How one woman helped build the #AppleToo movement at tech’s most secretive company

Against the odds, a collective worker movement has started to emerge at Apple. Here's how the de-facto face of the movement is dealing with the internal company hate, and why she feels it's worth it.

Person wearing a mask walks in front of Apple logo

Apple employees are sharing stories of workplace issues with a new collective movement calling itself #AppleToo.

Photo: Bloomberg via Getty

When Apple security engineer Cher Scarlett opened the anonymous worker forum Blind on Friday afternoon, she saw that one of the most popular posts accused her of ruining the company. When we chatted just a few minutes later, I asked her how she was doing and she could only respond with a long sigh.

Scarlett has become the de-facto face of the new #AppleToo movement, a group of workers who have gathered together to ask their peers and former Apple employees to share their stories of issues in the workplace, ranging from harassment and discrimination to bullying and feeling unheard by management. #AppleToo first shared its callout for stories just over a week ago, and the group has already received nearly 500 varying reports from people all across the company. The most common theme from the stories? Workers who feel as if they've been ignored by human resources.

"There's this culture within Apple that is very rewarding of secrecy and loyalty, and when I have read some of these posts about me, it's very much seeping through, people are feeling that I'm leaking confidential data." But Scarlett doesn't see it that way — she works in corporate security and legal, and she said that she would never leak product information (and that her direct team supports her, and condemns the abuse she's receiving). Talking publicly about issues within the workplace is, to her, an entirely different question.

While #AppleToo is not a union per se, the group's website says that it wants to use the power of a collective movement to bring attention to the hundreds of Apple workers who have long felt invalidated by the company. Scarlett, who had a well-known online presence in the software world even before she became an Apple worker, is the group organizer who has spoken the most publicly, and who publicly led the effort to create the informal pay equity survey against Apple's wishes.

Apple did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Tech workplace movements are not a new trend. In January, Google employees formed the Alphabet Workers Union, which, while unrecognized by the National Labor Relations Board, has already led several successful campaigns for changes in workplace policies. The AWU has aligned itself with the Communications Workers of America, a national union that also represents several smaller tech companies that have formally unionized in the last six months.

While the power dynamic has clearly started to shift from companies to workers in the tech industry more broadly over the last year (a July Protocol survey of the tech industry found that nearly half of respondents were interested in joining a union), that change was not immediately evident at Apple. Apple culture is notoriously secretive, and its workers have a long history of refusing to speak to the press or on social media about company products. In the past, some workers have come forward internally to express their anger, report issues or work together to make change — for example, one woman in 2016 wrote an email to CEO Tim Cook about jokes her coworkers were making about rape — but very little collective action has made its way into the public eye.

Yet, over the last few months, it has become apparent that not even Apple is exempt from the shifting dynamic, whether that's been caused by a generational change, the proliferation of workplace collaboration apps like Slack, a broader cultural zeitgeist or some combination of the three. Different groups of employees have repeatedly broken that long history of workplace silence, first petitioning successfully to have controversial hire Antonio García Martínez removed from the company, then asking (unsuccessfully) for a looser remote work policy, and then trying to participate in informal surveys to measure pay inequities. One engineering program manager, Ashley Gjøvik, was put on indefinite administrative leave after reporting both internally and to the public numerous instances of sexism and a hostile work environment.

These changes are not popular with the Apple workers who take pride in the company's secrecy. They see the petitions and reports, as well as the workers who lead them, as leakers ruining the company culture — and Scarlett is the most prominent face of them all.

"It's affecting me in a way that I did not imagine; I do feel very isolated," she said. "Outside of my team, I feel like there's a lot of people who just want me to leave, they want me to want to leave." But Scarlett sees her own feelings as small compared to the experience of the hundreds of Apple workers who have reached out to her over the last few months to share their stories of unresolved problems at work.

When workers first started messaging Scarlett to ask for help with personal workplace accommodations for remote work in June, she encouraged them to file their questions, reports and requests with human resources or other appropriate internal avenues. Months later, almost none of those people received the accommodations they requested, and many of them felt angry and disrespected with the way Apple handled the requests. It made Scarlett lose faith in the process.

"Now my trust in the system has been eroded because I sent people to the system, and it failed them," she said. So Scarlett decided to try to find other avenues to demand change in a more collective way. "I reached out to some other folks who had organized things in the past or are currently organizing [off of Apple software], and I ended up getting invited to this Discord that has been in existence for a few years, that anonymously verified workers without using personally identifying information." On that Discord, people shared their stories and talked about different ways to hold the company accountable to everyone who felt that they had been ignored. #AppleToo was eventually born from those conversations.

"Literally hundreds of people have come to me. I can't even keep track anymore of the number of people who've shared their stories with me. These are people's lives. They are human beings," she said. "What else do you do when hundreds of people you don't know are coming to you with all of these different issues?"

Some of the organizers are now inviting all current and former Apple workers to join a social Discord server intended to help build community (not for formal workplace complaints), and Scarlett is also advising people who have shared issues with #AppleToo to file complaints with relevant state and federal authorities, like the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"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," she said. "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."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly titled the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This story was updated on Aug. 30, 2021.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.


SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.


Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories