Apple CEO Tim Cook Declares Women & Diversity The “Future Of Our Company”

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ICYMI Apple just held their annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday, June 8. It is the conference that everyone in the tech world anticipates with baited breath to see what new products will be unleashed that could potentially change the way we live day to day.

But this conference was slightly different from the others. In the lead up to the big day, CEO Tim Cook released some details to the press about what to expect, and the biggest teaser was that it would feature more women. Correction: women. Period.

In the past 5 years there have been NO females presenting any new products and this year saw not one but two. Jennifer Bailey, the VP of Apply Pay spoke about new advancements in their pay service, and Apple VP Susan Prescott announced Apple News which is supposedly a slicker version of Flipboard.

It should also be noted that Apple took a major feminist step forward with its apps by adding reproductive health to its health-tracking app (although sadly this new feature was presented by a male on stage). The company has faced criticism in the past for not including functionality that would aid women to track their menstruation cycles and other data vital to a woman’s health, so it will now include it in the iOS9 version of HealthKit.

Mashable reports the inclusion of female execs was a welcome change by both men and women in the audience, who took to twitter to express their joy at seeing a bit of diversity at the normally male-dominated event.

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Diversity seems to be a focus going forward for Apple, whose 2014 diversity report revealed that its 98,000-strong worldwide workforce is 70% male and 55% white. As it stands, numbers of women at the very top are extremely limited, with Angela Ahrendts the only female member of the senior leadership team. She was appointed as the SVP of retail in 2013 and incidentally was ranked the highest paid female in America in 2014 earning a cool $82.6 million. (FYI the highest paid male during the same year was not Tim Cook, it was GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman who made $284 million).

While this is a major step forward from a company who let’s face it have been overwhelmingly leading the tech pack for the past decade, they need to know that increasing the presence of women and minorities may include some teething pains.

In a recent article on Wired.com who covered the Google I/O event held in San Francisco at the end of May, writer Molly McHugh explained a disturbing trend that took place during the keynote addresses. There was a live twitter feed that each audience member and live stream-watcher could see as the event unfolded. With each person that cam on stage viewers saw tweets that made fun of various ideas, apps, and speeches. What was worse was that each woman who took to the stage was subjected to increasingly horrible to down-right abusive tweets about her appearance as well as some descriptions about sexual assault.

“It’s strange to be watching some of the most groundbreaking, innovative technology in the world, while your peripheral vision is populated by racist, misogynist garbage-speak,” wrote Molly. But ignoring comments or keeping women out of sight isn’t the answer to avoiding this awful trend that exists on every social platform on the internet.

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“What we really need is to put more women on stage to begin with. We need the commenters to get used to seeing powerful, smart women talking about tech—or whatever—so the strangeness wears off. There’s no solving horrible commenters, so perhaps we can just hope to change what they’re being horrible about. Maybe when it stops being a novelty for the impossible-to-please commenters of the world to see woman at a tech keynote, they’ll start picking her apart for what matters: her apparently stupid, no good, totally wrong ideas.”

With Apple making a big deal about the presence of women, we hope this is only the start. In an interview with Mashable prior to the WWDC, CEO Tim Cook declared women are the “future of our company”.

He was also authentic enough not to make an excuse about the lack of women and diversity in his ranks, rather, saying it is a “cop out” when companies say it’s because women don’t want to be involved.

“I think it’s our fault — ‘our’ meaning the whole tech community. I think in general we haven’t done enough to reach out and show young women that it’s cool to do it and how much fun it can be,” he said.

He’s not wrong there which is why initiatives like Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code which engage pre-teen girls in tech and computer science are vital to changing the gender ratio for the next generation in the industry.

A lot of it has to do with role models and girls being able to see other women visibly front and center with all the major tech companies.

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“I think mostly people look up and see, ‘you know, I’m like that person and I see what they can do,'” continued Tim while admitting they haven’t done a good enough job in the past. They are now reaching out to more schools and colleges to engage girls, and also looking to work with predominantly black colleges to increase diversity.

“Some of this costs money some of it doesn’t. Mostly it’s a way of thinking. And so if you believe as we believe that diversity leads to better products, and we’re all about making products that enrich peoples lives, then you obviously put a ton of energy behind diversity the same way you would put a ton of energy behind anything else that is truly important,” he said.

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once famously said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” and added that it can be hard to stand out from the crowd and try to be different because society rewards those who fall in line, but the industry will not move forward unless people start to make a change.

“I try to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself if I’m doing enough. And if the answer is no, I try to do something more. And sometimes you do things that don’t work and sometimes you do things that do work. Somehow we’ve got to get enough people to believe how important it is, and see how wrong it is not doing it,” he said.

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Apple recently pledged $10 million to the National Center for Women & Information Technology as part of their overall $50 million diversity strategy. Chief Strategy and Growth Officer of NCWIT Ruthe Farmer was at an event before WWDC with Tim Cook and said part of the problem is the lack of schools teaching computer science because you have to engage girls early.

She’s been working on increasing the presence of women in tech and engineering since 2001. and makes a great point that the way tech is marketed toward women is also not helping matters.

“The thing that the entire discipline of engineering has not done well is make it clear that if you want to do something big and have an impact on a lot of people, technology is the way to do it. I think that is a more compelling message for many girls, and other students in general,” she said.

With Apple being the largest tech company in the world, it is important they lead the way on initiatives in communities and engaging future employees, as well as setting an example to the rest of the white-washed male-driven industry why “inclusion inspires innovation” as they stated in their 2014 diversity report.