Apple's first VP of Diversity and Inclusion to leave the company following criticism over her views on diversity

While her departure seemed to be planned, her stance on diversity may give tech firms a chance to rethink on what sort of diversity they stand for.

Apple’s first vice president of Diversity and Inclusion, Denise Young Smith, is reportedly leaving the Cupertino-based company. She had joined as the VP in May, earlier this year.

Denise Young Smith, Apple VP, Inclusion and Diversity. Apple.

Denise Young Smith, Apple VP, Inclusion and Diversity. Apple.

According to TechCrunch, she is likely to be replaced by Christie Smith, who has spent several years at Deloitte.

Her departure from the company comes close on the heels of her memo where she had, reportedly, apologised for her choice of words when she spoke about diversity at a summit in Bogota, Columbia.

The memo mentions the point of contention which could have added to her departure. When asked whether her focus, when it comes to diversity, was on black women, she being one herself, she reportedly said, “I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color or the women or the LGBT or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around…because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads.”

To which she added the following, only making matters worse:

“And I’ve often told people a story, there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

Whether justified or not, her statement received intense criticism, and soon, on 7 November, Cornell Tech announced its next executive-in-residence. The company also mentioned in its blogpost that she would join them from January 2018, onwards.

It would be a misjudgment to think that Apple’s focus on black leadership is directly related to what she said, however.

In Apple's 2017 inclusion and diversity report, the company noted that there was no 'overall' increase in black women representation since last year. Similarly, within the 'tech' field representation of black women was 7 percent, while in 2016 it was 8 percent. Since 2014, the number had been increasing, but it fell this year.

Smith's stance on diversity seems to be that of privilege where discrimination can be experiential as well. But being a minority and not being allowed basic human rights are physical realities which need inclusive diversity. At a time when the Trump administration is hell-bent on repealing the DACA program, and Tim Cook, alongside other leaders of the tech world, is pushing the Dreamers agenda, diversity becomes a real need.

The criticism against her statements comes from the perception that her statements preclude any sort of white privilege in a country where racism is rampant. As TechCrunch put it, diversity of thought is not the same thing as racial diversity. There's nothing superficially wrong with Smith's views, but they only apply in an ideal world.

While her departure seemed to be planned, her stance on diversity may give tech firms a chance to rethink on what sort of diversity they stand for.

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