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

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1/7/2015
01:00 PM
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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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/7/2015 | 5:38:06 PM
Re: positions?
@soozyg- Glad i could help, and again I hope I'm wrong. But you bring up a good point. When you look at a tech company it is easy to say all the jobs are tech jobs, but probably the majority are in sales, marketing, accounting, etc. It isn't merely about getting those numbers right but getting them right in the engineering departments, too. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2015 | 7:45:49 PM
A matter of culture, not just dollars
Vladimir Putin once came to California and said he wanted to create a Silicon Valley in Russia. I wonder how that's going for him? Sometimes executive pronouncements don't pan out as planned, and Brian Krzanich, unless he can implement the necessary, far reaching cultural change, is a candidate to join that group.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 9:17:36 AM
Re: A matter of culture, not just dollars
@Charlie- I think the difference between Putin and Krzanichis good intentions. But I do agree with you that often leaders think they can change the direction of large organizations through will as much as anything else. At least he is trying to change some systemic issues, but I don't think he can do it with what he's got. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 9:19:23 AM
Re: There are Others ?
@technocrati- Out of curiosity, what would progress look like to you? In five years what does Intel need to look like for this to be a success for you?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 9:19:23 AM
Re: There are Others ?
@technocrati- Out of curiosity, what would progress look like to you? In five years what does Intel need to look like for this to be a success for you?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/8/2015 | 9:21:26 AM
Re: Goals that are not likely to be met
@Gary_El- At least China can put the weight of billions of dollars, a planned economy, and goverment regulations behind its efforts. Intel is trying to change a system all by itself. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 12:41:14 PM
Re: There are Others ?
@technocrati- Thanks for the really thoughtful answer. I am sad that I was the first to ask you that question, but not surprised. One of the things that always makes me unhappy with diversity conversations is there is a lot of talking and not a lot of listening. 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.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/12/2015 | 12:45:23 PM
Re: positions?
@LeeB120- Well, I think you are partially right that one of the reasons Intel can't get equal representaiton in women is there aren't enough women engineers. But the number is close to 30%. 30% is a big number. That's a lot of engineers worldwide. And more graduate from college wiht degrees and leave. So it isn't impossible to think they could at least get to above average for the industry. 

And one questions exactly why women don't want to do the job-- because they don't like the job or because they don't like the atmosphere. I applaud Intel for trying even if they face the kind of obstacles you point out. 
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.
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 | 12:55:46 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.
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