MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Apple has been in the news lately for fighting the FBI's request to unlock certain data in the FBI's investigation of the attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. But Apple is also at the center of a new development in the ongoing story about diversity in the tech world. If you follow the industry, then you know that some of the world's most prominent tech companies have been challenged repeatedly for their lack of racial and gender diversity in their workforces. Now a shareholder at Apple has initiated a potentially historic challenge to that pattern. Over the next week, Apple shareholders are eligible to vote on a measure asking Apple to bring more people of color to its senior management team and board of directors. While the measure is not binding, it is believed to be first at any company. Antonio Maldonado is the man behind this effort, and we reached him in London. Mr. Maldonado, thanks so much for speaking to us.
ANTONIO AVIAN MALDONADO II: Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: I understand that you're the creative director for a music company. So you don't work in the tech world per se. How did you get this idea?
MALDONADO: Well, actually, this was an adventure into career management for my son. We were discussing career routes, and the tech world just happened to pop up. And we were reviewing the website for Apple and just said oh, look at that, I'll be the first person of color up there. That stuck in my mind, believe it or not. And for three years I did some research, and I started challenging Apple directly about this. And unfortunately, they never gave me sufficient answers as to why it was occurring. So I decided to come up with this.
MARTIN: Had you ever done any kind of shareholder activism before?
MALDONADO: No. I've never done this before, so it's a first-time adventure.
MARTIN: So what is the state of play at Apple at this point when it comes to diversity?
MALDONADO: It's a mixed bag to be quite honest because they have a great diversity program. But unfortunately, in my opinion, it's external mostly. So they do a lot of goodwill gestures - for instance, donating to scholarship funds and to schools. And in their retail stores, it's quite diversified and everything else. But once you hit management - upper management - it seems like you're hitting a brick wall at that given stage where it's not very diverse.
MARTIN: What has been the reaction from the company?
MALDONADO: At first I would say that they were trying to justify their numbers. And the final AGM we had last year, I brought up the same question about their numbers. And they pointed out to two black executives, which I felt in my opinion was tokenism. After that, during discussion with a legal team, it was a battle back and forth as to perception. They believed that they're making a lot of progress and that their numbers are great in upper management. In mine, it's actually quite the opposite. I believe it's abysmal because when you're considering that they only have one Hispanic in upper management out of 103 and four black members, that's quite appalling, especially for 2016.
MARTIN: And what about the fact that the HR director is a person of color? That is a critical position presumably. Your response to that is what - I'm not taking a position on this either way. I'm simply reflecting back to you that this is what they said to you. What do you say to that in response?
MALDONADO: Well, unfortunately, when they start pointing to something like that, it tends to be tokenism, OK? Let's just look at the facts, for instance, in the board of directors. It was a span of 18 years between having black members within the board of directors. Delano Lewis was the last person in the 1990s. And from that point on, there was not another appointment until James Bell recently in the board of directors. And they only did that because they're getting some pressure, for instance, from Jesse Jackson and everyone else. So I believe that that was more tokenism as compared to genuine wanting to have inclusion.
MARTIN: So as we mentioned that the shareholder resolution is nonbinding.
MARTIN: So even if it passes, the company doesn't have to do it. What would you argue the utility of this exercise is?
MALDONADO: Well, it does - believe it or not, even though it's nonbinding, it does nudge a company to actually act rightly. It's a black mark on their brand if they decide to go against something that the shareholders want. After all, the company's owned by shareholders, not by individuals. So therefore, they have to comply eventually to shareholders requests. Even though it may not be today or tomorrow, eventually they have to. Our goal, of course, is to hopefully get this to pass, and if it doesn't pass to bring up again soon - hopefully come up with a good solution within the next year or two.
MARTIN: Mr. Maldonado, thanks so much for speaking with us. Keep us posted if you would.
MALDONADO: Thank you, Michel, for everything.
MARTIN: That's Antonio Maldonado, the shareholder behind a vote asking Apple to accelerate efforts to diversify its board and senior management team. NPR reached out to Apple for comment and hasn't heard back.
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