APPLE’S GIFT TO JESSIE JACKSON Protecting The Brand at the Cost of Return On Investment

Look Out: The Preacher’s Coming to Town!

It is natural to get a bit nervous after your organization hits the headlines followed by Reverend Jessie Jackson making a visit shortly afterwards. Google Incorporated’s poor diversity in the workplace performance hit the headlines recently and Silicon Valley CEOs scrambled to find ways to appease Reverend Jackson when he came to town afterwards to talk with them. Jackson carries a big “get on board or else” stick. That leaves CEOs shaking at the knees. Why? They understandably want to avoid their company’s brand from being further tarnished.

To get Jackson off a corporation’s back, the easy thing to do is to give him money—It works every time. Have organizations become more inclusive and diverse as a result of a history of such generous gifts? Not likely. It is more likely that the recent demographic shifts have led to greater diversity in the talent pool than anything orchestrated by gifting to charity. 

Diversity Recruitment is a Complex Problem That Takes Time to Solve! Who Are We Kidding?

The changing demographics have arguably had little impact on the Silicon Valley. Hiring talent from Asia to meet the technical competence demands of the industry cannot be discounted. The lingering question is why aren’t there more American Historically Excluded Group (HEG) members being hired. Most will say that the technology industry is an exception due to its demand for technical competencies that most Americans generally lack. It follows from this perspective that the talent gap is greater among American women and people of color.

An opposing view is that plenty of talent exists in the diverse recruitment pool and the technology sector has not worked hard enough to secure it. The further assumption is that poor diversity recruitment limits innovation and competitiveness in the industry, so poor diversity recruitment results are costing the industry.

Whatever is the reason for the lackluster diversity recruitment that haunts the Silicon Valley the result is a climate ripe enough to bring Reverend Jackson to town. Black colleges, the NAACP, the Negro College Fund, and similar organizations can certainly benefit from generous gifts. It is questionable whether or not similar past gifts have resulted in closing gaps in hiring more diversity in the workplace. One can assume that if those gifts made a difference there wouldn’t be a need for Jackson to come to town.

Protecting the Brand Versus Solving the Problem

What are the organizations receiving the funds supposed to be doing with the investment? Logically you would think that providing large amounts of money to non-profit organizations in response to meeting with Reverend Jackson would have clear connections to helping Silicon Valley companies solve their recruitment challenges. If history serves us, there is little expectation. There is nothing wrong with giving money to protect and enhance an organization’s brand. One simply needs to be clear that the linkages between that type of giving and addressing the diversity recruitment problem are limited.

Let’s consider what has made Apple Incorporated successful. It is an innovative company that consistently does what it takes to satisfy both consumers and its investors. Undoubtedly this requires making certain that the investment decisions offer investors a return. No less ingenuity should be expected when giving part of that investment as a gift to Reverend Jackson’s causes.

A lesson can be taken from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gifts on the basis of evidence-based approaches to solving real world problems. Silicon Valley companies will enter win-win charitable partnerships by gift causes on the basis of the soundness of the solutions offered, innovation and a reasonable promise of supporting the organization’s recruitment goals.

A major shortcoming is the view that the problem is very complex, difficult to solve, and will take time.1 Silicon Valley CEOs would never settle for such a defeatist position when considering how to stay ahead of the competition in their fast-moving, ever-changing, and technology-driven marketplace. Why do they crumble in the presence of diversity recruitment? It takes the same ingenuity and commitment.

There is a lot of great talent out there. The recruitment strategy needed to find and secure it requires innovation and a commitment to doing things differently. Fortunately Silicon Valley companies are not at a lost for either.

What should be avoided are out dated, so called diversity recruitment best practices that result in the same old outcomes—Hiring people on the basis of their skin color or gender using less than creative decision making criteria. This has led to the perception that diversity hiring is little more than affirmative action.

A related problem is loss of diversity talent due to an organizational culture that cannot fully include people who do not fit the mode, but given a chance can expand the organization’s competitiveness. The dual problems of under performing recruitment strategies and organizational barriers to inclusion represent the major challenges modern organizations face in a diversity rich recruitment space.

What does a high impact innovative diversity recruitment program strategy looks like? While each organization’s culture may result in a unique configuration of practices to meet its needs, in general there are about 35 factors that have shown considerable promise.

Here are ten of those factors. A high impact diversity and inclusion program:

  1. Is based on Subject Matter Expert insights about how to effectively hire diversity in the high technology sector.
  2. Utilizes an assessment of the existing inclusion barriers in the organization in developing a plan.
  3. Selects diversity search partners with a track record of recruitment success.
  4. On-boards the organization’s leadership and middle managers.
  5. Develops recruitment cultural competence for those responsible for interviewing and hiring decisions.
  6. Uses hiring tools and solutions that capture both diversity and human capital data.
  7. Uses a scorecard analysis to link diversity recruitment goals to the organization’s bottom line and competitive edge imperative.
  8. Provide diversity recruits with mentors from the senior management positions.
  9. Asks each new recruit what support she or he needs to be successful in the organization.
  10. Recruits in cohort groups (e.g., 5 or more women or 5 or more African Americans) so that they can support each other along with providing them with an Employee Resource Group.

It will not cost fifty millions dollars for an organization to design and develop a diversity recruitment program that can offer high impact results. What it will take is ingenuity, leadership commitment to inclusion, and removing organizational barriers to success.

Diversity hiring is not the “right thing to do.” it is an imperative for any organization that wants to remain competitive. The demographic shift demands forward thing about how to take full advantage of it. Diversity recruitment is somewhat complicated only because we are using outdated approaches to modern challenges. If Apple can put the same innovation that sparks its competitive edge in the marketplace into hiring and retention, the company will position itself to remain its dominance into the future.

Thinking about diversity recruitment as a business imperative for which sound investment is expected to offer high rate of return is the key to breaking the cycle of gifting to avoid shaking knees. Don’t stop gifting. Simply gift more consciously.

What are your thoughts?


1 Apple pledges $50M to diversity. USA Today, Money, Section B-1 (March 11, 2015).

Related Articles by Billy Vaughn

About the Author: Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP is a cultural cognitive psychologist with more than 25 years consulting and training experience. His clients include the Qualcomm, Inc., Cook Medical Technology, ITT Technology, the National Reconnaissance Organization, United States Secret Service, Food and Drug Administration, and the Central European Bank. He is a senior partner and trains executives as director of the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy.

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