Apple's Big Omission: Women on the Board

Apple's board is missing a key role: women membersApple likes simplicity and uniformity. It makes for beautiful, connected, products that we can all use instinctively. Uniformity is not so good though when it comes to executives and board of directors. I’m not keen on playing diversity bingo, but Apple does not have a single female or ethnic minority executive. At the board level the only female representation comes from Andrea Jung, senior advisor to the board.

Compare Apple’s board diversity to that of their rivals, and they are found seriously wanting. Google has three female members of their ten director board, while Facebook finally added Sheryl Sandberg and, in March, Susan Desmond-Hellman, to their seven member board. At Yahoo! Sue James joins CEO Marissa Mayer on the company’s ten member board. Both Google and Yahoo! also have three women at senior executive levels, with Google having some ethnic minority representation, too.

None of those are great, but they are all better than zero. I have little doubt that Apple could find significant female talent that would be a huge asset to their board and executive teams.

Nevermind the moral case, there is also a strong arguement that diverse leadership teams lead to better business outcomes. Crudely, if you want to stop just "pinking and shrinking" products and actually make something that is appealing to women, it’s probably best to have a few of them at the top making those strategic decisions. I do not know what the gender break down of Apple sales is, but top level female input would definitely not hurt.

The business case for boardroom diversity runs deepers still. In 2009 Katherine Phillips, associate professor of management and organisations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, told Forbes that just by having a diverse group of people in the room some in the social majority are more prepared to put forward differing opinions. She said:

“When anyone in a group has perspectives, opinions or information that vary from the consensus, our research suggests, the mere presence of social diversity will make them express, and others consider, those perspectives in a way that benefits the group.”

Teams get more varied opinions when the group having the discussion is diverse, yet critical Apple decisions are taken by a male only group.

In September 2011, Deloitte published a paper on workplace diversity called “Only Skin Deep.” It reported:

“Examining Fortune 500 companies, Catalyst found that those with the highest representation of women on their board of directors experienced better financial performance on average (in terms of return on sales, return on invested capital and return on equity) than those with the lowest representation of women.”

That report rightly points out that “diversity means more than just having a sprinkle of women and a dab of colour,” and so companies should be “shifting the question from ‘How can increasing gender and racial diversity help us improve business outcomes?’ to ‘How rich is our knowledge bank?’" What could be more important to an agenda setting tech company like Apple than having a strong, wide ranging knowledge bank?

While female Valley big hitters like Meg Whitman and Marrisa Mayer already have major roles, others could and should join the Apple board, such as Kleiner Perkins partner Marie Meeker, a lady with a strong track record of picking tech trends.

Apple CEO Tim CookLooking beyond the Valley, Apple has former presidential candidate Al Gore on their books, and Hilary Clinton would certainly be a big hitter for the company, especially as she seems to be embracing tech at the moment. If you want to stay away from the politics, Disney Media Networks Anne Sweeny would add some media savvy and tighten the Disney/Pixar/Apple relationship, or the product orientated Mary Barra, a Senior VP at General Motors. Baidu CFO Jennifer Li would also help as Apple seeks to conquer China.

I know that board appointments are a delicate matter, shrouded in secrecy and politics, and that Apple is a very special company. However, I simply do not believe that Apple can't appoint some female talent to the board or executive teams. It puts Apple in an odd position that they praise excellent progress on diversity at a government level, as they recently did with the supreme court rulings on gay marriage, but they can’t get their own house in order.

Modern companies do have to reflect modern society at their very highest levels. Apple, at least for now, does not.

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]