Tag Archives: Denise Young Smith

Black Woman to Lead Diversity at Lyft

Nilka Thomas

Lyft, the chief rival to Uber in the ride sharing market, has named Nilka Thomas as its new Vice President of Talent and Inclusion. Thomas will  oversee recruiting, inclusion, diversity and employee relations.

Thomas is a native of  Anchorage, Alaska and attended the University of Oregon where she was an All-American in track and field. She graduated with a degree in psychology and sociology. Prior to joining Lyft Thomas worked as the Director of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Governance at Google. Thomas is now the highest-ranking member of the Lyft team focused on inclusion and diversity.

Lyft wrote in its blog that “Nilka will lead efforts to source and hire top talent, and ensure that inclusion and diversity efforts are seamlessly integrated from the earliest candidate touch points.”

Thomas is following in the steps of other black women who have taken on the challenge of diversity in the work place. At Apple Denise Young Smith was charged with improving diversity. At Twitter Candi Castleberry-Singleton has been named Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity. Neilsen Holdings, an audience measurement company,  named Angela Talton as its new Chief Diversity Officer.  At  Pinterest Candice Morgan was named as the Diversity Chief.

See also: Black Women Leading Corporate Diversity Programs

Apple’s Diversity Chief Departs After Just Six Months

Denise Young Smith

Denise Young Smith, a 20 year Apple veteran, is departing her job as the first Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion after just six months. Smith has announced she will be accepting a position as executive in residence at Cornell Tech in January.

Smith’s departure was planned but comes on the heels of a controversial comment made in October.  Smith was speaking on a diversity and racial injustice panel at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. She was asked by Quartz’s moderator Aamna Mohdin  if she would focus on any specific group in her diversity efforts. Her reply was not well received. Smith said she wouldn’t single out any one demographic for advancement. Her comment, transcribed by TechCrunch is as follows;

“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 or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around… because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads. And I’ve often told people a story—there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation. The issue is representation and mix and bringing all the voices into the room that can contribute to the outcome of any situation.”

Silicon Valley has a serious diversity problem and Apple is not immune. Apple’s workforce numbers show that only 9 percent of Apple’s workforce is African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Asian and 56 percent white. It’s not a pretty picture when you consider that most non-white employees are found in  Apple’s retail stores. Smith was expected to at least make progress on the issue but not a lot has changed. However, she was working on developing Apple’s diversity scholarship program.

Realizing she had fumbled the issue Smith emailed her team following the comments;

Colleagues,

I have always been proud to work for Apple in large part because of our steadfast commitment to creating an inclusive culture. We are also committed to having the most diverse workforce and our work in this area has never been more important. In fact, I have dedicated my twenty years at Apple to fostering and promoting opportunity and access for women, people of color and the underserved and unheard. 

Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion. 

I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense. My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I’m sorry. 

More importantly, I want to assure you Apple’s view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.  

Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone. 

Our commitment at Apple to increasing racial and gender diversity is as strong as it’s ever been. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is much work to be done. I’m continually reminded of the importance of talking about these issues and learning from each other. 

Best,

Denise

Breaking It Down

This was  a sad day for the idea of diversity in Silicon Valley. People of color thought Apple had appointed a warrior to fight the diversity fight. Perhaps they did. Perhaps Smith misspoke. People do that. But her statement reveals how severe the diversity problem is in Silicon Valley boardrooms. A boardroom that she was apart of. Did she feel not focusing on a single group was an effective strategy? Again, perhaps. But diversity is about bringing in different colors of skin as well as ideas. Its about inclusion. I believe her when she said she believes in that. What she failed to realize is that ‘blue eyed blond white men” are not what her job asked her to bring in. This is just not what diversity advocates want to hear from a person in her position. Wrong choice of words Ms. Smith but lets move on. Smith is a women. A black women. A successful black women. A successful black woman at the world’s most successful company. She was in a position to change things, to make difference, To find other women and minorities who are as capable as her and look like her. I’m not going to label her a failure. But she clearly stumbled.

 

 

Twitter Names Black Woman to VP of Diversity

Candi Castleberry-Singleton (Twitter)

Candi Castleberry-Singleton has been named vice president of inclusion and diversity at Twitter. Castleberry-Singleton replaces Jeffrey Siminoff who resigned in February.  Castleberry-Singleton has a long track record in the field of diversity and inclusion. Previously she worked at some of America’s top technology companies including Motorola where she was vice president of global inclusion and diversity. At Sun Microsystems she led the Global Inclusion Center of Expertise. She also worked in sales and marketing at Xerox.

In a statement Castleberry-Singleton said, “I’m so excited to join the team at Twitter to lead inclusion and diversity efforts for employees and the Twitter community. I look forward to bringing what I’ve learned to Twitter.”

Twitter, like many tech companies, have faced criticism for the lack of diversity in its workforce. Twitter has been hit with high turnover in its diversity leadership position. The company has seen three diversity chiefs depart since 2015.

Castleberry-Singleton takes over a position in a company that is popular among African-Americans.  Pew Research reported that  28 percent of African-American and Latino Internet users use Twitter compared to 20 percent of Internet users who are white use it.

Twitter is the second major tech company to turn to an African-American woman to solve their diversity issues. Recently Apple named a black woman, Denise Young Smith, to head it’s diversity efforts.

Castleberry-Singleton is the founder of the Dignity and Respect Campaign an organization that focuses on providing open and respectful workplaces for all ethnicities.

A native of Los Angeles, Castleberry-Singleton possess extensive educational credentials with an MBA from Pepperdine University and a bachelor’s degree in legal studies from UC Berkeley. She also completed the Stanford University Executive Human Resources program.

 

 

Apple Diversity in the Hands of a Black Woman

Denise Young Smith

Apple has named Denise Young Smith, Apple’s Global Head of Human Resources  to Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. The newly created position will be responsible for opening up Apple’s work place to more women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.

Smith is a twenty year veteran of Apple and because of her new role will have direct access to Apple CEO Tim Cook who is also gay.

Apple’s latest diversity report reveals it’s workforce is 68 percent male and 56 percent white. Apple’s workforce breaks down as follows, 12 percent identify as Hispanic and only 9 percent as black or African-American. Smith’s primary challenge is to improve those numbers. As VP of diversity she will examine Apple’s hiring practices and culture with a focus on ensuring Apple is not losing potential employees early in the hiring process.

Smith’s job will not be easy. Silicon Valley tech companies are stubbornly white and male dominated. Diversity appears to be an intractable problem for many major technology companies. Human resource experts point to the talent pipeline and the lack of outreach to black colleges as one source of the diversity problem. Companies like Google have attacked this problem by bringing HBCUs into the fold. Google has recently teamed with Howard University to create Howard West on the Google campus.

Smith is a graduate of Grambling State University and previously headed up the global HR team. Smith also ran HR for Apple’s global retail operation.

Apple Shareholders Strike Down Diversity Proposal

Diversity in Silicon Valley suffered a serious blow Wednesday when Apple shareholders rejected a diversity proposal aimed at the company’s leadership. For the second year in a row Apple shareholders rejected a proposal requiring the company to improve the diversity of its top leadership. Over 95 percent of the shareholders voted to oppose the measure. Slightly more than last year.

Shareholder Tony Maldonado with support from Zevin Asset Management, a company that specializes in socially responsible investing, submitted the proposal asking Apple to “adopt an accelerated recruitment policy … to increase the diversity of senior management and its board of directors.” Maldonado and Zevin’s argument was that Apple’s were moving too slowly when it came to initiating Apple’s own diversity initiatives.

Maldonado did not expect the initiative to pass. But he needed at least 6 percent of the vote in order to re-introduce the measure next year. Be he failed to get that percentage killing the proposal for the next three years. Apple’s leadership contributed to killing the proposal by urging shareholders to reject the proposal. Apple’s executives are 82 percent white, and its senior leadership is almost entirely white.

Apple’s board, in a filing with the SEC, wrote a note lobbying  shareholders to vote against the proposal. The company clams it’s diversity program is  “much broader” and that its diversity efforts in the past three years, has made “steady progress in attracting more women and underrepresented minorities.” Apple believes the proposal “is not necessary or appropriate because we have already demonstrated our commitment to a holistic view of inclusion and diversity.” Apple’s diverity efforts are considered to be the most successful in the tech sector. 

Apple reported last year that women comprised 37% percent of new hires (versus 32% of current employees.) Apple includes “Black, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander” in the underrepresented group and counts new hires within the last 12 months as of June.

Maldonado told The Verge that Apple’s CEO “Tim Cook was very defensive, and he presented the two black people on their leadership, but not senior leadership, as a sign of their diversity. Personally, I took it as an insult. They were put on the spotlight as ‘here’s tokenism,’ and he didn’t seem to accept that.”

However a report from Mashable points out an untold fact about diversity at the senior level of Apple leadership. The hiring process inside Apple requires some seniority. To reach the senior executive level at Apple you likely have been with the company for some time, decades. Through Apple’s ups and downs and the dawn of the Internet diversity was not the huge concern it is today.  As a result those who have hung in there at Apple are more likely than not, white males. Some of Apple’s senior leadership have been with the company since 1987. It should be noted that Apple’s Vice President of World Wide Human Resources, Denise Young Smith, is a black woman and James A. Bell, a black man ,sits on the board of directors.

Speaking to The Verge Maldonado said, “Apple basically duped the investors, to be quite honest. They conned ’em to say, ‘Look, we’re on top of it. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine.’ However, I believe that shareholders don’t have all information as to the background of the issue.”

Apple has not addressed the vote but in its original statement on Maldonado’s proposal, the company believes its existing diversity efforts were sufficient. “Our ongoing efforts to increase diversity are much broader than the ‘accelerated recruitment policy’ requested by this proposal.” The company added  that it takes “a holistic view of inclusion and diversity” that extends to even app developers and suppliers.

Maldonado stressed there’s more he could have done to educate other shareholders. “For some strange reason, I would say that shareholders have the belief that by accepting this proposal, the company would be forced to establish reverse discrimination policies. We just have to probably expand on the campaign on educating all shareholders, including institution shareholders, that this is more beneficial and at the end of the long run it will help us to improve our bottom line.”

Silicon Valley Cash? Not for Blacks and Women

courtesy: imagerymajestic

courtesy: imagerymajestic

Silicon Valley is a white male dominated world. Is America’s womb of technology struggling to find people of color to add to the mix or simply rejecting them?  There are probably plenty of answers to that question depending on who you ask. Some of the valley’s biggest and best known companies are at least trying to bring color to the white world of technology.

One of the companies trying to step up to the diversity challenge is Intel Corporation. In an effort to boost diversity in IT, Intel Capital has launched a $125 million investment program aimed at startups run by women and under-represented minorities. This in addition to a seperate investment program of $300 million announced last January with the stated goal of bringing more women and minorities into its workforce by 2020.

Intel has plans to change its capital investment program to make it more accessible for women and minorities. The world’s largest chip maker wants to be more open and responsive to funding requests from startups run by women and minorities. Intel has also established an advisory board of senior Intel employees to help make funding decisions.

Apple, the most successful company in history, is donating more than $50 million to organizations that intend to get more women, minorities, and veterans working in tech.

Apple’s chief of human resources, Denise Young Smith, granted an exclusive interview to Fortune magazine. In the interview Young Smith said that Apple is joining forces with non-profit organizations in a multi-year, multi-million-dollar effort to increase the number of women, minorities, and veterans in the technology industry and at Apple.

“We wanted to create opportunities for minority candidates to get their first job at Apple,” said Young Smith. “There is a tremendous upside to that and we are dogged about the fact that we can’t innovate without being diverse and inclusive.”

Apple’s efforts include a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a non-profit supporting students enrolled in public, historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. In total there are 100 HBCUs in the U.S of which 47 are considered public  graduating 20 percent of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees.

Diversity is a big issue with Apple CEO Tim Cook who see’s diversity as a vital ingredient to the future of the company. “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”

Other companies that are pumping money into diversity efforts include AOL which launched the $10 million BBG Fund. The fund will focus on women-led Internet startups. Cable giant Comcast venture fund, Comcast Ventures, launched the $20 million Catalyst fund in 2011 to invest in companies led by women and members of minority groups.

But there are some that believe that investing in minority owned start ups just because they are a minority is not the best approach. Some black entreprenuers are asking that investment be made in minority start ups because its good business.”The more people who think this is an obligation, a social obligation, that’s probably not a good thing,” said Hamet Watt, a venture partner at Upfront Ventures.

The problem is pretty basic and straightforward, white venture capitalists are not interested in female or minority led start ups. White men make up the overwhelming majority of venture capitalists. The National Venture Capital Association/Dow Jones VentureSource reported that 89 percent of VC Partners are men, specifically white men who made up 76 percent.  A study of all VC Partners showed that just 10 percent identified as Asian, 1 percent as African-American, and less than 1 percent as Latino.  In 2014 total VC capital investment reached $48 billion the highest total in over ten years. 

It is a sad fact that there is clear prejudice against companies founded or led by women and minorities. A  2010 study conducted by CB Insights  focused on the disparity of venture capital funding for companies founded by minorities and women as compared to companies founded by whites.

The results revealed that less than 1 percent of venture-capital-backed company founders were black and 12 percent were Asian, 83 percent had a racial composition that was completely white.

In the report preface CB Insights writes:

“When we ask venture capitalists what gets them excited about the young, emerging, and often unproven companies in which they invest, we never hear about deals and dollars. Rather, the first answer is frequently ‘the team’ or ‘the founders’. This demonstrates just how crucial human capital is in VC (venture capital) investment decision-making.”

To translate that statement it simply says race and gender makes a difference when it comes to who gets the money in Silicon Valley.

Of the $1.92 billion invested in March of 2014,

  • Companies led and made up of whites received 61 percent of the total investments, which equates to $1.41 billion.
  • Asian-led companies recieved a 17 percent share of investments at slightly more than $383 million.
  •  Latin American and Middle Eastern led companies took in $460 million, or 18 percent.
  • Mixed-race leadership teams received $96 million in investments, or 4 percent.
  • African-American led companies recieved the lowest share of investments. Only one black company recieved capital funding in the time period studied and that totaled a paltry $1.9 million. (Source: CB Insights)

Because of this glaring prejudice many black entreprenuers are faced with unfair pressure to back black owned start ups.

Charles Hudson, a partner at SoftTech VC, said he feels like he has to make himself accessible to African-American entrepreneurs.

“I also feel a certain pressure to try to help African-American entrepreneurs who I think are talented not work on terrible ideas,” Hudson said. “It’s not that they’re terrible ideas in general, it’s just that they’re not appropriate for venture. To me, that’s not unique to African-Americans.”

Hudson admitted to feeling “an enormous amount of pressure backing an African-American entrepreneur.”

“Pursuing an African-American business, for whatever reason if that investment doesn’t work, the buck stops with me,” Hudson said. “You realize that for whatever reason that investment’s failure is likely to be scrutinized to a greater degree than that SaaS company that didn’t work out. And I think about that. I wish I didn’t have to think about that.”

But the complexion of Silicon Valley is changing make no mistake about that. More and more black athletes like Floyd Mayweather and hip-hop artists are bringing their money into the technology start up game. Black athletes are also taking seats on the board of major technology companies. Most recently Magic Johnson took a seat on the board of directors of Square. The payment start up company is preparing to go public this year.

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