thing: The Chinese are very loyal to Chinese products. And unless you give them something that is really worth it — yes, it’s a premium phone but look at ZTE, look a Huawei. These are high-tech premium phones made in China and [consumers] are buying them by the shipload.
They had the same issue in India. Someone in the C-suite decided why don’t we just sell used iPhones in India. Well they weren’t selling and the government hated the idea of selling used goods to their citizenry as if they were second class. It’s an insult but Apple has a desire to get into a market that is growing. But they’re not ready because they don’t understand the Southeast Asian market. The average household doesn’t make more than $2,000 a year and an iPhone costs $1,000 to $1,200.
Apple has been trying to make their events more diverse, such as pushing women executives to present new products and features. Last year, Apple Music’s marketing executive Bozoma Saint John stole the show not just because of her dynamic personality, but because it made you say, “Wait, there’s a black female executive at Apple?”
Out of 107 executives at Apple, five are black, three are Hispanic. Obviously, they’re showcasing. I do commend them for trying, in a public facing way, to show diversity. The number of women has been increasing slowly but the numbers of people with racial and ethnic backgrounds that differ from Caucasian — those numbers are miniscule. If that’s the case, then Apple needs to make what they’re trying to showcase real.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.