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Apple investigated, took action against alleged sexism at Cupertino headquarters

In the shadow of this week's iPhone launch, surprise allegations of corporate sexism surfaced at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, though company executives say the situation was investigated and "actions have been taken."




Earlier this week, an expose from Mic revealed an email string between "about a dozen" female Apple employees who experienced or perceived discrimination and workplace harassment at the company's male-dominated campus.

At the story's core are tribulations experienced by one unnamed employee who, after overhearing what she believed to be a "rape joke," sent an email about the matter directly to CEO Tim Cook. The escalation came after Danielle (a pseudonym assigned to protect the employee's identity) lodged multiple formal complaints to management over similar alleged inappropriate acts.

A follow-up article from Gizmodo included excerpts of the email string, showing the joke in question pertained to the "Bed Intruder Song."

An internet meme that went went viral more than five years ago, the parody song based on a local TV news report about a home break-in and alleged attempted sexual assault. The broadcast package contained on-the-scene footage of the victim's brother, whose emotive interview was auto tuned and set to music.

Both Mic and Gizmodo outlined additional instances of perceived sexism, including an instance where one male employee told another it sounded like he was on his "man period."

Apple declined to respond to Mic's article, but human resources head Denise Young Smith sat down with Re/code on Friday to discuss the allegations.

"We take these things not just seriously, but personally," Young Smith said. "I have been grieved over this ... that someone may have had this kind of an experience."

Responding directly to the articles, Young Smith said the incidents described were investigated and "commensurate actions" were taken. The experiences are not indicative of Apple at large, she said, but noted both the company and individual employees can at times "fall short," according to the report.

Aside from remedial corporate action, Young Smith wants Apple to be a community in which coworkers are not afraid to call each other out when they feel uncomfortable.

"I don't think people are too shy about doing it, but I am also very cognizant that we are still 70/30 in our very hard-core engineering team. We have to be cognizant that someone may not feel that their voice is heard or valued," she said.

Building a support structure that enables women and people of color to speak out is a priority, the report said. However, Young Smith is now concerned that the women-at-Apple email list, the source of both Mic and Gizmodo articles, has been compromised. With more than 1,000 individuals subscribed, the mailing list is an important hub for people to share their experiences as Apple employees, both good and bad.

"We cannot risk losing that," she said. "We have to have a safe place for people to do that."

Young Smith is planning to send out a personal note to the group discussing the recent events.

Like many Silicon Valley tech firms, Apple has come under scrutiny for running a predominantly white male corporate workforce. The company famously touts inclusion as one of is main tenets, and has been largely transparent in sharing progress updates on ongoing workplace diversity efforts.

In August, Apple published the latest "Inclusion & Diversity" report showing positive, albeit slight, changes toward reaching an equilibrium. As of June, the company was comprised of 68 percent male and 32 percent female employees.