Once again, Apple investors reject bolder diversity push
Apple shareholders overwhelmingly rejected a proposal Tuesday to focus on employee diversity among the tech company’s senior management and board of directors.
The proposal, brought for the second year in a row by Apple shareholder and music producer Tony Maldonado, asked for compensation to be tied to diversity shifts at the highest level of the storied iPhone and Mac maker. It was defeated with 95% of shareholders voting against.
“We are focused on human rights and diversity, (and are) advocating for it around the world and increasing it in our own community,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told shareholders who attended the annual meeting on the company’s campus.
In a report released last summer detailing the company’s demographics, Apple revealed that its non-white workforce grew by a percentage point, although white employees increased by 2 percentage points to 56%. African-American employees went from 8% to 9%, Hispanics from 11% to 12% and Asians from 18% to 19%.
Tech companies continue to grapple with increasing diversity among a workforce that remains overwhelmingly white and male.
After Maldonado stumped for his proposal, two other African-American shareholders added their comments.
One, a former Apple engineer, said he was against the proposal. He argued that while he was frustrated by the slow progress in diversity hiring, he was concerned a quota system would promote tokenism that ultimately could lead minority employees to fail.
Another speaker was for the proposal, noting that while his experience as an Apple Store employee in Florida revealed a welcoming diversity, that seemed to stop short of management positions.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose RainbowPUSH coalition had long been critical of the lack of diversity among tech companies, did not comment during the debate over the diversity proposal.
Later, Cook took the stage for a question-and-answer session and called upon Jackson for a comment. Jackson praised Cook and Apple for its leadership during a “tumultuous season” and for “tearing down walls of division and building bridges between races, religions, cultures.”
Over the past year, Cook has steered Apple toward taking a stand on issues ranging from consumer privacy (it resisted an FBI push to open a killer’s iPhone) to President Trump’s recent immigration ban (it was among more than 100 tech companies signing an amicus brief supporting the ban’s lifting by a federal court).
Asked by a shareholder if the company planned to take a stand on the issue of Net neutrality, Cook said that while he “wasn’t sure the current administration has a position yet, but our view is, people’s content should be treated the same. ... We stay out of politics but stay in policy. If Net neutrality became a top thing, we would definitely engage in it.”
Cook did not discuss any details related to the company’s product plans. But he seemed to indirectly respond to a few criticisms leveled by shareholders who were not happy with the secrecy surrounding Apple’s gadget pipeline.
The CEO specifically noted how Apple had released three phones last year (iPhone SE, iPhone 7 and 7 Plus), introduced a now-shipping AirPod wireless headphone and added a touchscreen to its MacBook. He also noted that Apple’s services business continues to grow, citing Apple Music hitting the 20 million subscriber mark.
Cook also gave a shout-out to Berkshire Hathaway, which recently doubled its stake in Apple to $18 billion. He described it as a sign of longterm confidence in the company.
The shareholder meeting addressed a total of nine proposals, four submitted by management and five by shareholders.
Shareholders voted overwhelmingly to reject proposals to: increase the transparency of the company’s charitable donations, reform executive compensation and require senior executives to hold roughly 60% of their equity compensation until retirement.
This is the last shareholder meeting that will be held at the current Apple campus.
The proposal asked for compensation to be tied to diversity shifts at the highest level of Apple. It was defeated with 95% of shareholders voting against.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We are focused on human rights and diversity, (and are) advocating for it around the world.”