Denise Young Smith has announced that she will be leaving Apple at the end of the year. Young Smith is the current vice president of diversity and inclusion with the company. Young Smith was promoted to this position in May of 2017, and before that, she was in Human Resources. Young Smith has worked for Apple for more than 20 years and reports directly to CEO, Tim Cook. Christie Smith is expected to step into the role. Christie Smith has had 17 years of experience working with Deloitte as a Client Advisory Principal. Her LinkedIn profile says that she has 28 years of experience building and leading high-performance teams.
So why is Young Smith leaving exactly? Her departure comes shortly after Cornell Tech announced that Young Smith would become an executive in residence starting this January. At Cornell Tech, Young Smith will work with students to “build an early career-stage awareness of inclusive leadership and diverse talent”. What has Young Smith accomplished in her time with Apple so far? This is what Apple’s diversity report suggested:
- 32% of their employees are female
- Nationwide, Apple is 54% white. This is down 2% from last year.
- 13% of their employees are Hispanic. An increase of 1%.
- 9% of their employees are Black, which has held steady, and;
- 21% of their employees are Asian
Are these numbers promising? It’s hard to say. At the leadership level, Apple is still predominantly run by men. Men make up 71% of the leaders in the company worldwide. In the U.S. only, the executive team is comprised of 66% white people. Originally Young Smith’s addition to the team looked positive from a diversity perspective. But then in May, she made an interesting comment that bothered some people. During a conference, she stated, “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”
Is that a fair statement? Perhaps that statement is reflective of the notion of diversity representing differences. So yes, these 12 white men would all have lived different lives, and therefore would have different opinions and perspectives. I agree with this idea of differences, however, I’m not convinced that its how we should define diversity. Not only that, her comments were seen as insensitive to many people who are marginalized because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation or even their gender. And they were. How can you be the vice president of diversity and inclusion and feel that white people are diverse?
She later apologized and suggested that her comments weren’t reflective of how she feels about diversity or how Apple sees it. And maybe that’s the case, but it’s hard to go on the record with that kind of statement when you are the face of diversity for a huge company. So is there more to Young Smith’s departure than we are being told? I doubt it as that comment was made in the spring and we are approaching the end of the year. It doesn’t sound like she’s being escorted out, but perhaps Cook was helping her find employment elsewhere. The diversity report numbers aren’t staggering, so maybe it was time to switch up the strategy? We don’t know for sure. I will be keeping my eye on this as the new diversity chief steps in, so we can see if any improvements are made.