Once again, Ap­ple in­vestors re­ject bolder di­ver­sity push

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Marco della Cava @mar­codel­la­cava USA TO­DAY

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.

STEPHEN LAM, GETTY IMAGES

Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook said, “We are fo­cused on hu­man rights and di­ver­sity, (and are) ad­vo­cat­ing for it around the world.”

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