Beyond advancing a societal goal, Intel's efforts to create a more diverse staff could help sell more products. At heart, Intel is a chip company, but it has started to play in areas like wearables, robots, mobile devices and augmented reality. Products are being tailored for different demographics, and "diverse experiences lead to different input, which leads to different engineering solutions," Hudnell said.
A major hurdle, though, is competition to acquire talent. Men who have a bachelor's degree are "overrepresented" in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, according to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau released last year. The bureau estimates 74 percent of computer professionals and 86 percent of engineers are men.
"In the end, we still have more men in the talent pool that's available," Hudnell said.
Intel aims to build a larger pipeline of qualified candidates over time by investing in STEM education.
It's hard to say whether $300 million is enough for Intel to achieve its diversity goals, but it's a start, said James Challenger, CEO at Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement firm.
"If it's successful, and has an impact... then you go back and see if it worked before investing more money in it," Challenger said. "It's unfair to say they could do more. A lot of companies are doing nothing."
Intel's efforts are admirable, but should be carefully monitored, said Gaya Nadarajan, a computer scientist working in South Korea.
"Giving a position to someone just because she is female, but doesn't do the job well, is only going to cause a stir among the male colleagues. Same with race," Nadarajan said. "As long as they employ the right diverse people it should be a step in the right direction."
Nadarajan, who received a doctorate in the field of IT in the U.K., said being a woman in a male-dominated field can be overwhelming, and noted women in technology tend to become entrepreneurs or move on to academia or other careers, she said.
A good remedy is to make males and females work together in small groups, Nadarajan said. Women should also be given more responsibility and management roles, she said.
Intel is monitoring its diversity initiative based on 59 measures related to gender, race, education and corporate role. For example, Intel wants employ more women, Hispanic and African-Americans in technical and engineering roles, which are dominated by white and Asian males. A diversity goal for the technical group will be different from the non-technical group, which employs a larger percentage of women.
Diversity goals are still being communicated, but business processes like hiring will experience big changes. Intel will try to pair applicants to interviewers they feel comfortable chatting with. For example, a woman applicant for a technical job may be interviewed by a woman. The company is also moving to diversify its group of hiring managers.
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