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Apple Defends Itself Against iPhone 7 Event Diversity Complaints

September 12, 2016, 4:36 PM UTC
Apple Holds Press Event To Introduce New iPhone
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Apple CEO Tim Cook welcomes Nintendo Creative Fellow Shigeru Miyamoto on stage during a launch event on September 7, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Apple Inc. is expected to unveil latest iterations of its smart phone, forecasted to be the iPhone 7. The tech giant is also rumored to be planning to announce an update to its Apple Watch wearable device. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
Stephen Lam — Getty Images

Apple has found itself in a battle over diversity after an email it hoped to keep off the record has been published online.

Last week, a technology reporter for Mic, Melanie Ehrenkranz, took Apple to task in an article titled, “Apple is committed to diversity, but fails on the biggest stage in tech.” The article talks about Apple’s iPhone 7 event last week and drills down into the general lack of diversity—and specifically women—at Apple’s big unveiling in San Francisco. She noted that men were given about 99 minutes to speak during the event, while women were spared just eight minutes. She then dug into the technology industry’s issues with diversity and argued that Apple has a “gender divide” problem that “does not represent the company’s consumer base.”

In a follow-up article on Monday, Ehrenkranz said Apple did not respond to repeated requests for comment until late on Friday when one of its spokespeople, a man, issued a rebuttal and called her piece “unnecessarily harsh.”

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“There was a lot of diversity on that stage that you don’t recognize,” the unidentified Apple spokesperson said in the email to Ehrenkranz. “Unrecognized by you was the fact that we had a gay man, two African-Americans (Instagram and Nike), a Canadian and a British woman, Hannah Catmur.”

The spokesperson was apparently referring to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is openly gay, in his email. The two African-American men he mentioned, Nike brand president Trevor Edwards and Instagram head of design Ian Spalter, don’t work at Apple, which did little to damage Ehrenkranz’s argument.

But perhaps the biggest debate now is between Apple (AAPL) and Ehrenkranz. At the top of the email sent by the Apple spokesperson, it reads “off the record,” apparently saying that the succeeding comments were off the record and therefore could not be published. However, Ehrenkranz argues that both Mic and journalists in general are not forced to hold back publication of comments when both parties haven’t agreed to an off-the-record conversation. Ehrenkranz, who said that “by standard journalism practice,” the email is on the record, then published the Apple spokesperson’s email in its entirety.

The problem for Apple now, is two-fold. For one, the company has long held that it’s a champion of diversity and continues to work hard at getting more people women and minorities instead positions of influence and power within the company. Last year, Cook said that diversity would be the “future” of his company, just months after Apple said it would invest more than $50 million to improve diversity.

Last month, however, it wasn’t all good news when Apple shared its diversity report, which showed that while Apple has boost the number of women it’s hired, its leadership team is made up of 67% of people who are white, compared to 63% in its prior-year diversity report. Ehrenkranz added on Monday that “Apple is still predominantly male and white.”

The second potential problem for Apple is that the email doesn’t necessarily strike the right tone. Ticking off presenters based on their sexual orientation, country of origin, or race to make a point likely won’t be viewed favorably by those who see gender diversity at Apple and across the industry as a major problem. And within Apple, the company, which is notoriously secretive, cannot be happy that one of its own employees wrote an email that has since been published online for all to see.

But if nothing else, it again brings up the issue of diversity in technology. And most, including Apple, should agree that’s a good thing.

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Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.