"I think the U.S. will lose its leadership in technology if this doesn't change," Cook said to The Plainsman, the student newspaper at his alma mater. "Women are such an important part of the workforce. If STEM-related fields continue to have this low representation of women, then there just will not be enough innovation in the United States. That's just the simple fact of it."
Diversity is "incredibly important," Cook told the newspaper. He also touched on his platform as the most high-profile gay executive in technology.
"The impatient side says we're not moving fast enough," Cook said. "Everyone deserves the same human rights. I don't hear anybody asking for special rights – just the same rights. I think that's true not only in the gay community but many other communities as well."
The spotlight has been on Silicon Valley this year as several diversity-related issues have reached the public eye. Accusations of sexism at Uber have stoked a conversation about the role of women in tech. And immigration reform proposals from the Republican administration have sparked
Apple has pledged millions to support historically black colleges and universities, and also supports the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, National Center for Women & Information Technology and the National Society of Black Engineers.
But as of June of last year, 32 percent of Apple employees are women, and 22 percent are underrepresented minorities, according to Apple's website. Shareholders struck down a proposal earlier this year to broaden the disclosure of its diversity practices.
Watch: Swisher on 'tech bros'