Intel's $300 Million Diversity Plan Looks Impossible - InformationWeek

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1/7/2015
01:00 PM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Intel's $300 Million Diversity Plan Looks Impossible

Intel's goal of having a culturally representative workforce in place by 2020 is laudable. But given the challenges that must be overcome, it seems unlikely.

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My apologies if I'm not giving Intel enough credit or I've just grown too cynical, but my internal alarm bells just went off in a big way. Intel's CEO, Brian Krzanich, took to the podium as a keynote speaker at this year's CES and pledged $300 million to make Intel a culturally diverse workplace. Krzanich says the company's workforce will be culturally representative by 2020 and he will work to ensure a pipeline of talent to keep it that way.

First, let me say that I think this idea is wonderful. If, in 2020, Intel has achieved its goal, I will happily apologize (actually I'd settle for even a marked improvement), and I will be the first to celebrate its success.

But it seems to me that one of two things is true about this initiative -- either it is wildly naïve, or it is not intended to be anything more than marketing.

[Advice for women aspiring to STEM careers: 'Why Not'?: Power Phrase For Women In Tech.]

Let's look at Intel's current diversity in one major category: women. As of 2013, Intel employed a little more than 100,000 people -- for the sake of easy numbers, let's say 100,000. Of that group, 24% are women (that's 24,000 if you don't feel like doing the math).

To have women reach "full representation" in the workforce by 2020, Intel could do one of a few things:

A) It could fire 52,000 men and keep the 24,000 women it has.

B) It could fire 26,000 men and replace them with 26,000 women.

C) It could hire about 50,000 women and keep all the men on staff.

D) It could do some combination of the above.

I think we can clearly see that options A and B are out. The seismic shift -- not to mention the brain drain and institutional memory loss -- would be too great. Option C would be wonderful if Intel could grow its business fast enough to bring on that many additional people. Intel is growing, but is it growing that fast?

Clearly, Intel is going to try some combination of attrition of men, fine-tuned removal of underperformers, and hiring more women. But is attrition enough? Intel says it will make hiring more women part of the salary structure of its managers. Even with that, though, it's difficult to believe five years of attrition and hiring the most qualified women around is really going to reverse the trend.

Intel faces similar problems with minority hiring as well.

Even if Intel could simply hire 50,000 women and culturally diverse candidates, the thing to remember is that there aren't scads of wonderfully qualified, unemployed women and minorities out there. Decades of systematic problems in the technology field have pushed women and minorities into other sectors. Intel's 24% female workforce is only slightly lower than the industry average of 28%. To make that target in 5 years, Intel will presumably need to steal some of the best minority talent from other companies, which are also aspiring to improve diversity. That's an expensive and short-term solution. No doubt Google, Apple, Facebook, and others would be in on the bidding.

Women currently make up 41% of graduates with STEM degrees, but they also leave STEM careers at a rate that's 45 percent higher than men. Instead of making noise about hiring more women, perhaps Intel and other companies should find ways to make women in STEM fields happier so they'll stay.

We know some women exit STEM for family reasons. Something as simple as improving work-life balance could go a long way. Others leave because they don't feel they get sufficient opportunities for career growth. Hiring women is not the same as providing them the same opportunities as men. Gender-based salary imbalances, for example, are a major issue that needs to be addressed.

To be fair, it is clear some of the $300 million Intel plans to spend will go toward fixing some of these long-term problems. The company is partnering with the National Center for Women in Technology, The Feminist Frequency, Rainbow PUSH, and others. It has specifically stated that it must improve the pipeline of talent, and pledges to help fund primary and college education programs. So clearly Intel does get it, at least to a degree.

At the same time, it's fair to ask whether $300 million -- or even $300 billion -- can solve these problems. I simply don't see how Intel could possibly make realistic claims about representative hiring, at least not the way I understand the term. I wish Intel all the luck in the world, but I can't help but think this plan is more about perception than reality. Let's hope the attempt to improve the perception will influence the reality.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2015 | 11:06:44 AM
Re: Real Meritocracies vs. Forced Quotas
@Technocrati good point, could not agree more but it true to life as if you never try... you will never get ...

trial and error until getting right...
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2015 | 11:04:55 AM
Re: A matter of culture, not just dollars
@Technocrati same here I could not agree more and have the same hopes :) 
batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
2/3/2015 | 11:03:46 AM
Re: Goals that are not likely to be met
@Gary_EL interesting observation as this days country's do post goals only with idea to creaty hype or propaganda...
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2015 | 4:30:18 PM
Corrective hiring practices
I can't imagine a company with that many employees being able to correct to representative diversity in 5 years. Perhaps it can hire representatively from now on and slowly let the older majority retire away. But the best bet is probably making sure that more women graduate with STEM degrees (so perhaps some intel scholarships), And I agree with making it more likely for women to retain their job. I left my STEM job in acedemia because the only way to move forward was to go elsewhere and when I went elsewhere I move to a non-STEM field where my science background was useful but not ussed everyday. I left for money, I left for the opportunity of advancement, and I left for flexibility. Any and all of those can help you retain women in the field.  It's a noble goal and any effort is worth it, as I know many girls that one day might like to be astronauts or engineers or computer programmers. And I'd like to make sure the playing field is a bit more level for them than it was for me. What do you think Intel should do now to ensure a more diverse future?
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/13/2015 | 7:58:14 AM
Re: Gender or Culture?
I think we're seeing a slow shift but I also think we have too many people who pride themselves on being on the job for long hours that not much is going to change soon. I could do 80% or more of my job from anywhere in the world as long as I have a decent internet connection but tradition dictates that I'm in the office.   I think companies are having trouble shifting from the industrial manual labor mentality to the knowledge worker mentality.  
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
1/12/2015 | 1:17:25 PM
Re: There are Others ?

"....There is very little in the world more powerful than asking questions like "what do you want? What do you need? What do you think? What can I do to help?" How rarely do you hear those questions in any part of your life."

 

 

Very true David, very true.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
1/12/2015 | 1:15:22 PM
Re: Real Meritocracies vs. Forced Quotas

Determine your market value, then go out into the world and get it.

 

@JimC       I love this advice !    Exactly what I intend to keep on working on.   Regarding meritocracy - I subscribed to that "coming up" only to see it is not often practiced in the real world - but it has allowed me to lay a  strong foundation that cannot be ignored.  

So while we have to work with the cards dealt -  to parapharse Thomas Edision, " I haven't failed 10,000 times only found 10,000 things that don't work."

No quiter here, I will get up tomorrow and continue the trek.

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 12:55:46 PM
Re: Gender or Culture?
@SaneIT- I love the phrase "everyone is busy for no reason." He is so right. I swear, a company like Intel or Google or another firm on solid profit margins could do more for its success than anything else, if it just hired enough people that everyone could reduce their work hours to 30. I am 100% convinced you'd have some dead wood, but in the process you'd get more creativity, more energy and engagement from your workers, better work, and therefore more profits than anything we have now. In the process, you could probably improve diversity as well as you could give some deserving folks a chance.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 12:52:30 PM
Re: Real Meritocracies vs. Forced Quotas
@JimC- Well, a true meritocracy might work as you described, but a meritocracy may not be the exact best way to run a company. For example, there's a quite a lot of research showing bringing people in from different backgrounds, not just of race or gender, but also economic status, improves a company's success. More points of view equals a better ability to serve a wider array of customers and to bring in ideas from more places.

Fill your room with 4th generation Ivy League white dudes and you'll get a company that serves 4th generaiton Ivy League white dudes really well. Nothing wrong with that, but depending on your line of business, that may not keep you profitable.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 12:49:16 PM
Re: Gender or Culture?
@jastroff- Well, more than half the world is female. So I took "culturally representative" to mean roughly half women. Granted, if he made it to 40% it would be applause worthy so I'm willing to cut him some slack. But he's at 24% now. That is certainly not representative, nor even at the average.

I'm also willing to say there's a difference between representative than perfect demographic distribution. For instance, i don't need x percentage of African Americans, x percentage of Asian Americans, etc. Not every box needs to check off perfectly. But none of the boxes are checked off now.
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