Why Intel's diversity numbers show slow progress, and a high bar for others

The chipmaker achieved 100 percent gender pay equity in the US and made modest gains in increasing the number of women, black and Latino workers, the company's new diversity report says. Advocates for more diversity praised the company's in-depth report, which contrasts with those of other tech firms.

Rick Wilking/Reuters/File
Brian Krzanich, Intel chief executive holds up the company's Curie Module during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 5, 2016. A year after Mr. Krzanich pledged ambitious goal's to increase the diversity of Intel's workforce, a new report report shows modest gains, but sets a higher bar for other tech firms that have shied away from setting specific diversity goals.

Just over a year ago, Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich made a bold promise aimed at tackling Silicon Valley’s longstanding issues with diversity —  by 2020, the company’s workforce would reach “full representation” of women and minorities, meaning it would reflect the available pool of skilled talent for its roles.

In addition, Mr. Krzanich said, the chipmaker would aim to make 40 percent of its new hires women or minorities, and pledge $300 million to the effort, adding, “this isn’t just good business. This is the right thing to do.”

The company’s newly released diversity report shows Intel exceeded that goal — 43.1 of its hires were women or minorities, which for tech companies means black, Latino, or Native American workers.

But other numbers reflected more incremental progress or even a decline from last year’s figures, indicating that even for companies committed to meeting strict goals, the progress toward improving diversity in Silicon Valley can be slow going.

The amount of information available in the report — which includes data on the number of workers retained in their jobs — appears to be a challenge to other tech firms that have backed away from providing explicit goals for increasing the diversity of their workforce.

In 2015, 35.5 percent of Intel’s hires were women and 11.8 were minorities, the report says. The company increased the number of women hired in technical jobs by 1.1 percentage points.

The number of Latino and African American workers in technical roles stayed flat, though they increased slightly in non-technical positions.

Intel was also able to achieve 100 percent gender pay equity for women among all US employees, it reported.

The company’s ability to successfully meet many of its goals to hire a more diverse workforce means that the so-called “pipeline problem” — that there aren’t enough diverse workers qualified for technical jobs — is overblown, Krzanich argues.

"If the pipeline was such a big problem, I would have come back as a failure there," he told NPR.

In what seems to be an attempt to draw a contrast with companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple, which have declined to provide specific goals for hiring more diverse workers, Intel has also included the number of workers hired by management levels, from early career to leadership roles.

In January, Apple struck down a shareholder’s proposal to increase diversity at senior levels and on its board, calling it “unduly burdensome and not necessary,” and citing its existing diversity initiatives. The company’s eight-member board has two directors who are female and one who is black.

The company also received some criticism after numbers from its recently released disclosure to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appeared to diverge from the numbers in its own diversity report released in July 2015.

“We make the document publicly available, but it’s not how we measure our progress,” the company responded. “We believe the information we report elsewhere on this site is a far more accurate reflection of our progress toward diversity.”

Intel says it increased its number of Hispanic workers in leadership roles from nearly 3 percent to nearly 4 percent, while the number of women increased 2.23 percentage points. The number of black workers at senior and leadership levels was more modest.

“I'd like to see Intel appoint an African American to their Board. I'd like to see blacks in the C-suites, and minority inclusion in their financial and professional services,” Jesse Jackson, who has been pushing tech companies for more diversity through his Rainbow PUSH coalition, told USA Today.

He noted that he was impressed by Intel’s approach and commitment to pledging $300 million to improve its diversity, which he said should be a model for other companies.

Intel’s charts also contrast its hiring numbers with the market availability of workers for its roles, which can differ from their representation in the population. For example, the company calculated that while women make up 50 percent of the population in the US, they represent 22.7 of the workforce for technical position that Intel hopes to fill.

Advocates for more diversity in Silicon Valley praised the company for its focus on retention, which Intel says is an ongoing process.

The company also doesn’t appear to be pushing its minority workers to bear the responsibility for recruiting more diverse workers themselves, which it shouldn't, says Laura Weidman Powers, the co-founder and chief executive of CODE2040, a non-profit focused on increasing the numbers of black and Latino workers in the tech world.

“A lot of companies set up a buddy system — somehow they make it the responsibility of other African American folks at the company to increase retention. It’s kind of a hidden task for African Americans that they’re not paid for,” she told USA Today.

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