Apple Music, new operating systems and a smarter Siri were front and center at Apple Inc.'s Worldwide Developers Conference, but it wasn't a new product that got people talking — it was women.
During Monday's keynote presentation, Jennifer Bailey, Apple's vice president of Internet services, and Susan Prescott, vice president of product marketing, took the stage to announce new developments with Apple Pay and a news reading app. It was the first time that Apple has had female executives on stage at any of its major events since at least the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.
In recent years, Apple has been criticized for parading out only top male executives at its iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and WWDC events, particularly as Silicon Valley as a whole dealt with gender disparity and discrimination issues.
For a company as high-profile as Apple, which has only had three women on stage at its news conferences since 2007 (two of whom were third-party developers, and one was supermodel Christy Turlington), members of the tech community described the move as a huge development.
"It's very significant because you have a very well-intentioned and purposeful effort on the part of a tech giant to raise the profile of their female executives at their premier public event," said Jonathan Sposato, an angel investor, serial entrepreneur and chief executive of photo-editing service PicMonkey.com. "They're trying to do the right thing."
Apple released data last year that revealed women account for only 30% of its 98,000 employees. Of its engineers, women make up only 20%. And of its last seven news conferences, nearly every speaker on stage was a white man. Against this backdrop, Monday's news conference was noticeably different.
Of course, having women on stage doesn't necessarily improve Apple's ratio of women to men within the company, Sposato said. Achieving a diverse workforce in a company as big as Apple could take years. But that doesn't mean Bailey and Prescott were merely for show. By simply having a more inclusive news conference, Sposato said Apple was able to send an important message about its intent — that it values the women in the company and that Apple is a place where women have a place at the top.
"It may feel like a token, superficial change," Sposato said of the news conference itself. "But I'd argue that those token changes are a necessary component of advancing the discussion and modeling the right behavior for the long term."
Carolyn Leighton, the founder and chairwoman of Women in Technology International, said Apple's inclusion of Bailey and Prescott also makes excellent business sense because it shows that the company is acknowledging women as part of its audience.
"It's a win all the way around," Leighton said. "It's a win for Apple, it's a win for the women in those roles, and every time a young girl sees a woman in an important role, she sees a possibility of herself in that role. That's so powerful."