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raceAhead: Apple Whiffs on Diversity, Walmart Takes On Income Inequality?


When Bärí A. Williams, StubHub’s head of business operations for North America and recent contributor to The Black Ceiling, wrote me to say that she had written an opinion piece on “viewpoint diversity,” I scrapped my own draft on the subject. I know when to hand the mic to someone else.

At issue were remarks made by Denise Young Smith, Apple’s vice president of diversity and inclusion at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. It had a distinctly “all perspectives matter” vibe. “There can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men in a room and they’re going to be diverse, too, because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.”

The backlash was immediate, and her apology was swift. “My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I’m sorry,” she said in an email to staff. “More importantly, I want to assure you Apple’s view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.”

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Many folks aren’t so sure. From Williams’ op-ed:

Ms. Smith wasn’t the first to endorse the view in her initial statement. Those of us in the tech industry know that the idea of “cognitive diversity” is gaining traction among leaders in our field. In too many cases, this means that, in the minds of those with influence over hiring, the concept of diversity is watered down and reinterpreted to encompass what Silicon Valley has never had a shortage of — individual white men, each with their unique thoughts and ideas. This shift creates a distraction from efforts to increase the race and gender diversity the tech industry is sorely lacking.

This overlaps with the sentiments expressed in a screed by a Google software engineer that critiqued the company’s race and gender diversity efforts and ascribed the unequal representation of women in tech to “biological causes.” It included the line, “Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity.”

It’s worth exploring the diversity of thought that Williams herself has brought to her short but illustrious career.

Williams is now semi-famous for helping to start the supplier diversity program in her previous role at Facebook. It was not her primary gig. Williams was hired as lead counsel, though the idea for the program came to her during an orientation session with the company’s head of diversity. While the Oakland native had grown up in a family of educators on her mother’s side — “there was no question I’d go to college,” she said — her father, the son of former sharecroppers, owned a computer store close to a difficult part of town. “I admired the grit and the hustle,” she said. Williams was also disturbed by the lack of opportunity in primarily black neighborhoods. “You can’t hire everyone who wants to work at Facebook, and some people want to build their own businesses.”

A robust supplier network could build black wealth, provide competitively priced materials and introduce diversity into the experience of Facebook employees in non-confrontational ways. And the company, which is increasingly eating up low-income neighborhoods around its Silicon Valley headquarters, “has a fairly significant gentrification narrative to address,” she says. The supplier network launched last October and made a public showing at a black leadership conference on the company’s campus. Every vendor from the food to the entertainment had been sourced from a black-owned company. “It was the most blackety-black thing we’d ever seen,” she said, still sounding proud.

This is part of a broader movement for true diversity that Williams and others hope will not be abandoned, in hiring and beyond. I’ll give Williams the last word.

“As my former Facebook colleague Regina Dugan said recently, even if cognitive diversity is a company’s ultimate goal, ‘we can’t step away from the idea that diversity also looks like identity diversity.’ The effort to hire people with different points of view must not come at the expense of hiring members of actual underrepresented communities who add tangible, bottom-line value — and who deserve to work in tech as much as anyone.”

On Point

Walmart may be helping to solve income inequality in America Walmart has decided to pay its workers more. It’s a surprising move. “For decades, Walmart has been among the most vilified corporations in America, if not the world, for its labor policies, its supply chain practices, and its impact on small-town merchants everywhere,” says Oliver Staley in this long read analysis. Countering an existential threat from Amazon, CEO Doug McMillon is raising worker pay, which has wider implications for the world at large. “In the process, McMillon’s insistence that better pay is smart business is potentially reshaping a national debate over income inequality,” he says. Click through for the charts and graphs. Quartz

Well actually, the #MeToo hashtag is ten years old The allegations against and subsequent ouster of Harvey Weinstein has started yet another wrenching conversation about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and beyond. Prompted by actress and activist Alyssa Milano, women, including some very famous ones, have been sharing their own stories of the lived experiences of women in the workplace. But it’s worth remembering that the #MeToo hashtag was originally created nearly a decade ago by blogger and advocate Tarana Burke. “It made my heart swell to see women using this idea — one that we call ‘empowerment through empathy’ — to not only show the world how widespread and pervasive sexual violence is, but also to let other survivors know they are not alone,” she said on Instagram. Instagram

Save the date: (The Soul of) Black Folks podcast, November 6 Join writer, cultural commentator, journalist and editor of special projects at WNYC Rebecca Carroll for a podcast taping of Black Folks, a lively conversation that draws on the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and her own, while inviting an array of guests to collaborate on topics that impact black lives, in ways that celebrate the Du Bois zeitgeist with interviews, performance and conversation. If you’re in NYC, go. It should be a thing. The Greene Space

The Obamas pick black artists to paint their official portraits It would not be too much to say that the two are unapologetically black, either. Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have been tapped to paint the official portraits of the President and First Lady, respectively, the first ever black artists to be selected for the honor. Art critic Roberta Smith explains why it matters. “The Obamas’ choices come at a time when figurative painting and portraiture are growing in popularity among young painters interested in exploring race, gender and identity or in simply correcting the historic lack of nonwhites in Western painting,” she says. New York Times

The Woke Leader

Remembering the black designers we never knew Kennedy-philes and people of a certain age remember the photos of Jacqueline Bouvier, soon to be Jackie Kennedy, as a beautiful bride, her taffetta dress a floating confection of romance and promise. Few people remember that the dress’s designer was Ann Lowe, born in 1898 in Alabama, who learned to sew from her grandmother, a former slave. Claude Hector, has been tweeting gems from the forgotten annals of black fashion history, and Quartz has rounded out his work with some top-notch reporting. Guess who produced the Playboy Bunny costume? Quartz

A behavioral economist explains political strife Krista Tippett has posted a thoughtful interview with Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning founder of behavioral economics and author of Thinking Fast and Slow. His central thesis, that human behavior toggles between two contradictory modes of thinking – fast and automatic, slow and conscious – offers some comfort during times of political turmoil. “[O]ne of the important realizations that come from thinking of the world in terms of System 1 and System 2 is that our beliefs do not come from where we think they came,” he explains. “So the real cause of your belief in a political position, whether conservative or radical left, the real causes are rooted in your personal history.” See also: Uncomfortable conversations. On Being

He’s bringing civics back. So all the citizens will know how to act Educator Eric Lieu says that Americans are illiterate in power — what it is, how it works and why some people have it and others don’t. His idea? Make civics “sexy,” meaning compelling as a personal concept, like it was during the Civil Rights Movement. This TED talk was filmed in the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street (but before the Movement for Black Lives) but he hits all the right notes for what can happen when we use fresh thinking to inspire all people to participate in shaping society. TED

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