Apple’s VP of Diversity Denise Young Smith Apologizes for Controversial Comments on Diversity

Following controversial comments made regarding diversity, Apple’s Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity, Denise Young Smith, has issued an apology – to her team members at least. The Apple exec received her fair share of backlash from diversity advocates for commentary she made at the One Young World summit last week.

The summit, which took place in Bogotá, Colombia, featured Young Smith as a panelist where she could provide insight about fighting racial injustice. Young Smith has been newly minted as a Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity for the tech giant this past May. According to Business Insider, the discussion during the summit took a turn when the question of how Smith would focus on increasing and cultivating diversity in Apple, being that the company is only nine percent black at the moment.

Despite the fact that Young Smith is a black woman herself, she argued, “Diversity is a human experience. 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.”

“I’ve been black and woman for a long time,” she continued.

The response that garnered the most controversy and public backlash however was when the VP of Diversity and Inclusion redefined what diversity means to her:

“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.”

TechCrunch was able to obtain the emailed apology that Young Smith sent to her team. The memo reads as follows:

Colleagues,

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. 

Best,

Denise

Due to the fact that Apple has 80,000 employees and is currently 56% white, 19% Asian, 12% Hispanic, and 9% black – their efforts towards diversity within the company still has a long journey ahead of them. According to TechCrunch, the picture of those numbers is painted even worse when you bear in mind the fact that most non-white employees working at Apple are working retail, versus in leadership or technical positions.

Young Smith’s comments did not help the top-performing tech company’s public perception when it comes to diversity and inclusion and efforts to level the playing field.

Young Smith has been an employee of Apple for years before receiving a promotion from Steve Jobs in a Retail HR leadership role and most recently acquiring a promotion as Apple’s first VP of Diversity and Inclusion, which as a woman is an incredible feat, but as a black woman, an even bigger win.

Photo Credit: One Young World Summit

Sheriden Chanel is a twenty-something writer, Beyoncé enthusiast, and lover of all things visual art. Keep up with her and her musings on social via @indiebyline.