Apple executive Jennifer Bailey during a presentation at the Worldwide Developers Conference this year. (Photo: Getty Images)
Last year, a developer named Joe Kukura watched 16 hours of past WWDC keynote footage only to find that Apple has shown two real-life women onstage since 2007. When you consider that the company had 59 featured speakers over that period of time, that’s a straight-up pitiful track record.
On Monday morning, Apple finally did a little rectification. The tech company featured not one but two female Apple employees onstage during this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech. They were Jennifer Bailey, a vice president of Apple’s online store and Apple Pay, and Susan Prescott, vice president of product management and marketing. Both of them have been at the company since 2003, according to their LinkedIn pages, meaning that both have long contributed to the success and failures of Apple products.
The two were professional and entertaining, just as comfortable on stage as any of the old-dudes’ guard that has come to dominate Apple’s highly publicized events. It was an important moment for any young woman with ambitions to go into tech. It was an important step in the tech sector’s diversity saga, but hopefully only the beginning of a what needs to be a much more inclusive industry.
As we’ve noted in the past, there’s nothing like a tech conference to remind the world that men are much more heavily represented in the industry than women. In response, major companies like Samsung and Microsoft have recently taken note of this disparity, putting women onstage alongside their male counterparts at major product launches.
Apple, meanwhile, had continued to lag: Even when the company used its Watch event in March to invite a woman onstage, the gesture backfired, because that woman was not a female Apple employee but international supermodel Christy Turlington. It was the worst possible way for the company to address the very apparent gender disparity onstage, inviting someone who is photographed for a living to celebrate the launch of the Watch over people like Prescott or Bailey, who have spent years dedicating their time in that very company to improve and develop its products.
Susan Prescott introduces Apple News at WWDC 2015. (Photo: Getty Images)
So, the appearances onstage of Bailey and Prescott today mean something. When a major company like Apple’s shows off a diverse workforce, it encourages people who are not white men to imagine themselves in the industry.
Women are only part of the equation. While Apple deserves praise for giving Prescott and Bailey the stage time they are due, it could also stand to bring more diversity to the mix. All of its presenters — aside from special presenter Drake and musical guest The Weeknd — were white. And if you think Apple’s numbers are bad when it comes to women in the workplace, the statistics for Hispanic and black employees are even worse.
Yes, Apple CEO Tim Cook has acknowledged Apple’s need to diversify, writing last June: “We know we can do more, and we will.” And yes, Apple has partnered with nonprofit groups like the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to help increase the number of women and minorities in technology. These are great ways to lay the foundation for a better future.
But you know what else is? Hiring more women and minorities right now.
For Apple, Jennifer Bailey and Susan Prescott are a good start. It proves that Tim Cook is listening. But Apple still faces a long road ahead until things are right.