Tim Cook talks big on diversity

Tim CookAP Photo/Alex BrandonApple CEO Tim Cook, who is openly gay, has long been outspoken on social issues.

Tim Cook has spoken out strongly on diversity issues ahead of the Apple’s annual WWDC conference, labelling them central to “the future of our company.”

In an interview with Mashable, the 54-year-old CEO discussed the ongoing struggle to attract women and minority ethnic groups to the tech industry.

Big tech companies including Google and Twitter — and Apple — have begun publishing diversity reports, outlining the make-up of the companies and their efforts to expand this.

Apple’s 2014 report — its first — revealed 70% of global employees are male, and 55% of its workers (in the US) are white. (These figures, as Re/code noted at the time, include Apple’s retail presence — unlike most other tech companies’ reports.)

Cook told Mashable’s Elizabeth Warren that the company is determined to make headway on this. “I think it’s our fault — ‘our’ meaning the whole tech community… “I think in general we haven’t done enough to reach out and show young women that it’s cool to do it and how much fun it can be.”

But Cook also frames the need for diversity in economic terms, arguing it will help Apple’s succeed as a business. “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”

He goes on: “Diversity leads to better products, and we’re all about making products that enrich peoples’ lives, then you obviously put a ton of energy behind diversity the same way you would put a ton of energy behind anything else that is truly important.”

Speaking out the need for stronger role models to encourage women into tech, Cook also strongly suggests there will be at least one woman talking at Apple’s keynote speech at WWDC tomorrow. “You’ll see a change tomorrow,” he said. The obvious choice here is Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s retail chief who has been instrumental in the roll-out of the Apple Watch.

But another possibility is Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environmental Initiatives. Apple has doubled down on its environmental commitments over the last year, announcing new European data centres in Ireland and Denmark powered entirely by renewable energy, as well as a massive solar plant in China.

The third and last female executive is Denise Young-Smith, Vice President of Worldwide Human Resources. Young-Smith has previously narrated a video released by Apple about diversity, so she could be addressing the issue at the conference directly.

Any of these are a possibility, given the CEO has previously spoken out about his desire to “rise the public profile” of members of the executive team in a way that didn’t happen under his predecessor Steve Jobs’ watch. But it is revealing of the work Apple still has to do on diversity that of its 15 top-tier executives, only three — Ahrendts, Jackson, and Young-Smith — are women.

Cook, who is openly gay, has long been outspoken on social issues. He first addressed his sexuality publicly in an op-ed for Bloomberg, saying he is “proud to be gay,” and wanted to speak out because of the “fear and abuse” others have faced because of their sexuality.

“We pave the sunlit path towards justice together, brick by brick,” he wrote. “This is my brick.”

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