Apple addressed a long-standing gap in its leadership with the appointment of Angela Ahrendts as its new head of retail this morning. Yes, it plugged the hole in retail left by the defenestration of John Browett last October. But more importantly, the company finally has a female face to sit with the entirely male executive team currently beaming out at anybody who cares to visit the “executive profiles” page of Apple’s corporate information section.
Even that small step means Apple is doing better than Twitter (and indeed most tech companies). Twitter has been getting a lambasting since its filing revealed a dearth of women at the top. The sole exception is its general counsel, Vijaya Gadde, appointed shortly before the company announced its plans to go public. Apple on the other has had a woman on its board for eons. Andrea Jung, formerly CEO of Avon, has been on Apple’s board since the beginning of 2008. Daimler later brought her on and boosted its own count. Of course, Ahrendts comes with many assets in addition to her two X chromosomes; she has a stellar history of success, especially in turning around Burberry.
Women tend to have a tough time in the male-dominated world of technology; more so even than in the corporate world overall, which is not known for its friendliness to women. Only 14.3% of the Fortune 500′s top positions were occupied by women last year, about the same as 2010, according to Catalyst, an advocacy group. The proportion of board seats occupied by women was barely higher, at 16.6%. Things are no different in Europe. A new report from the European Commission showed precisely the same number (pdf) of corporate board seats occupied by women across EU member states. Apple is approaching that very low bar. With the arrival of Ahrendts, the percentage of women on its board and executive team combined will jump from 5.9% to a grand 11.1%. That’s some progress.