Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to see more diversity in the tech industry, saying there are “no good excuses” for the continued lack of women in the world’s tech firms.
Diversity is good for business
This is not an outlier position. Cook is making what is becoming a widely accepted argument that diversity within a business makes that business better. Decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver better results, as many surveys, such as this one and this one, have found.
“I think the essence of technology and its effect on humanity depends upon women being at the table,” Cook told the BBC. “Technology’s a great thing that will accomplish many things, but unless you have diverse views at the table that are working on it, you don’t wind up with great solutions.”
Apple opens UK scheme for female developers
Cook’s comments came as Apple introduces its App Store Foundation Program to the UK for the first time. Designed to help build future developers, Apple is paying particular attention to female developers in the first iteration of the scheme.
Representation is critical. A study by psychologist Penelope Lockwood found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”
A PWC report underlines the challenge. It claims 78% of students were unable to name a famous female working in the tech industry. And just a few years ago, just 3% of U.S. educational materials focused on female contributions across history.
This lack of access to historical role models systemically disempowers women from entering these industries.
Despite the mission, Apple still has work to do
Apple still has a way to go before it can claim to have escaped the tech industry trap of senior leadership being white and male. At Apple, just five out of 18 of the executives listed on the company’s Executive Profiles page are women, and just two of its 12 most senior executives are female.
To its credit, the company appears to be making serious attempts to get women more visible in tech. These include readiness to appoint women to senior leadership positions, putting female leadership in key keynote spots, investments in coding education for kids, and other attempts to foster diversity.
When it comes to female representation in its workforce, Apple’s staff in the US is 35% female.
Deloitte estimates large tech firms will achieve 33% representation across the industry as a whole this year. In the UK, a PWC report claims just 23% of people working in STEM roles in the UK are female, with just 5% of tech leadership roles held by women.
Change takes time
At the same time, Apple’s attempts to give visibility to women within its leadership force may help it achieve its long-term goal of making the industry feel like a space in which women can aspire, contribute, and achieve. Tech overall still suffers from being seen as a men’s club, which must change to achieve the level of diversity needed for the industry to deliver its full potential.
The perceived sexism of tech stops women from joining the business. Women and girls don’t pursue STEM subjects, which means the stable of qualified female talent is small. That’s not because they can’t — women excel in STEM topics and outperform their male counterparts in these subjects.
Apple’s leader agrees that his company must do more. “Businesses can’t cop out and say ‘there’s not enough women taking computer science – therefore I can’t hire enough,'” said Cook, stressing the need to get more women and girls educated for the industry.
Apple has been a big champion of coding education and believes code should be taught in every school to every pupil. The company offers Swift Playgrounds, coding education curricula and in-store coding education sessions to help achieve this, but that is a very long-term strategy.
In the shorter term, it’s about boosting representation — and the hope is that delivering powerful female role models will help nurture tomorrow’s talent.
If this is something that matters to you, do note the annual Ada Lovelace Day coming up on Oct. 11. The event aims to raise the profile of women in STEM subjects.