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Apple’s diversity report is better than that of most tech companies — with one exception

Overall diversity looks good, but it’s not the whole story.

Apple Quarterly Profit Falls 27 Percent On Weak iPhone Sales Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Apple’s latest diversity report shows the tech giant may be closer to achieving racial and gender parity among its workforce than the rest of the industry — but only slightly so.

Over the past two years, Apple has actively increased its recruitment of women and underrepresented minorities — specifically black, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander employees.

Thirty-seven percent of Apple’s new hires this year have been women, up 6 percentage points from just two years ago. Additionally, employees from underrepresented minority groups have steadily increased by 3 percentage points each year from 21 percent in 2014 to 27 percent this year. And this year, the company noted that 54 percent of new hires over the past year were nonwhite (including Asian employees, who are generally overrepresented at tech companies like Apple).

Apple is showing steady growth in making its workforce look less white and male.
Apple is showing steady growth in making its workforce look less white and male.

The company’s efforts have produced slow but steady overall progress: In two years, women employees in Apple’s overall global workforce increased from 30 percent to 32 percent. Black employees are up from 7 percent to 9, and Latinos have increased from 11 percent to 12 percent.

In terms of gender representation, the percentage of women employees is slightly better or on par with other tech giants like Google (31 percent) and Facebook (33 percent). And, like Facebook and Microsoft, Apple says it has essentially closed the gender and racial wage gap between women and underrepresented minorities compared with male and white peers.

Rather, Apple shines brightest among other tech companies in terms of race — and mostly on a technicality. While black and Latino employees make up less than 6 percent of either Google’s or Facebook’s workforces, Apple’s numbers get a boost from its 250 retail stores, where 29 percent of employees are from underrepresented minority groups. Twenty-seven percent of Apple’s non-tech employees are also from these groups.

Indeed, despite better racial representational numbers overall, Apple is still lagging behind when it comes to tech and leadership positions.

Diversity isn’t just about numbers. It’s about systemic changes.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in 2014 called tech diversity "the next step in the civil rights movement," lauded Apple’s latest diversity report in a statement to the Guardian: "They are clearly setting the pace, making measurable progress for three consecutive years. They’ve acted with intention, not just aspiration."

But what exactly is tech diversity aspiring toward? Better numbers? Or equity?

On the one hand, Asian employees are overrepresented in tech: Asians make up 6 percent of the workforce and 17 percent of tech and engineering workers. By contrast, African Americans and Latino Americans comprised 12 percent and 16 percent of the workforce in 2014. And in the years since, they are rarely represented in the technical sector of the industry.

Apple’s diversity numbers in the non-tech and retail sectors are basically on par with those areas elsewhere. In the overall non-tech sector, 11 percent and 16 percent of employees are black and Hispanic. Similarly, in retail, 12 percent of the employees are black and 17 percent are Hispanic. But in tech, they each account for 8 percent of employees. Among the company’s leaders, only 3 percent are black and 7 percent are Hispanic.

When Facebook’s latest diversity report in July showed stagnant growth, the company suggested this was an issue of a broken talent pipeline: "It has become clear that at the most fundamental level, appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system," Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global director of diversity, wrote.

And yet, a 2014 report by USA Today showed that African Americans and Hispanics are graduating with computer science and computer engineering degrees at twice the rate as they are being hired for corresponding tech positions.

Unrepresented minorities are getting the tech degrees but not the tech jobs. George Petras via USA Today

So the disparity doesn’t seem to be for lack of people educated in the right fields, as has been the excuse in Silicon Valley.

Companies have shown they are willing to invest in these communities. Google, for instance, has provided more than $5 million in grants to racial justice organizations in the past year alone. And in the midst of the recent police shootings, Facebook put up a Black Lives Matter sign at its headquarters.

Lip service and even big donations in the name of racial justice doesn’t absolve these tech innovators of pursuing better hiring practices. A part of that is to achieve better representation overall. But as Apple’s diversity shows, better overall representation isn’t the same as maintaining equity at each level of the company.

Again, Apple is doing better than most of the tech industry. But the stark differences in representation in the tech and non-tech sectors of the company suggest that even if Apple leads by example, that example shows there’s still more work to be done.