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Diversity in Tech: Intel Initiative to Make Workplace Mirror World

Intel initiative aims to create a workforce that better represents the population it serves.

Workplace diversity in the technology industry does not represent the talent available, nor does it represent the consumers for whom tech products are made. This lack of cultural and gender diversity is nothing new; it has been a growing concern for decades. According to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, that concern needs to be put into action.

“It’s time to step up and do more,” said Krzanich in his keynote that kicked off the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.

During the speech, he announced that Intel would be investing $300 million in a Diversity in Technology Initiative to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities working at his company.

“It’s not enough to say we value diversity and then have our workforce not reflect the diversity,” he said.

The initiative sets a bold hiring and retention goal to achieve full representation of women and underrepresented minorities at Intel by 2020. That means making Intel’s workforce more representative of the talent available, not just at lower levels, but throughout the organization, including in senior leadership positions.

The initiative aims to build a pipeline of female and underrepresented engineers and computer scientists. It will actively support hiring and retaining more women and underrepresented minorities. And it will fund programs to support more positive representation within the technology and gaming industries.

Like last year at CES, when he asked the electronics industry to join Intel’s move to use only conflict-free minerals for making new products, Krzanich asked the industry to embrace diversity.

“This isn’t just good business,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

To explore the Diversity in Technology Initiative, Intel hosted a live “fireside chat” at the Intel booth the day after Krzanich’s CES keynote.

Moderated by Intel Chief Diversity Officer Rosalind Hudnell, the panel included Krzanich and Soledad O’Brien, broadcast journalist and CEO of media production company Starfish Media Group. They were joined by Laura Weidman Powers, CEO of CODE 2040, a nonprofit working to open doors for black and Latino engineers in Silicon Valley, and Robin Hunicke, CEO of Funomena, an independent game studio.

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L-R Rosalind Hudnell, Robin Hunicke, Laura Weidman Powers, Soledad O’Brien, Brian Krzanich

 

“Technology is fueled by innovation,” noted Hudnell, opening the discussion. “Without diverse insights drawn from all walks of life, that innovation would not be possible. And yet, Silicon Valley is lacking in diversity.”

Krzanich suggested that it’s easy for leaders to value diverse ideas and employees with diverse skill sets and problem solving skills, but leaders often stick with what’s familiar.

Now it’s time to break away from comfort zones in order to find talented people wherever they may be.

New hiring practices are necessary, said Hunicke. “We can’t just lean on that friend of a friend to get [the] next colleague in the pipeline.”

O’Brien talked about how the employment pipeline in the technology sector hasn’t been welcoming to women and other underrepresented minorities.

“The industry was incredibly hostile to African Americans,” said O’Brien.

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Her documentary “Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley” shared the story of a young African American startup founder who attended a tech convention in San Francisco only to be mistaken for a hotel employee.

It’s been even harder for African American women, said O’Brien.

“It’s that constant sense of ‘You do not belong here!’” she said. “That’s the thing we need to fix to make it welcoming, ‘You do belong here!’”

When O’Brien started her production company, an adviser told her to “hire a white guy” to be the face of the company if she wanted it to be a success.

But, she said, such advice is at complete odds with a building a meritocracy, not to mention being downright dangerous.

“What you do not want to have is a two-tiered America where people are shut out of this industry that’s strong and growing quickly,” she said. “If people are not [allowed] in this industry, you run the risk of [creating] a permanent underclass.”

Intel’s $300 million earmarked to help get women and other underrepresented minorities into the pipeline will help tremendously Hudnell said. “The pipeline is an issue, but it’s no longer an excuse.”

Building a more diverse team results in more innovative problem-solving, said O’Brien.

“A team that is more diverse means people get stuck [on problems] differently,” she said. “If you’re all the same, then people get stuck in the same spots together.”

Powers, whose nonprofit CODE2040 bears that number for a very important reason, said businesses should keep in mind that, in just 25 years (2040), minorities will outnumber whites in the United States. As a result, the people buying and developing products “will look wildly different.”

“Places that [lack diversity] are going to quickly run out of talent,” she said.

Krzanich wants women and minorities to know that Intel welcomes diverse talent.

“It’s good business,” he said. “It goes to the bottom line. I want the smartest, brightest people.”

To create a workforce that better represents the population it serves requires inclusion, said Krzanich.

“Inclusion means equal … where everybody’s equal,” he said.

The panelists expressed hope that the industry would embrace this change.

“It’s going to require everyone’s brilliant minds to solve it,” said Powers.

Krzanich is approaching this like an engineering problem.

“If we tie this to business and make it our job, then we’ll get it done,” he said. “We’ve solved much bigger problems.”

 

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