No Women at Apple’s Top?

On October 16, Silicon Valley’s San Jose Mercury News reported that Silicon Valley ranks last in promoting women to senior-level positions. In fact, only 9% of companies in Santa Clara County, which is home to Silicon Valley, have promoted a woman to a top position. And hip Apple has no women at all in its executive ranks.

This sad story is repeated all over the country, despite the fact that women are an emerging powerhouse of talent.

The facts speak loudly. It should be the dawn of the age of women if you look at the impressive statistics and trends. The supply of skilled men is aging and fewer men are entering colleges and universities.

On the other hand, women in the workforce are younger than the men and more of them are going to college and are getting the skills organizations need.

Over 77% of women between the ages of 35 to 44 are working today, versus about 39% in 1950. Similar increases are found at every age level.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, “Women accounted for 51% of all workers in the high-paying management, professional, and related occupations. They outnumbered men in such occupations as financial managers; human resource managers; education administrators; medical and health services managers; accountants and auditors; budget analysts; property, real estate, and social and community association managers; preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers; physical therapists; and registered nurses.”

A 2001 Current Population Survey showed that one out of 10 employed engineers was a woman, and that two of 10 employed engineering technologist and technicians were women.

Women represent over 51% of medical scientists, and according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, women made up the majority of medical school applicants for the first time ever in 2003. Black women applicants increased by almost 10%.

The Massachusetts General Hospital reports that, “The number of women with leadership roles in research studies published in major medical journals has increased significantly over the past three decades.”

But looking at this from the perspective of a Silicon Valley executive or anyone seeking technical skills, things don’t look as good. While the percentage of women who are entering engineering is rising, it is not a dramatic increase and aging men continue to dominate almost every engineering discipline. This may explain in part why Apple has no executive women, but it doesn’t explain why Hewlett-Packard, just down the street, has plenty.

What it may underline is that few organizations have done very much to promote technical careers for women or to showcase those women who have chosen a technical career. Few firms take an aggressive approach in encouraging women to enter engineering majors in university and simply wait to reap the men who primarily choose those majors.

Women are not getting the same pay as men and this may also influence their career choices. Women in general tend to earn less than men. Even though the gap has decreased since 1979 with women earning 14% more and men 7% less, it remains an issue. Women overall make only 76% of what men earn. Women find it hard to get hired into management positions and hard to be treated equally.

Women and Education

It is becoming imperative for organizations to ramp up their support for women and focus on women as a source of talent. For reasons not yet fully understood, far more women than men are entering colleges and universities and completing four-year degrees.

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Since 1982, women have outpaced men in college graduation rates and in 2004, women received 58% of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States. They are projected to receive over two-thirds of all degrees by 2012.

The New York Times reported in July 2006, “. . .men now make up only 42 percent of the nation’s college students. And with sex discrimination fading and their job opportunities widening, women are coming on much stronger, often leapfrogging the men to the academic finish.”

“The boys are about where they were 30 years ago, but the girls are just on a tear, doing much, much better,” said Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington.

It looks obvious that the majority of college graduates will soon be women, and they are getting better grades and going on to graduate school in record numbers, as well.

Women and Recruiting

Organizations need to develop specific strategies for attracting, promoting, and retaining women. As men retire and fewer graduate from universities, organizations that have focused on creating a culture and building recruiting practices that attract women will enjoy a substantial lead over their competition who have not.

What would your answers be if I asked you these questions?

  • Does your organization focus on hiring women?
  • Has it designed human resources policies that will keep women in your workforce?
  • Do you know what women are seeking from an organization?
  • Is your company promoting women to senior-level positions?
  • Are you working with women in high school and in their first years of university so that they have an appreciation of technology and are getting the math skills they need to enter engineering professions?
  • Do your recruiting practices encourage women to apply for jobs?
  • Are women really given the same opportunities as men?

If your answers are not so good, here are some specific things you can do to attract and retain women.

  1. Choose to focus on hiring women. Some of the reasons we do not have enough women in management and technical positions is that we have chosen not to focus on them. By saying positions are open to everyone, we automatically give men an edge simply because there are more of them in the workforce today. Given the same amount of effort, more male candidates will be identified than female for many positions. It takes a deliberate effort and a targeted strategy to find qualified women. Because organizations have taken a relaxed attitude toward hiring and promoting women, designate some positions as developmental and primarily available to women. Doing this fuels your future ability to find suitably experienced women for senior positions. It also sends a signal to the community of women that your company values their contributions and is prepared to invest in them.
  2. Develop recruitment advertising that attracts women. Subtle messages are enveloped in every recruitment website and promotion. Many of these messages are more attractive to men because they picture successful men instead of women or because their message is more attractive to men than women. Research shows that messages that stress competition and winning are attractive to men, while those that stress collaboration and conversation may be perceived more positively by women. Experiment and focus on everything from the colors used on your website to the copy that describes your company.
  3. Encourage HR to develop family-friendly work environments. Research shows that women are more likely to quit a job for their family and are still the primary caregivers to children. Surveys of women indicate they are looking for organizations that allow job-sharing and have other benefits that are family- and child-oriented. They are much less interested in jobs that require lots of travel or late-night meetings. Because of this, organizations that want to attract and retain women need to have attendance policies that allow flexible work schedules and telecommuting. The focus should be on asking all employees to achieve specific work goals, not on showing up at a certain time every day.
  4. Provide good examples of leadership. Women are looking for organizations that have shown that they care about women, and one indicator is the number of women in key positions. Organizations that make it a visible priority to have women lead key projects and move women into management slots are far more likely to retain their best performers. Organizations like HP have spent years developing a corporate culture where women get developed and promoted. As a result, they have a large number of women in executive positions and have little problem attracting female graduates.
  5. Offer developmental and educational opportunities. Women who already work for you are more likely to stay, especially if they are offered education. Encouraging formal education and building mentoring and rotational practices into your organization can significantly increase the pool of qualified women. Development is also a major way to attract younger women to your organization.

The risk to organizations in the United States and elsewhere is that women will choose not to join at all. Many women have already given up and feel that the only way to get the work flexibility, equal pay, and opportunity they want is to start their own businesses.

Women-owned businesses make up 26% of all non-farm businesses in the United States and the number is rising as more and more women feel ignored and left out of recruiting and promotion processes.

Apple and other organizations that have few women in key positions may be in trouble as time goes on. Unless organizations realize that women are the major source of skills for the next few decades and change their recruiting and pay practices, recruiters will be increasingly hard-pressed to find any qualified candidates at all.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


2 Comments on “No Women at Apple’s Top?

  1. In theory targeting women sounds like a great idea, until the ramifications are closely examined. For every women or targeted group that is given preference another person is eliminated, not because they are less qualified but because they do not fit into the profile. This is the liberal mindset that the only way to achieve parity is to legislate or create some mechanism that is supposed to level the playing field. Why not just hire the most qualified. The days of social engineering are over and thank goodness for this. No one has a problem with equal pay for equal work but to suggest companies should set up quotas is nonsense. As a for profit company, the obligation of the board of directors and management is to insure the profitability of the company. To suggest that Apple is misogynistic while others in the industry are not is to be naive. If Apple felt they would continue to prosper with a martian as CEO you can bet ‘IT’ would be hired. By the way our company is run by a very savy business person who happens to be a women.

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