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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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