Apple’s First Diversity VP to Depart at Year’s End

Apple’s First Diversity VP to Depart at Year’s End

Denise Young Smith, who was chosen to serve as Apple’s first vice president of diversity and inclusion in May after three years as its worldwide head of HR, is leaving the company at the end of the year, TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey reported on Thursday:

Taking over as VP of inclusion and diversity will be Christie Smith, who spent 17 years as a principal at Deloitte. In her career, Smith has focused on talent management, organizational design, inclusion, diversity and people solutions. At Apple, she’ll report to Apple VP for People Deirdre O’Brien, the company announced internally today.

This succession will involve a change in the chain of command, as Young Smith currently reports directly to CEO Tim Cook. It is unusual for a head of diversity to report directly to the CEO: According to our 2016 D&I Benchmarking Report at CEB, now Gartner (which CEB Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council members can read here), only about 3 percent of heads of D&I report directly to the CEO, with the largest percentage of these leaders (38 percent) reporting to the CHRO. Before Young Smith’s role was created, Apple’s diversity and inclusion efforts were headed by Jeffrey Siminoff, who held a director role and reported to then-head of HR Young Smith.

A longtime executive who joined Apple in 1997, Young Smith courted controversy last month with comments she made at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia, in which she said that “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.” This was not the cause of her departure, however, as a source tells Dickey that Young Smith had been talking to Cook about next steps in her career since last year and the company had been in the process of seeking her successor for several months.

As for those next steps, Cornell University announced on November 7 that Young Smith would become the new executive-in-residence at Cornell Tech starting in January, where she “will work with students to build an early career-stage awareness of inclusive leadership and diverse talent.”

Young Smith’s comments at last month’s summit, which reflected progressive US employers’ increasing interest in encouraging allies to participate in diversity and inclusion, were seen by critics as endorsing an approach to diversity that emphasizes “diversity of thought” over the specific challenges faced by historically and structurally disadvantaged communities such as women and people of color. Such an approach, critics fear, may serve as a “cop-out” for companies making slow progress toward greater representation of these groups, as Dickey put it at the time.

Apple’s latest diversity data, updated earlier this month, show that it had hired more Asian, black and Latino employees over the past year, yet its overall diversity numbers were only slightly improved from 2016. Its also added more women to its leadership in 2017. The company acknowledges, however, that “meaningful change takes time” and “we have much more work to do.”