Just about everybody who’s anybody in consumer tech is at the International Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. So when Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich said the company was going to step up and spend $300 million to improve diversity, he made a big splash with all the right people. That, and he spoke to them in the language they love: numbers.
"We will, as good engineers, measure and report our progress on a regular basis, with full transparency," Krzanich said. "And we’re going to hold our leaders accountable by tying their pay to our progress. This is going to be difficult to achieve."
Intel’s employment numbers look much the same as those at other major firms in Silicon Valley. At last count, about a quarter of Intel’s U.S. employees were female, 8 percent were Latino and 4 percent were black. Intel is pledging to bump up those numbers substantially -- by 14 percent -- over the next five years.
The money will fund a number of initiatives, including college and engineering scholarships, and support more positive representations of underrepresented groups in technology and gaming.
"I literally got out of bed and jumped up and down for a minute," says Eric Abrams, director of Diversity Initiatives at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. "I think it’s fantastic."
He says Intel has fired a $300 million shot across the bow, challenging the next generation of tech talent to step up. "It makes an enormous difference to, you know, the college student out there studying symbolic systems at Stanford to think, 'Wow, Intel’s doing this. I’m going to have a better shot at getting a job there. I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone.' "
Some say, though, that if Intel wants to change the equation in a big way, it needs to fund math and science programs that start much earlier than college -- such as in kindergarten.
Tech firms have historically complained that there aren’t enough qualified blacks and Latinos in the job pool. But various studies show Silicon Valley isn’t scooping up all the people available, in part because recruiters habitually favor a short list of elite schools like Stanford and UC Berkeley.
Activists such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition are applauding Intel’s pledge -- and so are local industry analysts like Vivek Wadhwa, who has written a book about women in Silicon Valley called "Innovating Women," as well as columns for the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and LinkedIn. He was one of many people who took to Twitter to applaud Intel -- and challenge corporate rivals to follow Intel's lead.
Intel's announcement today about diversity initiatives no doubt a great step forward--because it committed to results. Others haven't yet
— Vivek Wadhwa (@wadhwa) January 7, 2015
"I was delighted, actually," Wadhwa says. "Everyone is getting excited about the $300 million number, but I think the real deal is they have committed to fixing their hiring practices."
He says Intel should be doing more than funding scholarships, and should also groom promising people throughout their entire careers.
Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code in San Francisco says that career starts in kindergarten. "They [companies] are not looking back far enough in the pipeline if they’re just looking at students in high school and college. "
She notes Google has a K-12 department that supports work just like this, in after-school programs across the country. "If Intel wants to change the ratio," Bryant says, "they’re going to have to do similar type of work."