Apple has found itself at the centre of a discussion about workplace sexism after dozens of employee emails were leaked, alleging that the company can have a “toxic” and sexist work environment.
Mic reporter Melanie Ehrenkranz was handed 50 pages of internal emails from Apple employees discussing the company culture, and spoke to several of those involved.
According to Business Insider, The incidents are anecdotal, and there’s no evidence that Apple’s workplace culture is worse than its competitors — but they illustrate the broader problem of sexism and a lack of diversity within the tech industry.
“White male privilege runs unchecked,” one woman said in an email. “The worst part is, you don’t know who to trust and who you can reach out to without continued harassment and retaliation. I am beyond discouraged and disheartened at my treatment and the lack of follow-up.”
Another left the company, signing off with the message that “Despite all attempts to seek justice within this corporation, the cries of several minority employees about the toxic and oppressive environment have gone unanswered. I have witnessed the complete and utter disenfranchising of the voices of men and women of color and the fault lies not only in the direct management staff but in the response of those tasked with protecting employee rights. I write this letter hoping to highlight the areas that these departments have failed to properly support employees and as such have hence left Apple, Inc. culpable for various EEOC and ethical violations.”
A man said that he was referred to disparagingly with sexist language. “I would consistently be referred to as an emotional man that resembled having the qualities of a woman … Any male can tell you that being referred to as a woman is an insinuation that you are not strong enough or stable enough to handle the difficulties of life or work in the way a man can … One particular comment that stood out was that I was continually told that I was on my ‘Man Period,'” he wrote. “This is a statement used to push the fact that women while menstruating are emotional and cannot be depended on to do work or be rational while in this state.”
An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though Mic was told that “Apple is committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. When we receive complaints or hear that employees are concerned about their work environment, we take it very seriously and we investigate claims thoroughly — as we have each of the matters you describe. If we find behavior to be at odds with our values, we take action. Out of respect for the privacy of our employees, we do not discuss specific matters or their resolution.”
The allegations are serious, but without hard data it’s impossible to quantify how widespread the issue is. And similarly, we’ve got no idea whether reports of sexism are any more prevalent at Apple than at other companies.
As a whole, the tech industry is still grappling with issues of diversity and inclusion. It is very heavily male-dominated, and increasing efforts have been made to improve outreach to underrepresented minority groups in recent years. But it’s by no means perfect: Just 32% of Apple’s employees are female, and 37% of new hires. (And earlier this week, an Apple spokesperson countered criticism about diversity at its iPhone 7 event in an email to Mic bypointing out the company had a Canadian on stage, among other factors.)
The leaked emails show that no organisation, no matter how large, can avoid these issues.
One employee wrote in their resignation letter, “Despite all attempts to seek justice within this corporation, the cries of several minority employees about the toxic and oppressive environment have gone unanswered. I have witnessed the complete and utter disenfranchising of the voices of men and women of color and the fault lies not only in the direct management staff but in the response of those tasked with protecting employee rights.”
If Apple aims to increase the diversity of the employees at their company, it sounds like they should focus more on employee retention, rather than simply on their hiring practices. It doesn’t do much to hire diversely if those employees then get harassed by their coworkers, and if their harassment is ignored by higher-ups, and if they’re passed over for raises and promotions. It is meaningless to have a diverse employee base if those employees are not respected, and also, if those employees are the first to leave.