Apple’s New Motto: “Think Different — But Not Too Different”

An Apple employee was ousted for comments made prior to joining the firm. Had he robbed, raped, or killed someone, his job might well have been more secure. Does this make sense?

Hello, I Must Be Going

Apple, Inc., announced that a product manager recently hired from Facebook no longer works at the firm.

He lasted two weeks.

Normally, mid-level departures don’t make news. But, this employee’s hiring caused an internal uproar because of comments the employee made prior to joining the firm.

Apple employees reportedly complained about the hiring of this colleague both internally and on social media, citing comments the new employee previously made and excerpts from his 2016 book, Chaos Monkeys. In his book, the author apparently referred to women in Silicon Valley as “soft and weak.” Reportedly, he also “made a series of other assertions deemed misogynist and racist by Apple employees.”


A common and legitimate hiring concern is “fit.” Fit means more than whether the candidate can do the tasks required of the role.

For example, how will the candidate get along with his or her colleagues? Will the candidate not only do the assigned work well but help make colleagues better, too?

In short, will the candidate fit in, and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Preventing “Fit” From Serving As Cover For Bias Or Discrimination

While hiring and managerial concerns over “fit” can have a legitimate basis, they can also provide cover for bias or discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious.

In some cases, confirmation biases cause people to favor candidates for employment or promotion who remind them of themselves, while disfavoring candidates who don’t.

In other cases, people can simply act from prejudice or spite.

Protected Classes

Where differential treatment arises from factors such as race, sex, religion, or sexual preferences, such treatment may represent unlawful discrimination.

Both federal and state law establish “protected classes” of persons against whom one may not discriminate.

California has some of the broadest protections of any state. California also prohibits employers from sanctioning employees for political activities that don’t directly affect their job performance. Thus, California employers may not discriminate against employees based on political activities or affiliations.

Pre- Vs Post-Hiring Behavior

In the case of Apple’s former employee, no one seems to have claimed that he misbehaved at work, in word or deed.

Objections center on things he said (or wrote) prior to joining Apple. To be more precise, objections — and media coverage — center on how some people have interpreted or characterized things he said or wrote.

Interestingly, in an effort to allow people a fresh start in life, federal and state laws limit or prohibit employers’ rights to reject applicants due to past criminal behavior.

For example, employers in California (where Apple is headquartered and the ex-employee worked) may not ask applicants about juvenile convictions. Someone convicted of robbery, rape, or murder (including racially motivated murder) while a juvenile might well pass through employment screening without a hitch.

Even where a candidate has an adult conviction, California employers may only ask about prior convictions after making a conditional offer of employment. And where there is a conviction, the employer must assess with respect to the individual candidate the conviction’s “direct and adverse relationship” with the specific job duties of the position.

Employers may not ban hiring of ex-convicts as a class. In addition, any candidate refused employment because of a criminal past must receive detailed notice and an opportunity to respond.

Presumably, once the hiring decision has been made, an employee who disclosed prior convictions when properly asked may not be terminated for them later.

Exclusive Inclusion, Or Intolerant Tolerance?

There is a difference between news reporting and opinion (e.g., this column).

I have not independently reviewed the writings of the former Apple employee. For the purposes of this column, I will assume that the characterizations of his writings by his critics are correct. But, I will also note that “news reporting” worthy of the name would have independently dug into the statements and their context rather than repeating the characterizations of unnamed persons whose judgment and impartiality are unknown.

So much for journalism.

Mark Twain

When it comes to satire, on the other hand, it would take a writer with the talent of Mark Twain to top what Apple employees wrote in all seriousness: “[T]his hire….calls into question parts of our system of inclusion at Apple, including hiring panels, background checks, and our process to ensure our existing culture of inclusion is strong enough to withstand individuals who don’t share our inclusive values.”

In other words, “Our culture of inclusion must exclude those who don’t entirely agree with us on inclusion.”

Note here the supposed offence is failing to share the employer’s values, not acting contrary to them on the job. By analogy, should a vegan, halal, or kosher restaurant fire a dutiful employee who — outside of work — eats a bacon cheeseburger?

A Plea For Sanity

If any employer finds a candidate who appears to be a perfect human being, it’s because the employer hasn’t looked at the candidate hard enough.

Common Ground

Fit constitutes a valid hiring consideration, within bounds.

The law rightly safeguards members of protected classes from bias and discrimination.

The law also rightly strives to give even those convicted of serious crimes a fresh start.

Should Real Inclusion And Tolerance Be A Bridge Too Far?

At present, it appears that a robber, rapist, or murderer might well enjoy more hiring protection and job security than someone who, prior to employment, said or wrote something deemed objectionable by others.

That seems out of whack.

We practice inclusion and tolerance not as a gift to others, but as a manifestation of who we are and wish to be. If sharing values represents a pre-condition, are we practicing inclusion and tolerance, or hypocrisy?

A society, an organization, or a group of people that allows no room for human mistakes, for fresh starts, or for diversity of values will tear itself apart. Look around.

Apple’s motto used to be “Think Different.”

Not anymore.

Perhaps it’s time for a re-Think.


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