Should Apple have more “ideological diversity” on its board?

That was the question facing CEO Tim Cook, along with Apple’s board and investors, at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Friday, when activist Justin Danhof pushed a proposal aimed at increasing such diversity on the company’s board of directors.

“Diversity is not what someone looks like, it’s the sum of what they think,” Danhof said while speaking at the meeting.

Danhof, who’s general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, added that the tech industry’s focus on increasing racial and gender diversity is “racism and sexism.”

“True diversity comes from diversity of thought. There is ample evidence that the Company — and Silicon Valley generally — operate in ideological hegemony that eschews conservative people, thoughts, and values,” the center wrote in its proposal to shareholders. “This ideological echo chamber can result in groupthink that is the antithesis of diversity. This can be a major risk factor for shareholders.”

The proposal was shot down, with more than 98 percent of voting shareholders casting ballots against it.

“We are open to people from all walks of life,” Cook said, noting that this includes political points of view, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. He also encouraged anyone with concerns to “say something.”

“We live in a very polarized world today,” Cook added, saying he doesn’t believe it needs to be and that he doesn’t “check people at the door” about their beliefs. He also noted that though Apple is pro-immigration, pro-environment and pro-privacy, he doesn’t see that as politics. “For us, we focus on policy things.”

The dustup was the latest in a series of debates that have spread across Silicon Valley over the past couple years as tech companies and their leaders increasingly speak out against President Donald Trump and far-right extremism. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in particular have come under fire for banning some activists for what they say is inciting harassment and spreading hate. Cook in particular has spoken out on issues such as immigration and gay rights.

During the debate, Another shareholder raised concerns that after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA., Apple donated $1 million to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which the shareholder called a hate group (the SPLC regularly studies and releases reports about hate groups around the US.) 

“I was shocked to hear that,” said Caanan Reiersgaard, a business consultant and Apple shareholder from Seattle, who voted against the proposal. He added that he appreciated Cook’s statements, calling the CEO “courageous” to speak up about these issues in this politically divisive time.

Concerns about conservative views were just some of the several topics Cook discussed with shareholders in attendance at the company’s Steve Jobs Theater at its “spaceship” Apple Park campus Friday. He also touted the Apple Watch and its success helping identify people’s heart issues, and the popularity of AirPods, which he called a “cultural phenomenon.”

He also answered a question on privacy issues, saying he believes it’s “ingrained in the Constitution,” but is worried about how other companies have built detailed digital profiles of people. “We think regulation is necessary,” he added. “It’s not just a marking thing, this is who we are.”

Elephant in the room

What wasn’t directly discussed however, was Apple’s iPhone. The blockbuster device may have ignited the smartphone revolution and Apple’s bottle-rocket growth, but has recently been a drag on the company’s sales performance. Consumers broadly appear to be suffering from phone fatigue, analysts say, prompting them to hold onto their devices longer. That’s easy when annual updates feel less revolutionary, and price tags are greater than those on laptops. The iPhone may have turned Apple into one of the world’s most valuable companies, but now people are asking what’s next.

Apple’s competition is placing its bets on foldable phones. Over the past couple weeks, Samsung, Huawei, TCL and Xiaomi have all announced or shown off new phones that unfurl into tablets. These new devices also come with hefty price tags, including one that reaches $2,600, but they offer a glimpse of where the tech industry is heading. And they’re undeniably exciting.

Apple may also have plans for its own take on a foldable phone. A few weeks ago, it filed designs with the US Patent and Trademark Office for an “electronic device” with a “flexible display” that can fold both in half and in thirds. When, or even if, it’s coming is anyone’s guess. 

Shareholders didn’t get a clear answer as to where Apple is headed at the shareholder meeting, though they rarely do. They did however approve all the company’s board members for another term, including former US Vice President Al Gore and Disney CEO Bob Iger.

First published Mar. 1 at 11:13 a.m. PT.
Updated 11:18 a.m. PT: Adds shareholder response.



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