- A shareholder proposal to urge Apple to disclose the "ideology" of its board members was defeated in a vote at its annual meeting.
- The proposal sparked a debate among investors at the event about Apple’s progressive policies.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is committed to the environment, to immigration and to diversity, but that he doesn’t care about the political beliefs of people he works with.
- "I care about skills and capabilities and contributions."
CUPERTINO, California — Apple welcomes employees with "all" political viewpoints, CEO Tim Cook said Friday, adding that employees that felt ostracized because of their political views should talk to him.
Cook’s comments came in response to a question at the company’s annual shareholder meeting at its headquarters here. The questioner said she had a friend who worked at the company who doesn’t "share the left-wing view" and suggested that the friend felt uncomfortable or even hated because of her views. She asked Cook how he would advise her friend.
One of Apple’s most deeply held values is its openness to people of all different sorts, Cook said. It’s open to people of different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and political beliefs, he said.
"I would encourage them to come talk to me if they have an issue," Cook told the questioner. Adding that the person could also speak with Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s human resources head, he continued, "I would really encourage them to say something."
Silicon Valley companies have drawn increasing fire recently for their progressive political stances, the liberal affiliations of many of their workers, and for allegedly discriminating against conservative employees and points of view. The criticism has particularly hit Facebook and Google, but Apple hasn’t been immune to it.
Prior to the question about the conservative worker, Apple shareholders voted on a proposal that would have urged the company to disclose to shareholders the "ideology" of each of its director nominees. In his statement advocating the proposal, Justin Danhof, an attorney at the National Center for Public Policy Research, which submitted it, made clear that it was an effort to ensure that conservative political viewpoints were represented on Apple’s board.
"When the company takes overtly political, legal, and policy positions, it would benefit to have voices from both sides of the aisle in the room," Danhof said. "At this company, the consideration of conservative viewpoints appears to be discouraged if not altogether forbidden."
The proposal sparked a lengthy debate among investors about the wisdom of the proposal, the company’s frequently progressive policy stances, and its openness to conservative people and points of view. Although supporters of the proposal were well represented in the audience, investors as a whole overwhelmingly voted against it. According to a preliminary tally released by Apple, the measure secured just 1.7% of shareholder votes.
In his comments later, Cook argued against the notion that Apple should query potential employees or anyone affiliated with the company about their political beliefs. As a gay man from the South, he learned not to ask people their thoughts on homosexuality, because if he had done that, "you don’t have a lot of friends," he said.
"I don’t check people at the door as to who they are and what they believe," he said. "I care about skills and capabilities and contributions."
Apple focuses on promoting certain policies, not on partisan politics, Cook said. It supports pro-environment and pro-immigration policies. It back diversity and privacy. But it also believes in capitalism, he said.
Like most of the top Silicon Valley tech companies however, Apple has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to workforce diversity. Cook said that more than half of the company’s new hires last year were women or underrepresented minorities, but he did not say what portion of those were hired to work in Apple’s retail stores, which is where a disproportionate number of its women and minority employees work.
To promote its favored policies, Apple works with people from both political parties in the US. Sometimes the policies it favors are supported by one party, sometimes its the other. Sometimes it find common ground for its preferred policies on both sides of the aisle; sometimes both sides are opposed, he said.
"We don’t really look at the politics of it," he said. "We think about the policy of it."
What’s more, he said, Apple doesn’t have a corporate political action committee and doesn’t donate to political campaigns.
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