The Diversity Head Of Apple Denise Young Smith sent an apology to her team members at Apple for statements she made in Bogotá, Colombia during the One Young World Summit. She said in a memo “Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion….I regret the choice of words I used to make this point,”.
Smith working with Apple for a long time now, and was first promoted by Steve Jobs to a position leading Retail HR and then again by CEO Tim Cook earlier this year to be the company’s first VP of Diversity and Inclusion. Smith also pioneered Apple’s Partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports students enrolled in HBCUs with $40M in funding to foster and hire students coming from these colleges.
A copy of Denise Young Smith’s email to her team was obtained by TechCrunch and reads as follows:
I have always been proud to work for Apple in large part because of our steadfast commitment to creating an inclusive culture. We are also committed to having the most diverse workforce and our work in this area has never been more important. In fact, I have dedicated my twenty years at Apple to fostering and promoting opportunity and access for women, people of color and the underserved and unheard.
Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion.
I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense. My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I’m sorry.
More importantly, I want to assure you Apple’s view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.
Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone.
Our commitment at Apple to increasing racial and gender diversity is as strong as it’s ever been. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is much work to be done. I’m continually reminded of the importance of talking about these issues and learning from each other.
The focus of the blowback was a segment of Smith’s panel that came as a follow-on discussion related to an earlier question about whether black women were a priority for her in her role. A lot of the resulting discussion on the web has been based on snippets of the conversation but below is a major part of the dialogue for more and clearer context plus the bit that caused the most controversy.
”Aamna Mohdin: I wanted to touch on something that you said, Denise, that it’s not only just about numbers in Silicon Valley, but you’ve taken on a new role in Apple for inclusion and diversity, and a lot of that is going to be about the numbers. And I just kind of wanted to know whether black women is a priority for you in this new role?
Denise Young Smith: I’ll say this. So first of all, it’s a new role, but it’s not. I’ve been black and a woman for a long time…I have been doing this work, I have been playing this role for a very long time. I have been a first, I’ve been an only, when I was at the same conference that I just referenced, there were numbers and numbers of black women together — successful, professional, astonishing black women, and we were sharing stories and every single one of us could share the same stories about being in a room, in a meeting and someone would assume you were the assistant, the secretary, that you were not the manager, you were not the boss and that your staff person that was three levels below you was your boss. We all shared those stories.
Denise Young Smith: Aamna, you also asked me about my work at Apple, or in particular, who do I focus on? I focus on everyone. Diversity is the human experience. I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color or the women or the LGBT or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around…because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads.
And I’ve often told people a story– there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation. The issue is representation and mix and bringing all the voices into the room that can contribute to the outcome of any situation. So I focus on everyone, but I also focus on allies and alliances because to DeRay’s point, there’s an incredible amount of power in those who have platforms or those who have the benefit of greater representation to tell the stories of those who do not. So whenever we can accomplish that, then that is a win for everyone. And I think that is something that people, that we all tend to… particularly those who protest things that we are fearful about, we can all win in this story, and so that’s what I try to focus on at Apple.”