Seemingly overshadowed by the chaos of iPhone 7 launch week were a pair of articles that highlight an alleged “very toxic atmosphere” at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. An article from Mic pointed to a variety of instances of alleged sexism and inappropriate behavior.

Now, Recode has sat down with Apple’s head of human resources Denise Young Smith to discuss the issues raised in the article and what Apple is doing to combat them.

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The Mic article alleged that things such as inappropriate jokes and harassment have become plentiful at Apple’s male-dominated headquarters in Cupertino. Considered to be the “the final straw” was an email thread in which several rape jokes were made in relation to the “Bed Intruder Song” that took the internet by storm a few years back, according to Gizmodo. One female Apple employee in the chain, seemingly fed up with the inappropriate jokes, escalated the issue straight to Tim Cook and was joined by a handful of other employees in doing so.

“Rape jokes in work chat is basically where I completely draw the limit,” she wrote to Cook in an email obtained by Mic. “I do not feel safe at a company that tolerates individuals who make rape jokes.”

The same article highlights other instances of sexism, such as men stereotyping all women as “nags” during a meeting. Another example given centers on one female employee complaining of sexual harassment and Apple admitting to her that she was in a “hostile work environment.” Instead of remedying the issue, however, Apple allegedly gave her the choice of staying in the hostile environment or taking a demotion to a lower ranking, lower paying job on another team.

A separate instance of sexism given is a man constantly being referred to as “emotional” and being accused of being on his “Man Period.”

“This is a statement used to push the fact that women while menstruating are emotional and cannot be depended on to do work or be rational while in this state. Therefore if I was a man on my period then I was seen as inferior and an emotional mess just like most women are once a month.”

Another common, sarcastic joke throughout Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino is to compare the “toxic” working conditions of Apple’s headquarters to Foxconn’s. “The running joke,” one employee said, “is that Foxconn has nothing on Apple.”

In the interview with Recode, Apple’s HR head Denise Young Smith explained that the company takes instances like these very seriously and personally. Regarding specific allegations, such as the ones made in the Mic and Gizmodo articles, Young Smith said that “commensurate actions” have been taken, but wouldn’t go into detail.

“We take these things not just seriously, but personally. I have been grieved over this … that someone may have had this kind of an experience.”

“Commensurate actions have been taken,” Young Smith said, noting that disciplinary actions can range from an informal conversation to dismissal. She declined to say what was done in these specific cases, citing privacy concerns.

Young Smith explained what she is most concerned about following the articles from this week is that Apple “may have lost the trust of others.” She is also worried that the “women-at-Apple” mailing list, the source of the leaked emails sent to Mic, will lose its reputation for being a safe place for women to discuss their experiences.

Cook, although he did not respond directly to emails sent to him concerning sexism, has also been taking the allegations seriously, according to Young Smith.

“In the midst of all this, he was deep down with all of us to understand what has transpired and what can we learn,” Young Smith said. And that came in a week where Cook was taking part in a board meeting and overseeing a major product launch.

Apple’s HR head is working on finalizing an email that will be sent out soon to address the allegations from this week’s articles, as well as Apple’s overall corporate culture.


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