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Apple VP of Inclusion and Diversity Denise Young Smith on Friday issued an internal memo to clarify and apologize for comments made during a business summit last week, reiterating that Apple is committed to creating an inclusive and diverse workplace.
At the One Young World Summit in Bogota, Colombia, last week, Smith joined Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson and KPMG International's Global Head of Corporate Citizenship Lord Michael Hastings on stage in a panel discussion covering racial injustice. Moderated by Quartz reporter Aamna Mohdin, the session focused on the broader implications of diversity in the workplace.
Smith provided key insight into the subject from the standpoint of a technology industry insider. Apple, Google and other major Silicon Valley firms have in recent months come under fire from investors and activists alike for an acute lack of diversity, especially in upper management and leadership positions.
"Diversity is the human experience," Smith said. "I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT."
That particular comment went over well with the assembled crowd, but Smith caught flak for a follow up.
"There can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they're going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation," Smith said.
Media outlets pounced on the statement, while diversity advocates decried Smith's words as contradictory to the fight for workplace equality. As noted by TechCrunch, which procured a copy of Smith's letter, the statement appeared to suggest diversity of thought is a suitable stand in for proactive hiring practices adopted by a variety of tech firms, including Apple, to foster racial and gender diversity.
"I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense," she said in a letter to employees. "My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I'm sorry."
According to Apple's latest statistics, 54 percent of new hires in the U.S. are ethnic minorities, and the company is making strides to improve the mix of females in its workforce. Still, 56 percent of current workers are white and 68 percent are male. The situation becomes increasingly bleak when looking at leadership roles, positions predominantly held by white men.
Smith is a veteran at Apple having headed up global retail, then human resources prior to her appointment as VP of Diversity and Inclusion in May. The executive has consistently toed the company line, touting Apple's diversity policies as the most progressive in tech.
Smith's full letter can be read below:
I have always been proud to work for Apple in large part because of our steadfast commitment to creating an inclusive culture. We are also committed to having the most diverse workforce and our work in this area has never been more important. In fact, I have dedicated my twenty years at Apple to fostering and promoting opportunity and access for women, people of color and the underserved and unheard.
Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion.
I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense. My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I'm sorry.
More importantly, I want to assure you Apple's view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.
Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone.
Our commitment at Apple to increasing racial and gender diversity is as strong as it's ever been. I'm proud of the progress we've made, but there is much work to be done. I'm continually reminded of the importance of talking about these issues and learning from each other.
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