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Confronting Homogeneity In Apple's Boardroom

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an event at Apple's headquarters Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an event at Apple's headquarters Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California.

Apple shareholders will be voting on a proposal at the annual meeting Feb. 26. It's a proposal that the company opposes, which calls for the tech leader to increase diversity in its senior management.

Antonio Maldonado owns more than $2,000 worth of stock in Apple and he's been pushing the company to increase what he calls an "abysmal" lack of diversity at the top level. In 2015, the company had one Hispanic and four African-American members among the 103 people Apple considers executives, senior officials and managers. Seventy-three of those top executives were white men.

"They believe that they're making a lot of progress and that their numbers are great in upper management. And [my belief] is actually quite the opposite," Maldonado told NPR's Michel Martin.

He says he first became interested in this issue while discussing tech careers with his son. "We were reviewing the website for Apple. And he just made a quick quirp and just said 'Oh look at that, I'll be the first person of color up there.'

"That stuck in my mind, believe it or not," he says. "And for three years I did some research and I started challenging Apple directly about this. And unfortunately, they never gave me sufficient answers as to why it was occurring, so I decided to come up with this."

Maldonado's shareholder proposal requests "that the board of directors adopt an accelerated recruitment policy," which would require Apple "to increase the diversity of senior management and its Board of Directors, two bodies that presently fails to adequately represent diversity (particularly Hispanic, African-American, Native-American and other people of colour)."

Apple's board opposes the proposal. The company argues it "is unduly burdensome and not necessary because Apple has demonstrated to shareholders its commitment to inclusion and diversity, which are core values for our company." Company lawyers also said the proposal would "micro-manage" hiring decisions and that it was impossible to implement because it would "require the candidates the Company recruits" to accept job offers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote that the company was "committed to fostering and advancing inclusion and diversity across Apple and all the communities we're a part of." At other levels besides the top suite, Apple's diversity improved slightly in 2015.

As part of diversity efforts, the company points to its move to provide scholarships to historically black colleges, donations of Apple products to schools as part of President Obama's ConnectED initiative, and sponsoring the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

At the top level, five of Apple's eight board members are white men. James A. Bell, the former president of Boeing who is African-American, was elected to the board in October 2015. Almost all of the 18 executives listed on Apple's website are white men. Two executives are African-American women.

"Unfortunately when they start pointing to something like that, it tends to be tokenism," Maldonado says of the two black executives. "Let's just look at the facts. For instance, in the board of directors, it was a span of 18 years between having black members within the board of directors."

Maldonado says the recent additions of women and African-Americans to the board and group of senior executives was the result of pressure from groups like the Rainbow PUSH coalition of Jesse Jackson. Jackson told Bloomberg last year that it's a small sign that "Apple is moving in the right direction."

But "the company lags far behind Facebook, Google and Microsoft" among diversity in senior management, according to Engadget.

Issues of diversity at Apple are reflective of the technology industry as a whole, which is dominated by white men. Activists have prodded tech firms to begin issuing regular diversity reports on their progress.

Maldonado's proposal is nonbinding. But "it does nudge a company to actually act rightly. It's a black mark on their brand if they decide to go against something that the shareholders want," he says. "After all, the company's owned by shareholders, not by individuals. So therefore they have to comply eventually to shareholders' requests. Even though it may not be today or tomorrow, eventually they have to."

At least 25 board diversity resolutions were filed in 2015, according to the Thirty Percent Coalition, which supports having more women on company boards. Since 2000, 57 resolutions to increase diversity at publicly-traded companies have gone to a vote, though none have been approved, Edward Kamonjoh of Institutional Shareholder Services told Bloomberg.

"Our goal of course is to hopefully get this to pass," says Maldonado. And if it doesn't, he plans to bring it up again.

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