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Apple: Why Diversity in Senior Leadership Matters - Op-Ed by Tony Maldonado, Shareholder

First Posted: Feb 16, 2016 11:48 AM EST
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Tony Maldonado, Apple Shareholder Pushing for Diversity in Leadership

Photo : Tony Maldonado

"Think Different."

That's how Apple once famously challenged the world through a bold advertising campaign for its computers. "Think Different." In other words: Be bold. Embrace big concepts. Reward new ideas. That's the key to innovation and business success in the 21st century global marketplace.

Unfortunately, these days Apple isn't living up to its own challenge in at least one critical regard: It's not doing nearly enough to foster and maintain racial and ethnic diversity among senior management and the company's board. According to data filed by Apple with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015, of the company's 103 executive and senior management positions, 1 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 3.9 percent were black, 11.7 percent were Asian and 83.5 percent were white. Six of the eight Apple directors are white.

Diversity at Apple isn't solely a social issue; it's also a bottom-line financial issue. There's considerable evidence that workforce diversity increases profits and eliminates "groupthink" from innovative organizational decision-making. With its desire to have greater impact in emerging markets, such as Latin America, China, India and Africa, Apple must more seriously consider the issue of inclusive diversity among senior management and the board of directors.

Inclusive diversity means that Apple must ensure that everyone -- irrespective of color, race, gender, creed, age or other demographics -- is genuinely provided with equal opportunities to hold leadership positions.

That's why, as a small investor in Apple, I recently introduced a shareholder proposal urging the company to adopt accelerated recruitment policies to address the diversity imbalance at the most senior levels of the company. I'll be presenting the proposal at the company's annual meeting in Cupertino on Feb. 26.

Apple's reaction to my suggestion has been truly disappointing. The company's board has rejected it, deeming it "unduly burdensome" and "unnecessary." Apple claims to have seen success in its current diversity efforts, but the reality is that most of that progress is external. Management provides little evidence that its diversity investments will come to fruition, especially given the company's tepid follow-through.

Careful analysis of Apple's claims to success shows that the company's diversity figures include a high number of low-wage retail positions. If one discounts low-wage Apple Store positions and concentrates solely on upper and senior executive positions, Apple becomes overwhelmingly white and male. To borrow a phrase from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a longtime member of Apple's board, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at senior levels of Apple is an "inconvenient truth."

To be fair, Apple isn't the only major technology company confronting this issue. There is a stunning lack of inclusive diversity throughout the global technology industry. Frighteningly few people of color -- Hispanic, black, Native American, Native Pacific Islander, Asian-American and other -- hold high-level management or board of director positions within Silicon Valley. If our collective goal is to create a true meritocracy -- a merit-oriented, forward -- thinking and inclusive society -- then we must reform the institutional and foundational elements within corporate America that prevent us from reaching that desired future.

In evaluating solutions to the problem, it's important to address one common and dangerous misconception head on: that companies must recruit and hire based on quotas to meet set recruitment targets for traditionally underrepresented groups. In actuality, this represents tokenism, by which a member of an underrepresented group is given a position primarily to showcase diversity to the world. In actuality, the corporate culture and environment remains unchanged by this method, allowing for unconscious biases to continue festering within.

Change also won't come easily. Entrenched managers -- predominantly, white males -- are likely to feel targeted despite their achievements and success. Insecurity in their positions potentially reinforces an "us versus them" workplace environment and allows glass ceilings for top-level corporate positions to remain strongly in place.

The industry needs carefully designed, long-term plans to achieve diversity. Some companies in Silicon Valley, such as Intel and Pinterest, have recognized the need to increase diversity within the ranks of senior management and boards of directors. They have implemented transparent action plans, which can be reviewed, measured and adjusted accordingly to assure success. That doesn't seem to be happening at Apple.

It's time for diversity at Apple to move beyond its current role as a public relations tool. To innovate and be more than merely relevant in business, Apple's leadership team must include people from a far broader set of backgrounds, who can provide different perspectives on a whole range of strategies, tactics, operations, practices and procedures -- all of the many critical details required to make products for an incredibly diverse worldwide customer base.

For Apple, which turns 40 years old this year, it's truly time to "Think Different."

-- Tony Maldonado, Executive Creative Director - IGRP | Insignia Entertainment

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent Latin Post

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