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Apple’s Tim Cook ‘not satisfied’ with workforce diversity

Apple (AAPL) released its diversity statistics Tuesday and, like some other tech companies, the numbers show the company is comprised mostly of whites and Asians. Apple says 55% of its employees are white and 15% are Asian. Compare that to other tech giants, like Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB), where about 90% of workers are white or Asian, and Apple is actually doing better than its competitors when it comes to a diverse worforce.

Apple, however, also has a more diverse workforce in terms of skills when compared to some of its competitors. It has a large retail workforce, and the demographics of workers in retail jobs – which also pay less than engineering or office jobs – tend to be different than those in tech.

The company did not break out the diversity statistics of its headquarters versus its stores.

Overall in the U.S., about 80% of workers are white, 12% are African-American or Asian, and 16% are Hispanic. Apple CEO Tim Cook published a letter along with the company's statistics saying that he is not satisfied with where the company is. “We’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products,” Cook wrote.

Still, tech leaders have come under scrutiny from civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson. Jackson has lobbied companies to release their diversity statistics, and now that the numbers have come in, he's asking the Obama Administration to investigate hiring practices in Silicon Valley. He says diversity in tech is the next frontier of the civil rights movement.

Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Aaron Task asked Clayton Banks, the co-founder of Silicon Harlem - a venture bringing tech to New York's historically African-American Harlem neighborhood - about racism in tech. “It's deeper than just racism,” Banks said. “I think with the tech sector, it’s more that they’ve just not embraced the idea of diversity.”

A lot of this, according to Banks, has to do with how startups work. A company is often started by just a handful of people, if not one person. This small group then hires their friends or family. “Your friends and family look a lot like you,” said Banks. “And if you haven’t been exposed to diversity in general it’s not the first thing on your mind.”

As companies grow, the trend continues. “You have a tendency to want to hire people from schools that you're familiar with. You have a tendency to locate your company in areas that you feel most comfortable with. So if you're not locating your company in an urban area, it's going to be very difficult to find diversity to fill up your jobs,” he said.

Banks also takes issue with people who say increasing access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in minority communities is the best way to improve diversity in tech. “I think STEM-related education applies to everyone, not just the African-American community,” he said. “It’s a tradition to sort of blame the victim and say, 'Oh, there's something wrong with you guys; you don’t have the right education; you don’t live in the right places.' That's not fair.”

In 2010, 18% of African-Americans over the age of 25 held bachelor's degrees or higher. That's up from about 11.3% in 1990. He furthers that argument, saying that he knows many African-American entrepreneurs and engineers with the skills needed to get a job in tech who still have a hard time finding work or access to funding.

“In some cases those who are in positions to start their own companies aren't getting the investment capital. Perhaps it’s based on who they know, which is what we learned growing up: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. So sometimes the networks aren’t always there,” Banks says.

So what is the best way to increase diversity in tech? Banks says it's up to the companies. He recommends diversity programs and a general awareness that diversity can help a corporation's bottom line.

“These companies again have to take responsibility and know that diversity is good for them. It’s not just good for the people in the community, it's just good business."

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