Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as their importance to America’s leadership in technology, to a packed crowd of students during a recent visit to his alma mater Auburn University.
During his speech, Cook advised students to develop an awareness of different cultures and a sensitivity to them, noting that these are qualities of growing importance in a globalizing and increasingly interconnected world. More than that, Cook encouraged them to celebrate and appreciate humanity’s differences, as he had learned to.
“The world is intertwined today, much more than it was when I was coming out of school,” Cook said, according The Plainsman, Auburn’s student newspaper. “Because of that, you really need to have a deep understanding of cultures around the world. I have learned to not just appreciate this but celebrate it. The thing that makes the world interesting is our differences, not our similarities.”
Cook added that Apple and tech companies gain concrete benefits from a diverse workforce, not least of which are great products. “We believe you can only create a great product with a diverse team,” Cook said. He added that he was talking about diverse in a broad sense, and bringing in people from all walks of life (from engineers to artists) to work on Apple products.
Following his address, Cook also sat down for an exclusive interview with The Plainsman, in which he shared his belief that fostering inclusivity and diversity is an ongoing process that demands curiosity and intellectual engagement, both on campus and in life.
“I’m not sure that anyone can ever do enough,” Cook said to The Plainsman’s Corey Williams. “This subject should not be approached with the question: ‘Are you doing enough?’ It should be: ‘Are you curious enough to keep figuring it out and to keep challenging yourself on what more you can do?'”
“The U.S. will lose its leadership in technology if this doesn’t change.”
During the rare interview, Cook also expressed his concern that America was not forging ahead quickly enough on issues of diversity and remedying gender disparities in technology. He minced no words, issuing a clear warning that, if the US does not address gender disparities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), it will be in danger of losing its dominant global position in innovation and technology.
“I think the U.S. will lose its leadership in technology if this doesn’t change,” Cook said. “Women are such an important part of the workforce. If STEM-related fields continue to have this low representation of women, then there just will not be enough innovation in the United States. That’s just the simple fact of it.”
Bringing more women into STEM jobs and addressing the gender gap is critical to economic growth because the demand for STEM talent will only continue to grow. “The job growth in STEM fields will outpace all other by a fair amount for the foreseeable future,” Cook said. “The reality is, you’ll end up having a whole set of jobs that aren’t filled. You’ll lose talented workforce that should exist. I think it’s imperative for the whole country to get behind changing that.”
Apple has for its part pledged millions of dollars to historically black colleges and universities, as well as organizations like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, National Center for Women & Information Technology and the National Society of Black Engineers.
The issue of representation in Silicon Valley became a controversial issue again this year, following Trump’s travel ban and allegations of gender discrimination at Uber. In response, the ride-hailing giant issued its first-ever diversity report, which showed that 89 percent of technical directors at Uber are men. The gender disparity extends to Apple as well. According to its annual diversity report, 32 percent of Apple’s workers are women, while only 23 percent of its tech roles and 28 percent of leadership positions are occupied by women.