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Intel report puts spotlight on diversity at work

A new report from Intel on its efforts to increase diversity at work is noteworthy for its transparency. Will it spark industry change? Also: Yahoo struggling to keep employees; wearables' upward trend.

Diversity in the technology field has been an issue of contention for years. With major tech companies finally devoting more attention to the gender and minority gap in the workplace, is this the start of a more inclusive technology culture?

Intel's annual diversity report, released this week, shows some progress, but there's still a long way to go.

According to the report, 43.1% of new Intel hires in 2015 were women or minorities; women comprised 17.6% of leadership roles, a 14.3% increase from 2014. Intel also announced that it closed the pay gap between U.S. men and women who work at the same job-grade level. The results exceeded the workforce diversity goals it set for 2015, said Intel, which spent $52.4 million on the initiatives.

That's the good news. As the report notes, men still account for 75.2% of U.S. Intel employees and white people still account for 53.3%. The numbers are generally on par with workforce diversity numbers from other tech giants like Microsoft and Google.

While the diversity statistics may not be cause for huge celebration, tech experts are hailing Intel's level of commitment and transparency as a possible game changer in the hiring practices at tech companies. Intel is the only tech giant to have publicly set quantifiable diversity, hiring or retention goals, according to NPR.

"There's nothing here [that's] top secret or should not be shared with the rest of the world, in my mind," said CEO Brian Krzanich, who added that he hopes this transparency will spur competing technology companies to follow suit in order to prove their commitment to diversity.

Claire Hough, VP of Engineering at Udemy, believes Intel's transparency to be an important step toward solving the larger problem of diversity at work.

"Intel is driving a much-needed conversation in the tech industry and leading the charge," Hough said. "I totally applaud Intel’s report for its transparency, heightened awareness and honest introspection."

She added, "When a report like this is openly discussed by the CEO, it is powerful. This report challenges tech leaders to set diversity goals, experiment with different ways to solve the problem and share their learnings, so we can tackle these problems faster as an industry."

Diversity at work changes decision making 

Increasing diversity at work is about more than meeting certain numerical goals; it's about taking advantage of all that diverse work environments have to offer, according to J. Colin Petersen, President and CEO at service provider J - I.T. Outsource.

"Diverse people approach problem solving in diverse ways," said Petersen. "When that diversity also comes from a population that struggles socially/economically, the standouts and achievers really have unique problem-solving abilities, work ethics and life skills that more homogenous workforces just don’t have."

Jessica Mah, CEO of accounting startup inDinero, agrees. "If you are an IT executive and you don’t care about diversity, I think you are doing your business a disservice by missing the cultural strengths a diverse workforce can provide," Mah said. "It’s similar to the small-town kid going to college in the big city – their head explodes when they find out all of the other new and diverse people, with different customs and approaches to life and work."

InDinero made a focused effort to increase diversity at work and "hit the mark," according to Mah, by hiring more than 50% women in 2015. But even at a startup in a field such as accounting, it wasn't easy, Mah says.

"You have to constantly try to build a pipeline full of diverse talent and provide hiring managers with a wide range of talented candidates; it's not always the most simple route," Mah said.

Overcoming the tech culture bias

For companies like Intel, one of the biggest hurdles to becoming more diverse is the tech culture, according to Peterson.

"Hiring for tech is a culture hire," said Petersen. "The largest companies are doing it, and they have very specific culture goals. In order to be hired, you must first fit the culture. So that means if your entire company culture centers around an ideal that already (probably inadvertently, but also markedly) excludes people of diverse backgrounds, how on earth can you continue to hire for that culture without continuing that systemic exclusion?  

The logical conclusion, Petersen said, is that you simply can’t fix the lack of diversity in tech unless the culture changes. Otherwise, "you are recruiting and hiring counter-culture, which is a deadly sin according to the culture experts and 'chief people officers' of Silicon Valley."

Hough offered up a suggestion for combatting "unconscious bias" in candidate screening, interviews and performance reviews: education.

"Every company should provide bias training for their teams and critically evaluate their hiring and evaluation practices," she said.

Where Petersen sees the most workforce diversity growth is at the small level, like startups.

CIO news roundup for week of Feb. 1

Here is more technology news from the week:

  • Yahoo is sinking fast and CEO Marissa Mayer is scrambling to keep the business afloat – and retain her employees, who are leaving in droves. Her new plan is to allow employees to cash out of their stock options after a month on the job instead of having to wait a year for the options to vest. This lets employees get cash for their stock grants right away if they see Yahoo shares doing well. Whether it will be enough to slow the mass exodus remains to be seen.
  • The future is bright for wearables, according to Gartner. The research firm's recent report says global sales of wearable devices will grow 18.4% in 2016, with 274.6 million expected to be in use. Smartwatches and bluetooth headsets will see the biggest growth in the coming years. The outlook for tablets is not as rosy, however. IDC reported that the tablet market declined as much as 10% in 2015.
  • There soon may be clouds under the sea. Microsoft recently unveiled their plan to take cloud computing to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Through its Project Natick, Microsoft is experimenting with the possibility of having energy-efficient and low-latency data centers under water. The benefits of underwater data centers include low cooling costs and greater cloud availability for coastal populations. Let's hope they're shark-proof.
  • Google Fiber wants to give everyone the chance to have Internet service. The branch of Google plans on giving away its high-speed Internet service to thousands of low-income Americans who can't afford it, as reported by The Washington Post. It's starting with Kansas City, where up to 1,300 households will have access to the free gigabit broadband service.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on Minsky's AI legacy and Gartner's 2016 global IT spending report.

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What are your IT organization's diversity hiring goals, if any?
It's hard to break out of our industry's entrenched sexism and racism (as well as long-standing phobias of working with the handicapped), but, at least in my world, we keep trying and seem to get better at it year-by-year. I'd like to think we will finally get it right, but I fear that's a long way off. 

Our "diversity hiring goals" are to focus entirely on ability, overcoming our prejudices about color and sex and physicality. 
Are there any specific strategies that your organization employs that are helping (or may help) to dissolve that inherent sexism/racism/prejudice?
Being in Toronto (over 50% of the population of Greater Toronto Area were born outside Canada) I see how the industries embraces diversity and benefit from it. In fact, I a few times observed a reverse process when "pockets" of same ethnicity/background emerge in a company with interesting outcomes.
It’s good to see that the numbers are up, and that there are more women and minorities with the skills needed. That has been a problem I’ve faced for years - nearly all of the resumes that I received would be from white males. Combine that with pressure from HR to fill an opening as quickly as possible, and you don’t have much opportunity to improve diversity.
Mcorum: Yes, that's the problem that many companies are facing. What do you think should be done to improve the hiring process to allow for greater diversity? And why do you think it is challenging to find diverse candidates? Just curious of about take on it!
Except for a few specific jobs, most applicants we see are white males, the vast majority between 25 and 40. When beginning a project there's usually time to search for more diversity, but in the throes of production, we need to act immediately. Our choices are overwhelmingly white male 
(sorry about that....) s because they've been given greater opportunities, have amassed more experience and odds are good their supervisor will be a white male, too. Sad to say, there are very few people of color and even fewer people who are physically challenged?

Why...?  I'd put it to prejudice and ignorance. Don/'t even get me started on ageism....
The lack of diversity in HR departments makes them poor role models. As a result thry miss some very low cost opportunities to make everyday changes to systems, processes and culture that would have a huge impact on the working lives of under represented groups to both attract and retain. If the HR departments can't change their profile given their supposed understanding and buy-into the benefits of diversity for sustainability and innovation you can understand the glacial pace at which the rest of the organisation moves on this issue despite its global reach.
I think it needs to be addressed at the educational level. First, we need to educate non-IT people so they know that IT is more than servers and the help desk. Second, we need to start training children at an early age, and forget the males do this and females do that dichotomy. Third, and this one can really make a difference, recruit more women and minorities. Some of the best IT people I’ve worked with were women that were recruited from other areas of the company.
Would implementing the 'Rooney Rule' (a condition that requires a minimum number of minority candidates be interviewed for a given position) help the tech diversity issue facing companies? Would it lessen some of HR's conscious/unconscious bias during the hiring process?