Apple’s 2018 iPhone event opened with a black woman busting her ass to ensure a white man’s success.
The introductory video is a Mission Impossible-style short featuring a young woman racing across Cupertino campus to deliver a briefcase to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who’s waiting calmly backstage before the event. She arrives out of breath, and he opens the briefcase. Inside is the clicker for the presentation; he picks it up with reverence while the woman asks, incredulously, “The clicker?” She then stands, panting, behind the curtain as Cook walks out to enjoy a raucous round of applause.
That’s a fairly clinical breakdown of the video, but it’s true at its core, and Apple carried this theme of half-baked diversity throughout its show. It continuously used women and nonwhite people as background dressing while the company itself continues to employ mostly white, male people. Apple’s most recent diversity report attests to this fact. In 2017, 68 percent of Apple employees were male and 54 percent were white; in leadership roles, this figure climbed to 71 percent male and 66 percent white. Just 3 percent of all leaders at Apple were black, and these numbers weren’t an improvement on Apple’s 2016 report either.
Take a look at Apple’s own leadership page. It’s almost exclusively white and mostly male: Of 17 executives, just five are women. This has been Apple’s MO since its inception, considering the cult of personality that developed around Steve Jobs. Through innovative keynotes and wild stories of secrecy, genius and obsession, the company’s culture was set early on, and it had a white, male face. Maintaining this brand of C-suite only exacerbates the issue of diversity, and Apple’s unwillingness to put lower-level developers onstage during events puts the problem under a spotlight.
Apple’s reliance on white men as keynotes is so notorious that it’s headline-worthy news when the company actually does feature nonwhite, non-male people at its events. Bozoma Saint John, former head of global marketing for Apple Music and iTunes, stole the show at WWDC 2016 and prompted a handful of major outlets to declare her the coolest person at the company. She left Apple in 2017.
Onstage on Wednesday, a vast majority of the presenters trotted out to extol the virtues of the “most advanced” iPhone ever were white dudes too. The event lasted roughly one hour and 45 minutes, and in that time, women and people of color held the stage for just 13 minutes. The first woman didn’t make an appearance until about 50 minutes in. Every male Apple employee that hit the stage was white.
This dissonance between the images Apple shows and its actual internal diversity was most obvious during the breakdown of the iPhone Xs and Xs Max’s new camera.
“Your subject, beautifully lit, with natural light, beautiful skin tones.”
Every single image that Phil Schiller, Apple’s (white, male) SVP of marketing, used to demonstrate the power of the upgraded camera system was of a woman or a person of color. The first image he showed was a Time magazine cover portrait that was shot with an iPhone — the text over the top reading, “Firsts: Women who are changing the world.”
“Let me show you a few photos shot with iPhone Xs,” Schiller said before diving into the slideshow. Closeup shots of women and nonwhite people (including nonwhite women) lit up the stage as Schiller described the intense detail and focus capable with the new camera systems.
“This is stunning,” he said, pacing in front of an image of a young white woman’s face. “Your subject, beautifully lit with natural light, beautiful skin tones, great detail and a nice, beautiful, soft background.”
Another image: a black man, backlit as he flipped his dreadlocks over his head, standing waist-deep in water. “Most of all, look at the water drops coming off of his hair and how crisp and detailed they are. That’s incredible,” Schiller said, breathless.
He continued to describe the photos and the people in them, none of whom looked like Schiller himself, white, male and speaking with authority — the most important aspect of all. Even the webpage all about the iPhone Xs’ cameras is dominated by faces that are underrepresented on Apple’s campuses and in its boardrooms.
I want to praise Apple for featuring a lineup of diverse, beautiful people in its ad campaign, but that’s difficult to do when the images feel like a flimsy cover for the company’s inherent lack of diversity. The problem isn’t the photos themselves but the dissonance between the message they’re intended to convey and the reality at this multi-billion-dollar powerhouse of a company. The images scream, “Look how diverse we are!” while the truth is, Apple is mostly white and mostly dudes, just as it’s always been.
This isn’t an Apple-only problem. The technology industry is notoriously white-man heavy, and claims of sexist and racist company cultures abound to this day. However, Apple is the company with the tech world’s attention right now. Given Apple’s own demographic makeup, the images it’s using to sell the new iPhone feel closer to exploitation than celebration. Apple is famous for its attention to design and appearance — the marketing department chose these images for a reason, and it wasn’t because they looked around the office and saw a lot of female and nonwhite workers.
In short, 100 percent of the photos that Apple displayed to show off its latest camera technology were of women and people of color, yet just 32 percent of the company is female, just 9 percent is black and just 13 percent is Hispanic. In the US, 51 percent of the population is female, 13 percent is black and 18 percent is Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.
The images, while demonstrative of the robust and diverse world we actually inhabit, do not represent the culture at Apple. If Apple wants to use underrepresented minorities in ad campaigns to help sell its latest and greatest gadgets, it needs to also include these people in its core processes. It needs to give them a voice, not just an image.
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