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Multiple Women Accuse Apple of Shrugging off Sexual Misconduct Claims: Report

Past and present staff say the company that wants you to ‘think different" has ignored and retaliated against women speaking out.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook wearing a blue polo shirt walks by and makes the "peace sign" of to fingers held up to the camera.
Photo: Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

Apple once wanted both its users and employees to “Think Different.” But some women working at the tech giant now say the company itself needs to think different on claims of sexual misconduct. Past and present employees told the Financial Times that the tech giant routinely ignores complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace at all levels.

In a story published Thursday—based on interviews with 15 past and present Apple employees from several different departments and states—women say Apple’s HR department, called the People group, didn’t give much credit to claims of sexual harassment or misconduct.

Former employees describe an organization so wholly focused on creating the next big product to care about employee complaints. Women working at several different departments all over the company, and in different states, described going to HR with complaints that were routinely ignored. One former worker in the legal department described how their manager bullied and harassed them after taking leave to visit her dying father, and that a coworker was sexting her all hours of the day. After being laid off, she was asked to sign an agreement not to hold Apple responsible for “alleged emotional distress” in exchange for a few months of salary.

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In a statement to FT, Apple said it investigates all misconduct allegations while making employees feel comfortable to report abuse. At the same time, the company admitted “there are some accounts raised that do not reflect our intentions or our policies and we should have handled them differently.” Apple added it will make changes to its “training and processes.” The company did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. 

Chris Deaver, a former HR rep at Apple, told FT the company often dealt with engineers trying to ape the public Steve Jobs archetype, AKA the manager who humiliates people in meetings. He called it a problem with Apple’s drive for “secrecy.” Other female employees described a toxic work environment full of gaslighting, dismissal, and even outright antagonism toward claims of sexual harassment to the FT.

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Human resources departments get lumped into two stereotypes; either The Office’s sad sack Toby caricature, or a bulwark protecting the company from the employees that work for it. The company, worth $2.6 trillion, remains one of Silicon Valley’s biggest employers. CEO Tim Cook has previously called for more female leadership at his and other U.S. tech companies.

This isn’t the first time the tech giant has been called out for discrimination in the workplace. The so-called #AppleToo initiative—a play on the #MeToo hashtag—called the company “an opaque, intimidating fortress” that regularly shut out women and people of color. Leaders of the movement further called out the company for squashing pay transparency surveys that showed pay discrepancies on racial and gender lines. One of the organizers of #AppleToo left the company last November following a complaint settlement she filed with the National Labor Relations board.

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The world’s once-most valuable company’s own 2021 diversity report proclaims its increase in the number of female hires globally. They also mention that 47% of leadership roles and 34% of research and development jobs are being filled by women, a 11% and 5% increase from 2014, respectively.

Still, the global makeup of Apple’s total workforce is just 35% women to 65% men. It’s worse in the company’s tech departments, where only a quarter of the workforce is female. Apple isn’t an outlier in that regard, though. A recent report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showed that women accounted for under 27% of the federal technology workforce. Low rates of women in tech is a consistent sticking point for the entire STEM field.