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Women take to the stage, finally, at Apple developers confab

Two women on stage might not seem like a big deal, until you realize that -- until now -- only two women had made an appearance since 2007 at the developers' conference. And they didn't even work at Apple.

Apple's Jennifer Bailey took to the stage at the Worldwide Developers Conference to lay out what's new in Apple's mobile payments system. James Martin.

It's the little things that can say the most. And at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, the company's most telling action was putting two women executives on stage in front of a room filled with mostly male engineers.

Jennifer Bailey, Apple's vice president of Apple Pay, took the spotlight to explain what's new for the mobile payments system. Bailey, who joined Apple in 2003, headed the company's global online stores until 2014, when she became head of Apple Pay, according to her LinkedIn profile. Susan Prescott, a vice president of product marketing, described Apple's News app. She also joined Apple in 2003.

Their appearances are striking for two reasons. First, until Monday only two women had spoken during a WWDC keynote since 2007 -- and none of them worked at Apple. (Stephanie Morgan and a male colleague talked about their StarDefense gaming app in 2009. Jen Herman from Zynga spoke at WWDC in 2010.) And second, Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a point of saying Apple will be a "better company" by being more diverse. "I think the most diverse group will produce the best product," Cook told Mashable on Sunday. "I firmly believe that."

Diversity is "the future of our company," Cook added.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has a long way to go before it achieves a more diverse workplace. According to its own report last year, Apple's global workforce is 70 percent male and 55 percent of its US employees are white. In the US, women hold 20 percent of Apple's technical jobs and 28 percent hold leadership positions.

Viewed another way, relatively few women or people of color are in a position to influence product development or business strategy at the world's most valuable brand. And that's bad for business. Studies show companies with different points of view, market insights and approaches to problem solving have higher sales, more customers and larger market share than their less-diverse rivals, CNET News reported in a special report on women in tech last month called

"I think in general we haven't done enough to reach out and show young women that [tech is] cool to do it and how much fun it can be," Cook told Mashable.

Angela Ahrendts -- Apple's highest-ranking woman and the only female listed on the company's Leadership and Governance page -- hasn't appeared on stage since joining the company in 2014 as senior vice president in charge of Apple's retail and online stores. Ahrendts previously was CEO of luxury brand Burberry.

Before Monday, a total of six women had appeared on stage at any Apple event, according to Gizmodo, including supermodel Christy Turlington Burns, who joined Cook in March for the launch of the Apple Watch.

Developer conferences have traditionally been predominantly male events. Microsoft in April made news after three women appeared on stage at its Build developer conference, also in San Francisco. At Google's I/O developer conference last month, there were also three women on stage and 23 percent of attendees were expected to be women, up from 20 percent in 2014 and 8 percent the year before.

Apple on Monday also called two ethnically diverse presenters to the stage, including Grammy-winner hip-hop star Drake, who described how musicians can share their music on Connect, the company's social media tools for its new Apple Music streaming service. He also said he would release his next album on the service. R&B singer The Weeknd closed the keynote with his new song, "Can't Feel My Face." The Weeknd may be best known for his hit single, "Earned It" from the "Fifty Shades of Grey" soundtrack.

Apple, one of the most profitable companies in the world with 2014 earnings of $39.5 billion, in March announced a $50 million donation to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to encourage more women and people of color to study computer science. In May, Google said it will invest $150 million this year to attract more women and minorities into the tech industry, up from $115 million last year. And in January, Intel announced a new $300 million campaign to change the chipmaker's diversity mix. As part of that initiative, the company is tying managers' compensation to their ability to hire more women and minorities.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. PT with info about artists Drake and The Weeknd taking the stage at WWDC.