Make room for more women at the table, Michelle Obama tells Apple

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Make room for more women at the table, Michelle Obama tells Apple

Michelle Obama has warned Apple that it will miss out on a major market if it doesn't hire more women, during a speech at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference.

Obama spoke on Tuesday at the annual event in San Jose, California, alongside Lisa Jackson – the company's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives.

The talk wasn't accessible to the press, but a video streamed on Periscope reveals parts of the discussion where the former first lady of the United States stressed that the technology sector must hire more women.

"Who are you marketing to?" Obama said. "Who do you think is going to use these apps? If women aren't at the table, you're saying you don't really care about my dollar. You're going to miss a lot of what I want because you don't really know me."

According to Apple's website, the company's workforce is currently only made up of 32 percent women – although this is a 10 percent increase on the previous year.

Some critics pointed to this underrepresentation of women in 2014, when Apple released a Health app that tracked dozens of variables, not one of which was the menstrual cycle.

CNN reported that Obama – an advocate of women's education – also addressed the issue of young girls "walking away" from science and technology subjects, even though they often outperform their male counterparts.

Her claim is backed up by a study published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015.

The international study found that – despite similar test performances – less than one in 20 girls considers a career in science, technology, engineering or maths, compared to one in five boys.

"There's something about how this subject is being taught," Obama said, offering a solution. "You guys are smarter than that. You're better than that; let's figure it out."

"I look to the fellas in the room and say, are you ready? Are you really ready to have women at the table? Then make room."

It isn't just the tech industry that is being urged to up its game when it comes to gender representation. The architecture and design industries are also largely dominated by men, with studies showing huge disparities in pay, as well as problems relating to long hours and childcare.

Architect David Adjaye recently said he was "embarrassed as a male" that women still need to fight for gender equality, while Denise Scott Brown petitioned to be recognised for the joint achievements of herself and husband Robert Venturi.

Most recently, Sheela Maini Søgaard, the only woman among the 12 partners at BIG, had to defend the firm's diversity after founder Bjarke Ingels posted a photograph on Instagram of all 12 partners, captioned "BIG BOYS&GIRL" – highlighting the gender imbalance at partner level.

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference is on in San Jose, California on 5 to 9 June. The big hardware announcement was the arrival of its first smart speaker, Homepod, a rival to the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The company also revealed that it is targeting distracted motorists with a new feature that will automatically block incoming iPhone notifications while you drive.

Photograph by Simon Davis/DFID.