Is Denise Young Smith of Apple Right?

Could 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men constitute a diverse group?

That’s what Denise Young Smith, Apple’s Diversity exec, recently suggested and then, because of the Internet blowback, had to apologize for saying.


Though it’s a bad sound-bite, there’s also validity in the comment.

Some statistics came to mind: When one-third of people are known to be introverts, according to Quiet researcher, Susan Cain, then clearly that’s one bit cut. Another is the bias towards the super young or aging; a quarter of the room could be Millennials; which has just surpassed the other quarter of the population, Boomers. 4% of the population identifies as LGBT. 8% of men are color-blind. 10% of the population is left-handed, which is considered a sin by some. 15% of the population is dyslexic. 10% of the white population is below the poverty line, so could apply here. Some are high school drop outs; others PHds. Religious mix likely affects 4% of the room.

This quick review suggests Smith was not wrong. A group of white, blue-eyed, blonde men could be incredibly “diverse” when you remember what full range of diversity includes: age, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, and religion, as well as the biases of who should have ideas.

I share all this, knowing it is sticking my head in the proverbial lion’s mouth of the Internet. Outrage seems to be the default response to so many things. But it’s worth the risk to explore the point. Which is… when most of us read the notion of 12 “white guys” we mostly saw a type, a group organized by sameness. Wasn’t it relatively easy to see “them” as monolithic, and uniform?

To do this is to do what none of us want done to ourselves; As we judge and categorize by gender and color, we see a group, but miss the real source of value — the individual.

We need to stop thinking of people as abstract notions, and by meaningless groupings, which is how work has been organized for hundreds of years. Instead, in our modern economy fueled by ideas, we need to notice the singular person and their specific constellation of life history and experience, as well as their visions and hopes …. All of which inform their purpose. And what they bring to the table. And what ideas they can add to the world.


Some of you will think I’m “all lives mattering” this topic. As in taking the key idea — diversity matters — and saying “all diversity matters”. As if to misdirect the topic, and argue it’s okay for tech to use the argument of “12 white guys can be diverse” as a way of keeping things much the same as they are.

That’s not what I am advocating, at all. As I’ve written in HBR, this underinvestment in women and people of color is costing us all. In Time Magazine, I argued that Twitter’s all white board was a sure sign of failure and that Uber’s board sexist culture embodies this problem. Denise Young Smith likely has a similar history of well-researched scholarship, and advocacy within Apple which is why the internet brouhaha is unhelpful; it’s taking one sentence out of context of a body of work.

Yet, the race/gender issue is a hot button for a reason. These two factors can be used to screen faster than the harder to detect ‘isms’ of sexual orientation, or religion. Research is abundant on this topic. Just two examples: Black names get 50% less responses for equivalent resumes; code written by women is applied at a higher rate than men’s, once gender is hidden. Women and POC are far too underrepresented — 32% of Apple’s workforce is female; 22 % are from “minorities” — and that level of under-inclusion is, mathematically based, surely costing us the solutions, creativity and ideas that we most need. Anyone arguing otherwise is advocating self-interest not shared interests.

That said, if we make the talent challenge of diversity & inclusion entirelyabout women and people of color, we are saying that this only affects women and people of color. And that’s not the truth.


Because most of us don’t get to be ourselves and get seen as ourselves. In writing The Power of Onlyness, I found research that says 61% of us do not reveal their true selves; instead, In order to “fit in” to different work cultures, the majority of us admit to “covering” — trying to conform to the mainstream — even if it means not being who actually we are. Some typical examples are a gay man hiding his sexuality with “manly” sports talk, a younger man wearing glasses he doesn’t need in order to appear more experienced, or a poor person hiding her heritage despite it being a source of insight on a new market opportunity. And, it’s not just such traditional “outsiders” who admit to high rates of covering: Nearly half — a whopping 45% — of straight white men report covering as well, playing to an archetype or “normal” instead of feeling free to be themselves.

Fitting in means giving up yourself to meet the conforming norms and expectations of others, and thus fitting in costs us new ideas. As long as you belong by fitting in, you “belong” but in a half-soul kind of way.

Without the social standing to be seen as yourself, you can’t bring ­that which ONLY you have to offer. In that way, our ability to be ourselves (and advocate for our own ideas) is entirely shaped by those who surround us. It’s why the culture we’re in — like the invisible matter that holds the stars in the sky — is equally the invisible matter of organization that enables innovation (or not).


Each of us are singularly ourselves; we each have value to offer. Now that singular ideas can scale through connectedness, we are no longer reliant on hierarchy or role. This could create a new framework for identity and inclusion; one that enables including all ideas, all perspectives. That’s what we need to be addressing. That’s the opportunity.

This post originally appeared on Medium

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