What Joanna Hoffman told Kate Winslet while shooting the 'Steve Jobs' movie

Former colleagues of Steve Jobs talk about how the Apple founder treated women in the workplace.

kate winslet joanna hoffman steve jobs

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Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s new Steve Jobs film is far from perfect (or even completely accurate), but at least one member of the original Mac team is happy with how she was portrayed.

“I can’t complain [Kate Winslet] was the one playing me,” said Joanna Hoffman when asked about her portrayal in the film. “We really hit it off.”

The former Mac marketing executive talked about meeting Winslet during a Monday night panel in Palo Alto, California. The panel featured powerful women who had worked with Steve Jobs, including Susan Barnes, Barbara Kaolkin Barza, Debi Coleman, and Andy Cunningham, who is also depicted in the Steve Jobs film. The event was organized by Cunningham’s marketing consultancy, Cunningham Collective, and journalist Katie Hafner served as the moderator.

“What was important to me,” Hoffman continued, “was that [the Jobs filmmakers] conveyed the tone of my working relationship with Steve... Originally, the character was much more subordinate. I’ve never been anyone’s work wife. And if I could impart that on to [Winslet], she would be an ally in that.”

Fact or fiction: The Steve Jobs film

Hafner mentioned that the recent film was a “Sorkinized” version of reality, but the panelists (and audience members) made a surprising revelation: that the film was not that far of course. In reality, Joanna Hoffman won the “Standing Up to Steve” award twice, not just once. That made her a role model to other women in the company.

“She was my mentor and my heroine, she still is,” Debi Coleman said during the panel. Coleman was the second woman to join the original Mac team and worked at Apple for over a decade.

Guy Kawasaki (who was in the audience) did pen a satirical op-ed in Macworld. And according to original Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld (who was also in the audience), they did run a Macintosh 512k during the presentation of the Macintosh 128k, but not because it couldn’t say hello.

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Steve and women in the workplace

Even though the panelists worked with Steve at different times, they all agreed that they were never treated differently simply because they were women. During Apple’s early startup days, it was very much a meritocracy. Even when the rest of the business world did not take female colleagues seriously at that time. 

Susan Barnes, former controller of the Macintosh division and cofounder of NeXT, shared the story of how Japanese businessmen would send her pearl shopping during negotiations, and Steve had to reiterate that she was actually the key decision-maker.

Despite the equal treatment in the workplace, none of the panelists would go insofar as to call Steve Jobs a feminist.

“For Steve, it was all about your talent and skill,” Barnes continued. “He was aware of his personality, too, so he was looking for someone who wouldn’t get crushed under that.”

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Steve at 60

When asked what product would Steve be working on right now if he were alive and well, Andy Cunningham said a device that people connect emotionally to at the core. So not that Apple Watch?

The other panelists seemed stumped trying to come up with an answer. “A part of being a visionary is that you’re unpredictable,” Hoffman said.

The rest of the panelists agreed that Steve would still care deeply about his vision and reaching his goals, no matter how farfetched or frustrating the process was.

Even when Steve got upset, Barnes learned to “listen to the anger, because there’s a message,” she said.

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