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Apple workers challenge company on toxic workplace culture

Workers participating in the #AppleToo movement say they have collected nearly 500 testimonies from employees about their experiences of discrimination, harassment and abuse at Apple

A group of current and former Apple employees are publicly challenging the company on its workplace culture, following allegations that widespread incidents of racism, sexism, discrimination, harassment and abuse were being ignored by the consumer tech giant’s human resources (HR) department.

The group – known as #AppleToo – has collected around 500 testimonials from employees across the company, and claim the majority of those who got in touch about their treatment while working at the firm either asked for information on how to file a complaint with external authorities (such as the US’ National Labor Relations Board), or how to speak to the press.

The group claim the main thread linking “hundreds of stories of racism, sexism, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, sexual and other forms of harassment, and sexual assault” is that these reports were allegedly ignored by the firm’s HR representatives.

“For too long, Apple has evaded public scrutiny. The truth is that for many Apple workers – a reality faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritised racial, gender, and historically marginalised groups of people – the culture of secrecy creates an opaque, intimidating fortress,” said #AppleToo on its website.

“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. No more. We’ve exhausted all internal avenues. We’ve talked with our leadership. We’ve gone to the People team. We’ve escalated through Business Conduct. Nothing has changed.”

The group added: “We must work together, as colleagues – Corporate, AppleCare, and Retail; salaried and hourly; part-time and full-time – to demand systemic change in our work place. We all share a spot in Directory, and yet, we don’t share the same treatment, and aren’t all given equal rights.”

Apple was contacted for comment on the claims and allegations made by #AppleToo, but Computer Weekly received no response by the time of publication.

Systemic issues

Participants in #AppleToo have already started sharing the stories of those affected in batches of five, grouping them based on common threads to show there are systemic issues that need addressing at Apple, and plan to publish more periodically.

All of the stories shared so far come from employees who raised concerns with their managers and Apple’s HR department, which they claim were not acted upon or otherwise addressed in the process, leaving employees to allegedly continue working in a hostile work environment.

Due to the sensitivity of the stories, some of the Apple employees affected have asked that details of the incidents and their testimonies are not shared beyond the “AppleToo digests” being published on Medium by Cher Scarlett, an Apple security engineer who, because of her well-known online presence within the software industry, has become the de-facto face of #AppleToo.

Scarlett said on Twitter that the #AppleToo movement is now seeing success in amplifying the experiences of workers thanks to a Discord discussion forum her Apple colleagues have been running for the last few years, which allows anonymously verified workers to speak with one another without using personally identifying information.

She separately added: “The majority of stories received in the #AppleToo form are from retail. This is not only discontent amongst highly paid corporate employees, nor are all corporate employees ‘highly paid’.”

Concerns about bias

According to one testimony, from a black UK-based employee working in retail, they had been with Apple for six years, and started to “see the cracks” after being interviewed for a new role.

“After an interview for a lead role, I was told by a store leader through another manager that I wasn’t as ‘loud or energetic as I usually am and was too formal’ as the key reason why I didn’t get the job – that was code for I wasn’t that black, loud, energetic person they were expecting,” they said.

“Everything else was perfect, my results, my performance, my aspirations, my answers. I just wasn’t black enough for them, I guess, and they couldn’t handle a serious black person in an interview, trying to take the interview process seriously.

“After this, I started seeing more and more cracks – I was in the Black at Apple team before this and we were really struggling with identity and having leadership not just take our concerns about bias (racism and micro aggressions) seriously, but actually action them.”

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Other stories already shared include similar details of discrimination towards ethnic minority employees, as well as disclosures of sexual harassment or assault which the author’s have asked not to be re-published elsewhere.

Apple is already facing scrutiny for its treatment of senior engineering programme manager Ashley Gjøvik, who also claims to have experienced unsafe working conditions, sexism and a hostile office environment at the company.

Similar to #AppleToo’s claims that the issues raised were ignored by HR, Gjøvik said on her website (which she set up to document her claims) that before evidence could be gathered and properly reviewed, she was forced by Apple into indefinite paid administrative leave.

​“I only resorted to this because everything I tried internally has failed,” she wrote.

In comment given to Protocol, Scarlett added: “I feel like the company needs to be held accountable because they’re not holding themselves accountable. People want to feel heard. And they don’t feel heard by Apple. There are some people who have been there for decades who feel like Apple leadership used to listen to them, and make them feel like they were listened to, and they feel like that is gone.

“I just want to find a way to create a well-oiled machine that lets people feel confident that they have the press, the public, telling the world that what happened to you was abhorrent and unacceptable.”

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