Apple devotes $50 million to improving diversity in tech industry

A day after announcing final details of its much-awaited Apple Watch, the tech company said it will donate more than $50 million to non-profits in an effort to increase the number of women, minorities, and veterans in the tech industry.

Eric Risberg/AP (FILE)
Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, visits Kacie Gonzalez, left, vice president of business development and Nick Norena, both with the company Shoto, at the Workshop Cafe in San Francisco on Dec. 8. Now that Jackson and his group, Rainbow Push, have gotten the technology industry’s biggest companies to confront an embarrassing shortage of women, African-Americans and Hispanics on their payrolls, he is stepping up the pressure to come up with solutions in Silicon Valley.

On Monday, Apple made waves for debuting its much-lauded Apple Watch. On Tuesday, it announced a different sort of legacy. 

Apple will partner with and donate more than $50 million to various nonprofits that will work to increase the number of women, minorities, and veterans in the tech industry, announced Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook at a shareholders meeting at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters Tuesday. 

“We are dogged about the fact that we can’t innovate without being diverse and inclusive,” says Young Smith, Apple’s head of human resources, in an interview with Fortune.

Apple's biggest move in this direction is a $40 million donation to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which works with students at more than a hundred historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country.

When Apple released its diversity numbers last summer, it revealed that only 7 percent of its workforce is black, while more than 55 percent is white. 

The money going to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund will offer scholarships and provide extra training to students and faculty. Apple will create a paid internship program specifically for students from HBCUs. The fund will also create a database of computer science majors at HBCUs to create a more cohesive network of people interested in jobs in tech.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who went on a tour of Silicon Valley companies last spring, persuading them to release diversity figures and pressuring the industry to put a stronger emphasis on improving diversity among tech workers, also gave remarks at the stockholder’s meeting.

"President Obama said in Selma (Ala.) this weekend 'the march is not yet over,' " Rev. Jackson says, according to USA Today. "In Silicon Valley, the march for diversity and inclusion is just beginning.”

In addition, Apple will donate $10 million to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), which will go toward increasing scholarships, internships, and other resources for women pursuing degrees in information technology. It will also help the organization reach girls at a younger age – they’re aiming for middle school students – to introduce them to careers in computer science.

In middle school, 74 percent of girls express interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, but only 0.3 percent of high school girls select computer science as a potential college major, according to statistics provided by coding nonprofit Girls Who Code. Apple’s workforce is currently 70 percent male.

Finally, Apple is meeting with military leaders in order to find ways to get veterans trained in technology, according to Ms. Smith in Fortune.

This news comes in light of a watershed year for tech companies coming to terms with the lack of diversity in their rapidly growing industry. Companies ranging from Google to Intel to eBay released the demographics of their employees, which showed the majority of tech workers are white and male. Several companies have since made major investments to begin addressing the issue, such as Intel, who announced in January it would spend $300 million to increase diversity in its workforce and in the industry at large.

After all, points out Jackson, if the tech industry can figure out virtual reality and wearable technology, perhaps its time to put those innovative minds to work addressing inherent privilege.

"Apple and this thriving Silicon Valley are solving the world's most challenging and complex problems,” he says, according to USA Today. “Diversity and inclusion is a complex problem — if we put our collective minds to it, we can solve it, too.”

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