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Rev. Jesse Jackson Lauds Apple's Diversity Efforts, but Says March Not Over

The civil rights leader calls on Apple to appoint an African-American to its board of directors and to increase the diversity of its workforce.

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson brought the national conversation about civil rights and diversity to Apple’s annual shareholder’s meeting Tuesday, calling on the world’s most valuable company to nominate an African-American executive to its board of directors.

“I was in Alabama, your home state, for this historic week,” Jackson said, aiming his remarks at Apple CEO Tim Cook. “I’m struck by the unbroken line from Selma to Silicon Valley — all part of the long journey for equality, human rights and economic fairness.”

Jackson applauded Cook for his commitment to ushering in a new era of diversity, and his willingness to release Apple’s workforce diversity data. But the civil rights leader called on Apple and its top executive to set concrete goals and timetables for achieving a staff that represents the region’s African-American and Latino populations.

“Apple is one of the greatest innovators in the world. From the iPad and iPhone and now the Apple Watch — you make products that transform the world,” Jackson said. “I urge you today to use that same power and genius to transform the culture of Silicon Valley and the tech industry.”

Apple released its diversity report last April, which revealed that it is typical of Silicon Valley technology companies: Predominantly white and male. Apple reported its workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female. About 55 percent are white, 15 percent are Asian, 11 percent are Latino and 7 percent are black.

Nationally, blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce and Latinos 14 percent.

In recent weeks, Apple moved to resolve two long-simmering labor issues that came to symbolize the wage gap in Silicon Valley between highly compensated tech workers and service workers. Apple brought its security guards on its payroll and agreed to wage increases and improvements in working conditions for shuttle bus drivers who carry thousands of Apple employees to and from work at its headquarters in Cupertino.

Jackson lauded these efforts, even as he urged Apple to put in place an active mentorship and promotion program to bring more people of color into Apple’s top leadership.

“President Obama said in Selma this weekend ‘the march is not yet over,”’ Jackson noted, recalling the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march that marked a turning point in the civil rights movement. “In Silicon Valley, the march for diversity and inclusion is just beginning … I’m sure you would agree that there is much more to be done and many formidable challenges ahead.”

Cook, who last year came out as gay and has advocated for equal rights, agreed with Jackson’s sentiment that the march is not over, and pledged to strive for greater diversity “until my toes point up.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind, if you’re here next year or the year after that, you’re going to see continued progress,” said Cook.

Investor Dr. Tony Maldonado took up the theme of diversity, asking Cook what explanation the London resident should give his son as to why Apple has no African-American executives on its board of directors.

Cook sought to underscore the progress Apple has made in diversifying its senior staff, singling out two African-American executives, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, who now serves as vice president of environmental issues, and human resources head, Denise Young Smith, who is responsible for recruiting top talent.

“Our diversity is increasing,” Cook said. “You may not view that it’s in the right place. I don’t either. … Rest assured, we will get it, we are actively committed.”

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