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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.
CES 2015 Preview: 8 Hot Trends
CES 2015 Preview: 8 Hot Trends
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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.

{image 1} 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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