Apple tends to hold four events every year and at each event we see various Apple executives take to the stage. The number of women appearing on stage in these keynotes has always been low. As recently as 2015 Apple had only ever had two women on stage, and neither was an Apple employee. In WWDC 2016 women got 7 per cent of the speaking time and the picture was the same in 2017 when women spoke for approximately nine of the 126 minutes.
In the subsequent years Apple has got better at bringing its women to the stage to present at its keynotes. In recent years we’ve seen Apple employees including Angela Ahrendts, Kalann Drance, Dr. Sumbul Desai, Ann Thai, Jennifer Bailey, Susan Prescott, Jen Folse, Stacey Lysik, Bethany Bongiorno, and Cheryl Thomas on stage making significant announcements. But there is more to be done, not least because chances are you have only heard of one of the above – Angela Ahrendts – and she’s now left the company.
While we appreciate that Apple is making a significant effort to address the gender gap in technology, there is still work to be done (as there is for all the major tech companies). With International Women’s Day on the 8 March, we will take a look at the women in Apple’s executive team, some of the other women who work for Apple, and those who made an impact in the past.
We’ve found out about 27 women who have made an impact at Apple – either due to the work they are doing at Apple now, because they worked at Apple in the past. Read on to find out about
Susan Kare and
Joy Mountford and other women who are often the unsung heros of Apple.
Is Apple sexist?
Back in 2016 Apple was accused of being “sexist” with a group of female employees claiming to have been unfairly treated at work. There were reports of gender stereotype jokes being made and even comments about rape, according to
this Mic article. Women also reported being passed over for leadership positions. At the time Apple’s head of human resources Denise Young Smith
discussed the case with Recode. She stated that “We take these things not just seriously, but personally. I have been grieved over this… that someone may have had this kind of an experience,” adding: “Commensurate actions have been taken.”
While it can’t be said that this incident is the reason for Apple’s drive to employ more women in tech positions and in leadership positions, it must have been a wakeup call for the company. 2016 does seem to be the year we started to see more of the women at Apple.
Actually Apple had begun seeking to address the gender gap for a few years prior. In 2014 Apple published its first diversity report (you can read Apple’s latest diversity report
here). The company claims that it’s been focused on hiring more women as well as underrepresented minorities. It also claims to “achieve pay equity in every country where we operate”.
The effects are most pronounced in the under 30s age group where 45% of Apple’s leaders are now women, according to the company. In terms of the total workforce, 29% of leadership is female, 33% of the total workforce are women and 23% of tech jobs at Apple are filled by women. These statistics come from a 19 February 2020 Statista
report. That report also includes the same figures for other US technology companies, so we’ll include them here for comparison:
- Apple: 33% of total workforce, 29% of leadership, 23% tech jobs
- Amazon: 42% of total workforce, 27% of leadership, na% tech jobs
- Facebook: 37% of total workforce, 33% of leadership, 23% tech jobs
- Google: 32% of total workforce, 26% of leadership, 23% tech jobs
- Microsoft: 28% of total workforce, 25% of leadership, 20% tech jobs
It certainly looks like Facebook, with COO Sheryl Sandberg, has the edge on Apple in terms of females in leadership roles, although the women in tech jobs figure is the same.
While all these businesses are in tech, the make up of staff is likely to be very different in terms of available roles. Apple has a lot of retail staff, many of whom are women. Amazon has many staff whose roles wouldn’t be described as tech-related (and that may well be why that company doesn’t publish its women in tech jobs percentage).
There are two indicators of how female friendly tech companies are: the number of women in tech roles and the number of women in leadership positions. To put the figures further into perspective, Statista states that “women hold 26.5 percent of executive, senior-level and management positions in S&P 500 companies”, so these companies have considerable room to grow.
Female Execs at Apple
As we said above, Apple’s been doing a lot to raise the profile of its female workers and executives. We’ve seen more and more Apple employees on stage at its keynotes, and right now, amid Apple’s leadership team of 16 there are four women: Katherine Adams, Deirdre O’Brien, Lisa Jackson and Isabel Ge Mahe.
In Apple’s board of directors there are currently two women: Andrea Jung (President and CEO Grameen America) and Susan L Wagner (Co-Founder and Director of BlackRock).
In recent years we have seen other female faces amid Apple’s executive team, including Angela Ahrendts who was senior vice president of retail from 2014 to February 2019. Ahrendts’ role was taken on by head of human resources Deirdre O’Brien, who became senior vice president of retail and people. You can
read more about Ahrendts below.
Here’s what you need to know about the current female leadership at Apple:
Senior Vice President and General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Legal and Global Security
Adams has a background as a corporate lawyer. She joined Apple in 2017. Hello! magazine
published a profile on her in March 2019.
In the article you can read about her experience as a working mother – she was actually promoted to partner in the law firm where she worked on returning from maternity leave. Adams revealed that she had “never felt that my gender was in any way a disadvantage”. Regarding her experience at Apple, she said: “I absolutely love it here. I’ve literally never been happier, it is an exceptional environment and Tim is an extraordinary leader.”
Her father was awarded the medal of freedom by President Obama for his environmental work in setting up the advocacy group the National Resources Defense Council.
Isabel Ge Mahe
Vice President and Managing Director of Greater China
Ge Mahe has worked at Apple since 2008. She was enticed to Apple from Palm by late CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs – who it seems offered her dinner but then didn’t feed her, according to
this Fortune profile. She did take the job, though.
At Palm she was vice president of Wireless Software Engineering. Initially she was Apple’s vice president of Wireless Technologies, overseeing the development of cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, location and motion technologies.
As Managing Director of Greater China – the world’s second-largest economy – Ge Mahe’s importance at Apple can’t be underestimated. She has been managing directory of Apple’s Greater China region since 2017 and was
ranked Fortune magazine’s 12th most powerful women international that year. With a Master of Engineering she’s also an female Apple executive with a clear tech background.
Vice President, Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives
Jackson, who joined Apple in 2013, has the important role of overseeing Apple’s efforts to minimise its impact on the environment. She is also responsible for Apple’s education policy, product accessibility and government affairs.
In 2009 she was appointed by President Barack Obama as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, a role she held until 2013. In that role she oversaw a decision to classify greenhouse gases as pollutants. She is a strong supporter of the Paris climate accord.
profiled Jackson on 2019. The article describes some of her achievements at Apple, such as the fact that various parts of old iPhones can be reused. For example, magnets made of rare earth materials that feature in the iPhone’s Taptic Engine are being recycled in order to improve the phones’ environmental credentials.
The article underlies the support Jackson has in her role from Apple CEO Tim Cook and senior vice president of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio. She told the Independent that at the “high level” Apple’s team is “very sensitive to the fact that our products, as iconic and amazing as they are, also are really concerned that they be seen as great for the planet”.
Senior Vice President Retail + People
O’Brien has been at Apple since 1988, having joined the company after completing an MBA at San Jose State University. She began her Apple career scheduling the production lines at Apple’s original factory and she was part of the team that built Apple’s first retail and ecommerce sites. O’Brien succeed Angela Ahrendts as the retail head for the company, but maintained her HR focus (a role she was promoted into in 2017).
In an 2019 InStyle
article O’Brien describes herself as having a lot of energy, saying she “bounces out of bed each morning”.
Other key women at Apple
We mentioned earlier that over the past few years Apple has got better at including women in its keynote presentations. The record still isn’t great, but it is improving and the result is that we have got to know of some of Apple’s female employees at some recent keynotes. Below we will look at some of the women who have appeared onstage at Apple keynotes in recent history.
Senior Project Manager for Fitness Experiences
Arney describes herself on Twitter as a “Former spokesperson for top fitness brands now making the world a better place @Apple”. She joined Apple in 2015 and demoed watchOS 5 capabilities on a stationary bike at WWDC 2018.
Vice President, Internet Services, Apple Pay
Bailey has been at Apple for more than 15 years and oversees Apple Pay and Apple’s gift card technology. Previously she ran Apple’s Online Store. Prior to Apple she was vice president of Online Services and Operations at myCFO and was previously a senior vice president at Netscape.
She was first seen on stage at WWDC 2015 when she spoke about Apple Pay. Profiled
here by Fast Company, Bailey can be credited with the success of Apple Pay, which has become the leading contactless payment solution.
Product Manager, Siri Shortcuts
Beverett demonstrated Shortcuts at WWDC 2018. We don’t know much about her but a colleague Ari Weinstein described her as “amazing” and tweeted that he is “so lucky to get to work with her every day”.
Sumbul Desai, MD
Vice President of Health
Desai joined Apple in 2017. She was previously the executive director of Stanford’s centre for digital health where she led a groundbreaking telemedicine project. She continues to see patients at Stanford despite working at Apple, according to
this CNBC report.
The report also reveals that prior to going to medical school, Desai worked as a strategist at The Walt Disney Company. In an
interview with the Independent, Desai discusses the importance of scepticism from healthcare providers when it comes to technology companies making advances into health and patient care and also discusses how seriously Apple takes its users health data privacy.
Desai was seen on stage at Apple’s September 2019 keynote.
Senior Director, iPhone Product Marketing
Drance was promoted into the role in 2019 and was seen on stage revealing details about the iPhone 11 in September of that year. She also appeared on stage for the iPhone XS launch the year before.
Senior Director, OS Program
With almost a decade at Apple, Lysik has held roles including Director of Apple Watch Software Program and Manager iOS Program. In 2019 Lysik took over Kim Vorrath’s (below) role in the software team.
Chief of Staff, AI/ML Strategy at Apple
Peterson has been at Apple since 2015 when she joined as a Software Engineering Program Manager. She was promoted to Chief of Staff in 2018. She introduced Memoji on stage at WWDC 2018.
Vice President of Markets, Apps and Services
Prescott previously worked at Adobe where she had engineering, marketing, and management roles. She joined Apple in 2003. Prescott was seen on stage at WWDC 2015 where she unveiled Apple News. She and Jennifer Bailey (above) were the first female executives to ever appear on stage in an Apple keynote.
Senior Product Marketing Manager, App Store
Thai was also on stage at the September 2019 keynote revealing the launch of Apple Arcade. She was also seen on stage at WWDC 2017.
Vice President, Software Engineering Operations
Thomas joined Apple in 1989 as Senior Director Software Engineering so she’s been at Apple for a long time. She appeared on stage at WWDC 2016 discussing Swift Playgrounds on the iPad.
Vice President of Program Management
Kim Vorrath has worked at Apple since 1987 and prior to 2019 was running the iOS program at Apple as led program manager with responsibility for keeping software teams on schedule and testing for bugs. Prior to that she was project manager for the Mac OS X division. In 2019 she joined the augmented reality team. According to
this Information profile she is known internally as “the occasionally short-tempered field marshal”.
There are undoubtedly many more women at Apple who deserve to be profiled and we’ll add more as we learn about them.
Women who made a difference at Apple
Finally we have some of the key Apple employees that have made an impact on the company since its inception in 1976.
Senior Vice President of Retail
Ahrendts was probably the first high-profile woman executive at Apple. She joined the company in 2014 and was the only female face amidst the leadership team. She was ranked 25th in Forbes’ 2015 list of the most powerful women in the world.
Born in the US, but with UK citizenship, Ahrendts came to Apple from Burberry, where she had removed the check design that had become the badge of chavs from the vast majority of goods in order to help Burberry regain its identity as a luxury brand. While at Burberry she was the highest paid CEO in the UK. When Ahrendts became CEO of Burberry her husband gave up work to become a stay-at-home dad, as per
this Business Insider profile.
While at Apple Ahrendts was clearly well respected internally – she was able to demand a salary of more than $70m in 2014, which was more than any other executive at Apple (according to Apple’s 2015 Proxy Statement).
Controller of the Macintosh Division
Barnes was controller of the Macintosh Division at Apple in the early days. She left the company with Jobs to cofound NeXT, where she served as Vice President and Chief Financial Officer until 1991.
Barnes had a good relationship with Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs. In a cnet
article she describes her interactions with Jobs: “You weren’t judged as a woman. You didn’t have to worry about what you wore and how you wore it. It was about your intellect, your brain and your contributions.”
So the story goes – one time she was sent to cut a deal with an Apple partner, but the Japanese chairman of the company told her to go out and buy pearls while the men did the business. Jobs sent a terse fax to the dinosaur stating: “Ms. Barnes makes the decision on this negotiation.”
Software Engineering Director
Bongiorno was one of the original designers of the iPad and happens to be married to another of the iPad’s original designers (Imran Chaudhri). The two have gone on to start up tech company Humane. She is profiled alongside her spouse in
this Input Magazine article.
Bongiorno joined Apple in 2008 as a project manager on the iPhone, but as she reveals while telling the story of her hire to Input Magazine, she had really been hired for the top secret iPad project. In the profile Bongiorno reveals that they “really enjoyed our time at Apple and obviously still have a bunch of close friends that are there.” Bongiorno was on stage at WWDC 2016.
Deborah (Debi) Coleman
Vice President of Operations, CFO, VP Information Systems & Technology
Coleman was the second woman to join the Macintosh team. Jobs put Coleman in charge of Mac manufacturing in 1984, making her one of the highest-ranking women in the computer industry. She later became chief financial officer. Before Apple she worked at HP (Hewlett-Packard).
Vice President for Worldwide Communications
Cotton was Apple’s vice president of communication and led Apple’s communication strategy through one of the biggest turnarounds in US corporate history. She was known for her fierce control of how Apple was portrayed by the press. She joined in 1996 shortly after the return of Jobs.
Design Lead Apple TV
Folse, who was a lead designer on projects including tvOS, left Apple in 2018 to join social broadcasting startup Caffeine (which was founded by former Apple TV designers). She appeared in Apple’s September 2015 keynote discussing the revised graphical user interface of the Apple TV and in WWDC 2018 where she discussed new features in tvOS. She joined Apple in 2010.
Chief Technology Officer
Hancock joined Apple in 1996, hired by Gil Amelio, with whom she had worked previously. She was largely responsible for the decision to cancel the Copland operating system project and had been keen to adopt the Sun Microsystems’s Solaris operating system to replace it, although Apple was to buy in NeXT and its NeXTSTEP OS (which bought Steve Jobs back to the company). She resigned shortly after Jobs took on the role of CEO.
Hoffman was the fifth member of the original Macintosh team, joining Apple in 1980. She was encouraged to interview for a role at Apple after making an impression on Apple’s Jef Raskin. After attending a talk at Xerox Parc at which he had presented the two had had a “heated discussion”.
While at Apple she wrote the User Interface Guidelines for the Mac, was instrumental in getting the Mac into education markets and went on to run the International Marketing Team. She was also known as someone who stood up to Steve Jobs. She followed Steve Jobs to NeXT and was often described as his “right-hand woman”.
She was portrayed by Kate Winslet in the 2015
Steve Jobs biopic.
If you’re a Mac user, you’ve seen Susan Kare’s work thousands of times, even if you haven’t heard of her.
Kare, who joined Apple in 1982, designed Apple’s original icons, including the Command icon that you’ll see if you glance down at your keyboard. Many of her ground-breaking icon designs – such as the Lasso, the Grabber and Paint Bucket – have become standards in software interface design. She also designed many of the interface elements, fonts and icons of the early Mac OS and her Chicago font was used for years as the main interface font on Macs and then in the first four generations of the iPod interface.
Steve Jobs loved her work so much that he employed her as Creative Director when he founded NeXT in 1985.
Vice President of Operations
Lane joined Apple in 2008 from Motorola, a Tim Cook recruit. She was in charge of the supply chain and manufacturing for iPads, Mac, and Mac accessories. In a profile Business Insider described her as a “Tim Cook disciple”. She retired in 2014.
Head of Apple’s Human Interface Group
Originally from London, and with a degree in Psychology, Mountford is an “internationally recognized leader in design, particularly human-computer interface, user experience and interaction design”, according to her
She was the Head of Apple’s Human Interface Group from 1986 to 1996. While at Apple she worked towards extending the user interface beyond the desktop to hand-held players and multimedia systems (long before the arrival of the iPod and iPhone).
In particular she is credited with leading the team which invented QuickTime, which launched in 1991 and enabled video to be digitised at a time when video was almost exclusively analogue. It was a significant breakthrough that paved the way for music and streaming video on our devices today. Mountford is also listed as the inventor on several key patents in multimedia and human computer interaction.
Head of Developer Relations
Roizen was at Apple from 1996 to 1997. According to her Wikipedia page: “She is known for speaking out against the harassment of women in technology, having herself received harassment in the past.”
She was hired by Mike Spindler and started on the same day as Gil Amelio. Apple lost $700m that quarter and within the first week Roizen was asked to cut 20 percent of her team, according to this article. She quit after a year in the job to spend more time with her children.