Apple’s female keynote speakers aren’t helping its diversity problem

Susan Prescott is the first female Apple executive to speak at more than one event.
Susan Prescott is the first female Apple executive to speak at more than one event.
Image: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
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Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior executives Phil Schiller, Eddie Cue, and Craig Federighi are staples at the company’s biggest events. The men have for years formed the backbone of WWDC conferences and keynotes, where women tend to make only guest appearances. But at Apple’s iPhone 7 launch event today (Sept. 7), three women addressed the crowd, including the first female executive to ever do so twice.

Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of product management and marketing, spoke on Wednesday about real-time collaboration tools in editing platform iWork, a year after demoing Apple News at WWDC in June 2015. Since 1997, only 19 women have presented at Apple events, and only nine of them were actually representing the company.

While today’s highly anticipated event included Prescott and two other female presenters (neither an Apple exec), the dearth of females in Apple’s upper echelons remains glaringly obvious. Prescott’s presentation felt almost like an afterthought, a rushed demo added to grant a female employee stage time. The men, meanwhile, were left to introduce new iPhones and Apple Watches.

Apple’s core products do have one notable woman at the helm: Bozoma Saint John, head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music. Saint John has referred to herself as a ”super execu-mommy” and stole the show at WWDC 2016 when she invited the auditorium to sing along to “Rapper’s Delight.” (At today’s event, Tim Cook offered a more demure Apple Music update.)

But Saint John, who is of Ghanian descent, remains an anomaly in Apple’s mostly white, mostly male workforce. Only 32% of the tech giant’s staff is female—a one-percentage-point uptick from 2015—and 56% are white, according its 2016 annual diversity and inclusion report.

Apple knows how that looks: Cook acknowledged the company’s diversity problem last year, and the inclusion of three women today suggests that Apple is starting to address this issue. It’s just unfortunate that they decided to address wireless earbuds first.