Denise Young Smith is Silicon Valley’s most powerful black woman. “My name was not talked about prior to maybe 5 years ago,” she says. But that quickly changed once Apple named her as their very first vice president of diversity and inclusion, just a few months ago.
Young Smith was talking in a panel discussion on fighting racial injustice, which Quartz moderated, at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. She was also keen to point out that while her job at Apple was new, “I’ve been black and a woman for a long time. I have been doing this work [and] I have been playing this role for a very long time.”
As part of her new role, Smith will have a direct line to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. Young Smith, a 20-year veteran at Apple, will lead a team responsible for improving Apple’s diversity figures and ensuring the company’s hiring practices and retention is open and inclusive.
Diversity means more than just focus groups
Apple, like many other tech titans such as Google, and Microsoft, is trying to take key steps in addressing the problem of having a lack of diversity, which has been highlighted by investors. But it does look like the company is making progress. Apple’s latest statistics show that a majority of new hires in the US are from ethnic minorities, although white employees still account for 56% of the overall current workforce.
When asked whether she would be focusing on any group of people, such as black women, in her efforts to create a more inclusive and diverse Apple, Young Smith says, “I focus on everyone.” She added: “Diversity is the human experience. I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.” Her answer was met with a round of applause at the session.
“There can be 12 white, blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too.” Young Smith went on to add that “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde 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 issue, Young Smith explains, “is representation and mix.” She is keen to work to bring all voices into the room that “can contribute to the outcome of any situation.”
Young Smith wants to also focus on “allies and alliances,” and called on “those who have platforms or those who have the benefit of greater representation to tell the stories of those who do not.” She said when that’s accomplished, it’s a “win for everyone.”
In response to Young Smith’s comments, another panelist, prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, stressed the importance of acknowledging “white privilege” when discussing diversity and representation.
“White people say to me all the time like ‘DeRay, I worked really hard for this, I worked hard.’ You didn’t work hard for every band aid to look like you, for every baby doll to look like you, for the world to treat you as human, and everything as ‘other’ is not the result of your personal hard work—that’s what white privilege is.”
The One Young World, which gathers 1,300 young leaders from all 196 countries to tackle the globe’s most pressing issues, contributed to accommodation of the writer’s trip to Colombia.