Apple, Diversity, and Why It Succeeds

Brian S Hall / June 10th, 2013

Quite possibly, the single most important action undertaken by Tim Cook as CEO of Apple was when he fired Scott Forstall – so often referred to as “the next Steve Jobs.” There were likely many reasons for Cook’s move, but the overarching one is well-documented: Cook demands collaboration and Forstall was not known to share the glory nor the information. Cook would have none of it. He wants the company free of politics, fully focused on its mission, everyone working together.

Apple shows us again and again that to do the very best work, to make the very best products, to create something out of  nothing that magically appeals to everyone requires great people with a singular cause, a focused leadership, and unwavering faith in what they are doing.

Does this make Apple anti-diversity?

Absolutely not.

Tim Cook has said that the only pictures in his office are of Robert F. Kennedy,  a man who preached the benefits of diversity, and Dr. Martin Luther King – a man who helped change America’s views on so much, including how we value people who are different from ourselves.

Nonetheless, it seems current efforts to promote diversity within tech companies are doomed to failure. The companies that succeed in Silicon Valley are typically highly focused, comprised of people of highly similar backgrounds and educations – all focused on a singular mission.

The last great Silicon Valley success story, Facebook, came straight out of a Harvard dorm – chock full of well-to-do white males. It’s nearly impossible to be less representative of American society than that. Yet Facebook has a billion users around the world.

There are good reasons why so many of us believe there are societal benefits to diversity and inclusion, of course. Everyone of us benefits – culturally and economically – when everyone’s talents, creativity and dreams are afforded the opportunities to be fully realized.

But such larger social benefits fail to pass the results test when it comes to individual company success. Making Apple more “diverse” will not make it better. Walk into any Apple Store right now and see young and old, black and white, male and female all testing, using – coveting – the company’s many amazing devices. Apple’s success proves that mission and focus – not diversity – are what drives corporate greatness.

No, this does not mean we should not have nor promote diversity. Rather, we must acknowledge that change needs to come from outside. Efforts to promote computer programming for girls, for example, or to bring more people of color into STEM fields – these are worthy. Trying to enforce diversity policies inside a company is simply not the way to go.

Could Apple really do better if the picture below looked more representative of American society? That is a difficult case to make.

Apple Executive Leadership Team

Apple Executive Leadership Team

Apple is the world’s richest tech company. It has amassed the most cash. It makes the very best smartphone, tablet and laptop in the world. It is the global leader in personal computing. The company has over half a billion users and is growing, particularly in developing markets.

Would it be any more so if Apple’s leadership was, say, half women and/or 25% people of color? Would their products be any better? More appealing?

If you want a diverse workforce in Silicon Valley, and no doubt many of us do, then complaining about VCs not funding enough women, for example, of fretting that big tech companies aren’t hiring enough people of color will likely continue to fall on deaf ears.

Silicon Valley can absolutely adapt to change. That change, however, needs to come from the outside – and be data-driven.

We need to make more of those men and women who can propel Apple and Silicon Valley to continued greatness. That will – of necessity – demand a more diverse hiring pool to choose from. It’s simply wrong, however, to look to Apple HR, for example, or Sand Hill Road, to construct this path. That is not their mission.

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.
  • Rich

    You’ve taken a sample of two companies – Apple and Facebook – and used that to try to prove a generality. Any statistician will tell you your sample size is too small for your conclusion. This article sounds like a weak and ugly attempt to justify a bias you may not even be aware of. I have a feeling this wouldn’t have been written if you were either black or female. BTW I am a white male.

    Stick to technical issues and leave the sociological ones to people who are more objective.

    • Scott Sterling

      Technology is so fast moving that a leading-edge tech company is probably the ultimate meritocracy. I think that’s all Brian is saying.

      • smidgenpc

        I often see this statement made as some enlightened truism. Why? There’s nothing about “technology is fast moving” that implies “meritocracy.”

        • Scott Sterling

          Respectfully, you either don’t know how the technology business works or you don’t know what the word meritocracy means. Some industries don’t change as much or as fast, consequently it’s possible for them to coast a bit. Technology moves so fast there is no coasting; you either out-compete or you get trampled. Consequently any person of any gender or color who brings true excellence to the table will succeed.

          • smidgenpc

            That was a predictable response. I am constantly amazed by how people parroting this “meritocracy” crap implicitly state “women and people of color just ain’t smart, see” without batting an eye.

            You say “technology moves so fast there is no coasting” which means you “out-compete or you get trampled.”

            But that doesn’t actually support meritocracy. Do you know why? Because being white is a competitive advantage. Being a man is a competitive advantage. Because having money is a competitive advantage. These things are advantages because most of the people at the top are white (and if not, Asian or Indian), male and have money. You can’t upset the entire industry if no one will hire you, fund you, or take you seriously (i.e. stop looking down your blouse).

            So you are right – this industry is about out-competing. And males hold all the competitive advantages. They get hired by other men, work with other men, go to conferences with other men. And when they look around the sausage-fest which is their industry, they go online and write self-serving righteous diatribes about how technology is a meritocracy, confident that other men will +1 their post.

          • Would Apple be richer and/or have better products today if it were run differently?

          • Rich

            “Would Apple be richer and/or have better products today if it were run differently?”

            We’ll never get the chance to find out. You said:

            “It seems current efforts to promote diversity within tech companies are doomed to failure. The companies that succeed in Silicon Valley are typically comprised of people of highly similar backgrounds” and “Fretting that big tech companies aren’t hiring enough people of color will likely continue to fall on deaf ears”.

          • barryotoole

            Hey! What happened to your own site, smartphone wars?

          • Clearly – onto bigger and better things!

          • Scott Sterling

            Thank you for clarifying: you clearly have no idea what the word meritocracy means. You’re more than a smidgenpc.

          • James King

            I think he understands the word perfectly well.

          • Rich

            “Any person of any gender or color who brings true excellence to the table will succeed.”

            Is that why Brian said “It seems current efforts to promote diversity within tech companies are doomed to failure. The companies that succeed in Silicon Valley are typically comprised of people of highly similar backgrounds” and “Fretting that big tech companies aren’t hiring enough people of color will likely continue to fall on deaf ears?”

          • Scott Sterling

            Rich, it seems to me that you are missing Brian’s point, if I understand his point correctly.

            I think what he is saying is that calls to artificially diversify are going to fail because that would harm the companies’ performance since, that involves filling quotas instead of finding the best person. Better to allow a natural diversification to occur, only on the basis of merit. Companies will continue to hire the best person available to get the results needed, without consideration of color or gender.

            Let’s put it another way:
            — would it harm Apple or Facebook to hire people who meet a color or gender guideline OVER a more qualified person who didn’t meet the artificial guideline? Of course it would harm them, and that’s why it’s going to fail.
            — conversely, if the best person for the job is a person of color or a female, do you think Apple or Facebook would turn that person away and thus intentionally harm themselves? I doubt it.

          • James King

            Your argument was shot in the foot when a recent study showed that there are more than enough qualified people in tech to fill all of the openings but companies won’t pay them market rate. So tech companies lobby Congress for H-1B visas to artificially increase worker competition and drive down salaries. If even ONE U.S. job applicant losses a job to ONE foreign applicant who is inferior, your argument implodes.

            I’ll take those odds any day.

          • Scott Sterling

            You clearly did not read the article and have no idea what Brian was talking about. This whole discussion is about top management people (“executive leadership teams” – see article) at tech companies like Apple and Facebook. It is not about hiring engineers at an entry-level. Regarding hiring entry-level engineers, are you suggesting that Apple and Facebook are not well diversified at that level? If so, I would reiterate, that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • James King

            I know exactly what to what I am eferring. It’s obvious you don’t recognize a logical fallacy when you read one. Hall’s article is basically just trolling.

            My point was that your premise is false because it’s based on a supposition that you and Hall are presenting as fact, the notion that tech companies will always attempt to hire the best candidates so they will not discriminate. The problem is THEY ALREADY DO by hiring H-1Bs over US citizens. Do you honestly think qualified US workers have not been passed over for cheaper less qualified foreign workers in tech?

            Your position is circular andself justifying. Even worse, you are using a logical fallacy to defend yourself by claiming that anyone who contradicts you “doesn’t know what they are talking about.”

            The one who doesn’t seem to understand is you.

          • Scott Sterling

            You are basing your argument on the subject of hiring H-1B’s. However that is not the argument that either Brian or I am making. As I said, the article is about executives. Please read the article.

            Definition of logical fallacy: “supposing that an argument proving an irrelevant point has proved the point at issue”.

            Since you keep trying to prove a point that is irrelevant to the matter under discussion, by definition your entire argument is a logical fallacy.

          • James King

            “Tech companies will continue to hire the best person available to help
            them out-compete, without consideration of color or gender” – Scott Sterling

            I disproved this point with my H-1B visa response. Even though there are plenty of qualified candidates in the U.S., tech companies continue to press for more H-1B visa hires. It is STATISTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE that all of these candidates are superior to potential U.S. candidates. So if ANY inferior foreign candidate is hired over a more qualified U.S. citizen, your statement is false. Under those conditions, tech companies aren’t hiring the “best” candidates. Full stop.

            “As I said, the article is about executives.” – Scott Sterling

            No, the article is about RACIAL AND GENDER DIVERSITY among executives. Hall’s premise that there is no evidence that Apple or Facebook would be more successful if they had more racial or gender diversity amongst its leadership. He then challenges proponents of such diversity to provide QUANTIFIABLE evidence to disprove him though he has not provided quanitifiable evidence to support his statement AND CAN NOT. That particular logical fallacy is called “circular reasoning”:

            http://www.logicalfallacies.info/presumption/begging-the-question/

            It is also a “complex question” fallacy:

            http://www.logicalfallacies.info/presumption/complex-question/

            Because the original premise is based on logical fallacies, the position that you and Hall share is invalid.

            “Definition of logical fallacy: “supposing that an argument proving an irrelevant point has proved the point at issue”.

            Since you keep trying to prove a point that is irrelevant to the
            matter under discussion, by definition your entire argument is a logical
            fallacy.” – Scott Sterling

            This is a “straw man” logical fallacy:

            http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html

            I used my statement to disprove your implication that the tech industry is a meritocracy. As I pointed out, you only need to be wrong ONCE. The odds are in my favor.

            In any case, the supposition that you and Hall make is unprovable from either position. It uses the circumstance to justify the circumstance. Therefore, it is invalid.

            Chill 😉

          • James King

            This is a self-justifying argument. It is formed on an assumption and can’t be tested, particularly because it is presumed to be factual when it is in fact conjectural.

          • James King

            This is a “non sequitur” logical fallacy.

    • Technology is so pervasive and Silicon Valley so important to America, I think that this issue should be part of my focus.
      And are the “more objective” sociological writers those who agree with you?

  • Idon’t Know

    This is really a bizarre commentary in general. Do you have some sort of issues with women or people of color? You assume that because the company is successful and run by white males that those two things are a correlation. Weird. Work our your personal issues somewhere else. I am also an older highly successful white male in IT btw.

    • Joe_Winfield_IL

      He didn’t say that Apple succeeds because the leadership team is all white males. He said that arbitrarily including women or other races, simply for the benefit of a better team photo, would not make the company any more diverse.

    • That was not my intent. I’ve received some great feedback from readers. My point – and I hope the post effectively conveys this – is that…look at Apple’s exec leadership team. White males. Look at Facebook’s beginnings.
      Would having a more *representative* group really make these companies better? Richer? That seems like an extremely difficult case to make. Thus, if you want “diversity”, such changes should come from outside the company, not inside.

    • Scott Sterling

      That is not what he said at all; I’m not sure you actually read the article. He cites the following as the correlation that leads to success (not, as you accuse, “white males”):

      “Nonetheless, it seems current efforts to promote diversity within tech companies are doomed to failure. The companies that succeed in Silicon Valley are typically highly focused, comprised of people of highly similar backgrounds and educations – all focused on a singular mission.”

  • Mark

    Brian, your article serves a service in that it provokes. I am often confused (comment about me) about what the limits of diversity would be for its proponents?

    Is it about diversity of perspectives, opportunities, etc. Or is it about homogeneity? For me the notion of diversity is that there are differences between parts (that is they are not clones of each other). This means when we look at any one segment we would see asymmetry. If we push the notion of homogeneity to its extremes we might absurdly insist that every family produce equal amounts of children based upon some external criteria.

    Anyway, the thesis that Brian proposes is that diversity in and of itself may not be strongly correlated to economic performance. For those who say he used two extremes: sometimes it is the exception that illustrates the point the best.

    • Nicely stated. Thanks.

      • James King

        “And are the “more objective” sociological writers those who agree with you?” – Brian S. Hall

        Pot meet kettle.

    • James King

      He can’t prove the point one way or the other. It’s a self-justifying perspective.

  • James King

    The entire premise of this article is a logical fallacy. Your point is unprovable and practically unsupportable. I’ve personally witnessed “white males” run companies into the ground.

    The situation is self-fulfilling. If women and non-white, non-Asian and non-Indian minorities are shut out, then the situation is constantly in a state of being rigged. How CAN these groups prove themselves if they are shut out?

    To answer your question, YES I think Apple would be a much more successful company if its leadership were comprised of QUALIFIED people from diverse backgrounds. Companies should be making the effort to be more inclusive to encourage people from different backgrounds to pursue careers in technology. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If an environment is hostile to you, you won’t want to be in it. Speaking from personal experience, technology is not welcoming to purple who don’t come from the “accepted” groups. That definitely needs to change.

    • You make several assertions that Apple and all of tech are shutting out women and minorities. I don’t believe this is true. More to the point, I certainly don’t believe Apple would be “much more successful” if it changed its executive team to be more reflective of society.
      Even better iPhones? Even better iPads? More iTunes users? I simply don’t believe there is any evidence to back this up.

      • James King

        Your entire position is conjectural and circular by nature. It isn’t a “data driven” argument but a simple conflation. You are using “the way things are” to justify them being that way. So the very premise of your article is invalid.

        As for your beliefs, that is why discussions related to discrimination aren’t generally productive … people who don’t experience discrimination can find many ways to rationalize it. I can only speak for myself and, to an extent, others like me who have similar experiences. From that perspective, my claim is that the technology field is indeed not the “meritocracy” that it is portrayed to be. But then that invites the self-serving argument that maybe me or others like me are indeed not as qualified as we think we are. If you believe that the tech field is indeed a meritocracy, then no argument to the contrary will change that. It’s circular by nature. That’s what makes your article disingenuous at best.

        • I deliberately avoided the whole idea of whether or not tech is a meritocracy. This is a challenge to those who believe diversity improves a company’s sales, revenues, market appeal – anything.
          Apple’s exec team is comprised of white males with Western educations. It’s (about) the richest company in the world. It makes the best mobile computing devices in the world. Tell me/show me how it can do even better by making itself more diverse.

          • James King

            You want me to address a logical fallacy which, by its very nature, can’t be addressed. Your argument isn’t empirical, it semantical. You either don’t know the difference or this exchange is a ruse to self-justify your flawed thinking.

            But if you want me to address it PHILOSOPHICALLY, then my counter is that homogeneity is rarely a good thing. The life experiences of the white male are but a subset of total life experiences. Every culture has the potential to bring something unique to an environment. Steve Jobs himself was influenced by Asian calligraphy and culture and brought much of that to Apple. You can’t quantify those experiences. That’s what makes this exchange so dishonest on your part.

            If you want an example though, once again, look no further than Steve Jobs himself. Could a man of Syrian decent who dropped out of college and had no formal training build a company as relevant as Apple today? Jobs was a man with absolutely zero credentials yet he went on to create what is arguably one of the greatest companies ever. Talent can only be confirmed, not assessed.

            But the reality is that you are being disingenuous. You start from a supposition that is self-justifying but far from empirical. You are committing the very sin you accuse diversity advocates of committing. Hypocrisy invalidates by default.

          • Scott Sterling

            chill

          • James King

            Yeah, I know… truth hurts.

          • What truth. I made my case: Apple is run by white males, nearly all American/Western, with Western educations. They are *also* the richest tech company in the world with the best products and one of the most beloved brands. You – or anyone – needs to make the case that instilling “diversity” can possibly make them even better, richer, more successful. I’ve yet to see you even try. Rather, it’s word play re my argument.

          • James King

            It’s apparent that your article is simply a means of justifying what is obviously primitive thinking. I think I’ve written enough to expose your true intentions.

            Let me know when you make a real argument.

            BTW:

            “You – or anyone – needs to make the case that instilling “diversity” can possibly make them even better, richer, more successful.” – Brian S. Hall

            “Burden of proof” logical fallacy.

  • Thusitha Nuwan

    As a prospective investor to Apple, I just looked into the company executive team information. I wasn’t impressed by what I saw. By the way I am a brown man working in IT. I agree the executive team picture wouldn’t reflect Apple’s diversity. But it would be inspiring to see some diversity in the top level rather that in the very bottom on the product chain. As a matter of fact I am not impressed at all.

  • Robin Terrell

    The funny thing about this article is that when the opposite argument is made that diversity and inclusion makes companies more successful, which is backed by a significant amount of data when looking at ROI and other financial measures – the response you hear is prove the causality. So I say to you Brian – prove the causality that a group of all white men is the key to innovative success – and is that success sustainable in the face of a rapidly changing global talent market.

    And in reference to “Walk into any Apple Store right now and see young and old, black and white, male and female all testing, using – coveting – the company’s many amazing devices,” guess who you see helping them fall in love with Apple. My experience is there is greater diversity in an Apple Store than when I’ve visited the new Microsoft storelets.

    And, yes it is the job of our society to create fairness in opportunities at all levels – so that the only path to success is not through a Harvard dorm room which is prohibitively expensive for the majority of Americans of all colors. It’s never either or – it will require all of our effort from the bottom, the middle and the top.

    • sakky

      First off, I don’t think that anybody is seriously arguing that “a group of all white men is the key to innovative success”. After all, some of the most innovative firms in the world are Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, whose leaderships are almost exclusively Asian (Sony being a notable exception).

      It seems to me that the real question is whether *diversity* of leadership – as opposed to an all-white, all-Asian, or all-anything-else platoon of leadership – actually causes improved performance. And yes, the burden of proof does indeed rightfully fall on the shoulders of those who propose to change the status quo. After all, whether we want to admit it or not, companies with undiverse leadership (i.e. all-white, all-Asian, etc.) have indeed seemed to generate an impressively large set of innovations. One would think that if the case for leadership diversity and innovation was so clear, then some company should have come along by now that had a diverse leadership and wiped the floor against all of its competitors who lacked diverse leadership. The claim that diverse leadership does indeed cause improved innovation and that firms have simply been too myopic and foolish to realize this is therefore indeed a provocative claim that requires strong supporting evidence. {One should also note that Sony, frankly, has not been particularly innovative ever since they installed a mixed-race leadership.}

      Finally, I would say that with regards to your final paragraph regarding the expense of Harvard: It should be noted that Harvard is clearly arguably the most fantastic financial bargain in the world for anybody of modest financial means. As a matter of written policy, Harvard guarantees a completely full ride *with no loans* for anybody from a family making less than $65k a year, and charges only up to 10% of family income for those families making up to $150k a year. The upshot is many (almost certainly the vast majority) of families making less than $150k a year would actually pay less to send their child to Harvard than to their state university. Furthermore, Harvard’s student support services and – frankly – heavy grade-inflation mean that practically every Harvard student who wants to graduate will do so. Practically nobody flunks out, and the only students who don’t graduate are the ones who choose not to graduate because they have something better to do with their time (Gates, Zuckerburg, Matt Damon, etc.) Again, contrast that with many universities with skimpy student support services and where flunking out is a serious possibility, meaning that many students rack up hefty debts for no degree at all.

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