Intel plans to spend $300 million over the next five years to improve the gender and racial diversity of its U.S. workforce. The announcement from CEO Brian Krzanich came during a keynote address at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The crowd at CES was predominantly male—and mostly white and Asian—as this New Yorker article points out. That’s a reflection of the engineering and computing employee base in Silicon Valley. Spurred by Google’s May 2014 disclosure, several other companies, including Apple, Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo also divulged their diversity numbers in the summer of 2014. Less than 20 percent of the tech workforce at these companies is female, and a very small percent are black or Hispanic. Detailed demographics are at GigaOm. IEEE Spectrum has published a similar breakdown for employees at startups.
Intel, which has been publishing its diversity statistics for many years, has comparable numbers despite efforts to improve them. Per The New Yorker, Intel’s 50,000-plus US workforce is 24 percent female, 4 percent black, and 8 percent Hispanic.
Krzanich hopes to change that with Intel’s new Diversity in Technology Initiative. The company’s goal is to make its workforce and senior leadership less male and less white to more closely reflect the diversity of the talent pool in the United States. More specifically, it hopes to increase the population of women, blacks, and Hispanics at Intel by at least 14 percent by 2020. Intel has invited the entire tech industry to join the movement.
It’s a vexing problem, but $300 million is a lot of money. Exactly how Intel plans to spend that cash is unknown. The company has said that it plans to fund engineering and computer science scholarships for women and underrepresented minorities; individual awards could be as much as $200,000. Intel plans to emphasize the hiring and retention women and minorities in its workforce, even tying managers’ pay to achieving diversity goals. And it will fund programs that improve the representation of these groups in the tech and video-game industries.
Intel in particular, and Silicon Valley in general, have their work cut out for them. For starters, they need to boost the number of women and underrepresented minorities graduating with engineering and computing degrees. Women earn just 14.5 percent of the computer science bachelor’s degrees in the U.S.; blacks earn 4.5 percent, and Hispanics earn 6.5 percent, according to GigaOm.
The upshot: In addition to scholarships and better hiring practices, the tech industry needs to fund efforts aimed at attracting women and minorities to STEM disciplines. And they need to begin capturing their minds and hearts at an early age—preferably while young learners are still in elementary school. But even more importantly, the industry needs to figure out how to keep women and underrepresented ethnicities in the fold; many women leave the tech industry because of rigid parental leave policies and a female-unfriendly environment.
Can efforts by big names like Intel and Google make Silicon Valley more diverse? One can only hope.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Prachi Patel is a freelance journalist based in Pittsburgh. She writes about energy, biotechnology, materials science, nanotechnology, and computing.