“Is this the most diverse Apple keynote ever?,” tweeted Rakesh Agrawal, a product and marketing strategist. “A lot of women and minorities. (Though, sadly, no African Americans speaking — some in the ads.)”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Tech giants have long been criticized for a lack of diversity in their workforces, particularly when it comes to leadership positions. A tech industry that is homogeneous is dangerous, critics warn, in part because engineers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are developing everything from AI assistants to robots. They say a lack of diversity could contribute to problems as new technology plays an ever-growing role in our lives.
Last year, members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited Apple and other large tech companies to discuss why the sector has been slow to diversify its executive ranks, invest in minority-owned start-ups and assist workers who can’t find jobs or afford to live in Silicon Valley. At the time, black employees made up about 9 percent of Apple’s workforce, while white employees represented 54 percent.
Though more recent data shows Apple has gained ground with other minority groups and new hires, the percentage of black employees overall remains at 9 percent. Only 3 percent of high-ranking positions at the company are held by black people.
As a result of years of criticism, many tech companies — including Apple — have stepped up their recruiting efforts and published inclusion reports.
“Things I’ve noticed about #AppleEvent that are rubbing me the wrong way: A ton of upper management white men introducing minorities who do the actual work,” wrote Olivia Moore, a Chicago-based design consultant. “Another year and so far, not a single black person actually on the stage speaking.
Still, she added, “Diversity matters. They’re learning.”
In a brighter sign for diversity, multiple women took the stage as presenters at Tuesday’s event, including Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president of health, and Kaiann Drance, senior director of product management and marketing for the iPhone.
Some Apple supporters pointed out that the company brought African American icon Oprah Winfrey to the stage for its Apple TV+ announcement earlier this year and that Apple CEO Tim Cook brought his own diversity to Tuesday’s event as a member of the LGBTQ community. (Cook is openly gay.)
The conversation about diversity has even extended to emoji, with cultural experts arguing that representation by emoji validates identity and are used throughout the world across language barriers. In July, Apple and Google revealed their designs of new emoji, including depictions of a service dog, wheelchairs and hearing aids. The companies also introduced new versions of people holding hands, with Apple adding 75 new combinations based on skin tone and gender.
Apple introduced emoji skin color options beyond its standard light-skinned depiction in 2015. Many users applauded the update, while others felt the changes were poorly executed.