The notoriously secretive corporate culture at Apple has been exposed to have some leaks and cracks when it comes to the treatment of employees and various other complaints. And according to a new report by the New York Times, one main reason there's been more internal organizing and vocalized unrest has been Apple employees gathering on Slack.
After years in which we've been told that Apple is a model company and fantastic to work for, it's oddly dissonant to hear of growing complaints from inside from unhappy employees. As the Times reports, CEO Tim Cook addressed the entire company on Friday in an all-hands meeting and for the first time answered some questions from an internal group that calls itself #AppleToo. But those employees say that Cook answered for too little, including avoiding questions about pay equity and the elevation of more women and people of color to leadership roles.
"For too long, Apple has evaded public scrutiny," writes the #AppleToo group on this website. "The truth is that for many Apple workers -- a reality faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender, and historically marginalized groups of people -- the culture of secrecy creates an opaque, intimidating fortress. When we press for accountability and redress to the persistent injustices we witness or experience in our workplace, we are faced with a pattern of isolation, degradation, and gaslighting."
The group says it has escalated its concerns through the company's People and Business Conduct teams, but "Nothing has changed."
As the Times notes, this kind of internal activism has been growing across Silicon Valley in recent years. Thousands of Google employees staged a walkout in January 2017 in San Francisco and Mountain View to protest then-President Trump's new anti-immigration policies — and in June 2019, a group of 120 LGBTQ Googlers sought to get the company banned from the San Francisco Pride Parade, in protest of what they said were inadequate "policies and practices regarding the treatment of LGBTQ+ persons" and hate speech at the company.
But at Apple, employees say they've been siloed and silenced for years, as part of the company's broader policies around product secrecy. One former Apple employee, Christine Dehus, tells the Times, "Apple has this culture of secrecy that is toxic," adding that it has bled into all areas of the workplace to the point of being "damaging."
The #AppleToo group has been making public noise in recent months, trying to call more attention to what they say are issues at the company that aren't being adequately addressed. In addition to pay equity complaints, the group says it's received over 500 complaints from current and former employees alleging retaliation by managers, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and other issues.
In response to a Times inquiry, Apple said in a statement, "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters.
Apple has around 160,000 global employees, and it's not at all clear whether the recent complaints raised represent systemic or cultural issues.
But Slack, and increased communication "outside silos" of company departments, seems to be playing a significant role. Apple rolled out wide use of Slack in 2019, and as it did for many companies, Slack channels provided easy gathering and communication for remote-working employees over the last 18 months.
Back in May, an employee revolt over a new hire, Antonio García Martínez — who had written a book about his time at Facebook in which he made offensive and sexist statements about women in the Bay Area — led to that hire's quick termination. And in June, a group of Apple employees publicly pushed back on the company's previously announced plans for returning to the office three days per week this fall.
Photo: Carles Rabada