It’s no secret that, over the years, product events have turned into a sort of looking glass moment for the companies that put them on. The audience has the opportunity to see a select few representatives from the company and understand, at least on a surface-level sense, who is worthy of the spotlight during a crucial product or hardware launch.
When it comes to representing a wide assortment of people onstage at events, Apple has generally lagged behind Google. Since the company shifted to more of a group effort after the passing of Steve Jobs, the WWDC keynotes and Apple product events have largely felt like a parade of older white men in billowy shirts.
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Not to hate on the indomitable Apple SVP Craig Federighi, but viewers have been rightfully critical of Apple’s generally poor representation of its own company diversity.
Today at its extremely fruitful product showcase in San Francisco, Apple improved in its representation of diversity…sort of.
According to Apple’s latest diversity statistics, women make up 30 percent of the company. Today, Apple had the highest turnout of women speakers at its event (at least in this reporter’s recent memory).
First, Irish company 3D4Medical’s Irene Walsh stepped onstage to speak about the company’s app, Essential Anatomy 5, and the contributions Apple has made to medical technologies. Then later, Apple Senior Designer Jen Folse provided a lengthy demo of the latest features from Apple TV. That segment proved to be a lady double-header, as Gilt Groupe CEO Michelle Peluso spoke about her company’s new Apple TV app.
The amount of female representation this time around was reassuring, as a continued effort by Apple to make explicit the strides it has made in bringing women’s health to its quantitative wellness app HealthKit. This was an event not only brought women onstage, but actively discussed technology focused on women. And I know that quite a few women were impressed by the introduction of Rose Gold into the iPhone color family.
But despite an event that seemed to make an effort at bringing women into the fold, it didn’t come without its alienating moments. The most stark moment of visceral discomfort came when Adobe demonstrated its photo editing power on the new iPad Pro. Adobe’s male presenter proceeded to photoshop a woman so she had a much more prominent smile.
I don’t think Adobe was intentionally trying to be mean or condescending towards women in their demo, but ladies all around the world are often told to smile by complete strangers. Women are pressured to look nice, friendly and happy all the time, and are routinely asked to perform that on open streets, in clubs, and other places.
My editor, Natt Garun, summarized the discontent perfectly:
Hey Apple/Adobe pic.twitter.com/MlgTXTt5K0
— Natt Garun (@nattgarun) September 9, 2015
Apple has come a long way in promoting gender diversity over the last few years, so it was disheartening to see it taken away with a simple swipe on a tablet. It also cheapened further sentiments about women in the presentation, and left me feeling empty about Apple’s efforts.
When it comes to people of color taking the stage, Apple fared even worse. By my observation, only a single person of color was given a formal introduction and ample speaking time — Andy Sum, Director at Crossy Road developer Hipster Whale. There was another Asian person who took to the stage, but he was relegated to the relatively silent sideman in the demonstration.
The absence of people of color is particularly striking to me, particularly because they make up more than 35% of Apple’s US workforce. It’s also important to note that Sum is not even a full-time worker representing Apple — he is the spokesperson for his own company, one of the few chosen to visit.
This, I think, represents the most niggling part of Apple falling short on diversity: practically every woman or person of color who spoke more than 45 seconds straight onstage belonged to another company. I’ve mentioned previously that I want to see more women and people of color take charge on Apple’s stage, the way they successfully have at Google. Apple should be working hard at showing that a diverse set of innovative and creative minds work at their offices. On paper, it doesn’t seem hard.
I believe that Apple will get there. I believe that it will be able to showcase the great variety of people that create technologies we love. I just hope it happens soon.