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What Intel's US$300 million diversity pledge really means

Agam Shah | Feb. 11, 2015
With 76 percent male employees in the U.S., Intel has a lot of work ahead to bridge the gender and race divide.

As controversy flares over workforce diversity in tech, Intel's Rosalind Hudnell is working on an ambitious plan to spark change that could forever alter hiring practices at IT companies.

She realizes, though, that change has to start from within the company, and that it won't come overnight. Hudnell, Intel's chief diversity officer, is responsible for implementing the company's much-publicized US$300 million initiative to bring more women and under-represented minorities into its workforce by 2020. The challenges are many.

The effort comes as an intense debate rages over what's perceived as the technology industry's sexist culture. Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella, for example, apologized after igniting a firestorm when he said in a public interview that not asking for pay raises is "good karma" for women.

Intel itself was flamed for stumbling into the controversy over GamerGate, the amorphous movement that targets women's influence and participation in gaming. After the movement's supporters complained to Intel about Gamasutra, which publishes game-industry news and has been critical of GamerGate, the company pulled ads from the site. Intel later apologized and reinstated the ads.

Though some companies have taken gradual steps to break Silicon Valley's dominance by white and Asian males, efforts have been inconsistent.

Intel -- which had 107,600 employees worldwide at the end of 2013 -- employs just 24 percent women and 4 percent African-Americans in its U.S. workforce. Those percentages could be improved, said Hudnell.

"We are diverse, but not diverse enough," said Hudnell, an African-American who joined Intel in 1996 after working in the publishing and cable television industries.

Some of Intel's top executives are women, including Renee James, who is president, and Diane Bryant, who runs the company's most profitable unit, the Data Center Group. Intel already provides same-sex domestic partner benefits; it also offers LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and faith- and culture-based resources to workers. But gender and race diversity is complicated, and Intel knows workforce parity won't come overnight.

Intel is establishing specific numbers on hiring a more diverse workforce and tying executive compensation to meet those goals, though plans haven't been finalized. But even with Intel's renewed commitment to diversity, the company's workforce will still be just about 32 percent women in five years, Hudnell estimated.

Most of the $300 million earmarked for diversity comes on top of what Intel is already spending, though some of the money is being diverted from current expenditures, Hudnell said. The funds will be applied over five years to change hiring practices, retool human resources, fund companies run by minorities and women, and promote STEM education in high schools.

A diverse workforce is critical in defining corporate culture, competency and values so organizations can function efficiently, said Aditi Ramesh, the female CEO and co-founder at startup firm Plause, a platform for showcasing university student talent. "We need to formulate the appropriate organizational structures from a psychological standpoint as well as technical to better form the company culture for future growth," Ramesh said.

 

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