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Intel ups referral bonus to achieve more diversity in its workforce

The company will now pay as much as $4,000 to employees who refer women, minorities, and veterans who are ultimately hired by Intel as it works to improve diversity in its workforce.

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Intel's diversity efforts will get a much-needed boost, thanks to a higher referral bonus. Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Intel will offer thousands of dollars in cash bonuses to employees who refer women, minorities, and veterans to its workforce.

The chipmaker will pay up to $4,000 in bonuses to employees who refer a woman, minority, or veteran to its workforce, the company confirmed in a statement to the Wall Street Journal on Monday. The fee is double Intel's current referral bonus and viewed by the company as a way to increase chances of having women and minorities receive more representation in a job applicant pool that has disproportionately consisted of white men.

"Intel is committed to increase the diversity of our workforce," a spokeswoman said in a statement. "We are currently offering our employees an additional incentive to help us attract diverse qualified candidates in a competitive environment for talent. This is not the first time we have offered employees referral incentives for diverse candidates, and it's a commonly used recruitment tool for businesses. Today, it's one of many programs we are deploying to attract talented women and underrepresented minorities to Intel."

Intel's move is just the latest in a string of attempts by technology companies to fix diversity issues across their offices. From Facebook to Google to Twitter, some of the largest technology companies in the world are facing significant challenges in workplace diversity and have instituted programs aimed at addressing those problems.

Challenges abound

At the end of 2014, Intel had nearly 54,000 employees. Over three-quarters of its workforce was male and 56 percent of employees were white. Just 8 percent of the company's employees were Latino and 3.5 percent were African American. Intel did not share data on veterans.

Intel acknowledged its troubles with diversity in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The company's CEO Brian Krzanich said that Intel would invest $300 million to support diversity in the workplace. He would also tie executive compensation to the progress Intel is making to improve diversity in the office.

Still, Krzanich acknowledged that improving diversity in the workplace can be a difficult task. He told CNET in an interview in January that his company isn't entirely sure how well it will perform at improving diversity and acknowledged that Intel doesn't necessarily know what the best strategy is.

"It will be hard. I think it's going to be like what we do every two years -- invent Moore's Law," Krzanich said, referring to the company's overarching goal of doubling computer chips' processing power every other year. "We don't know how we're going to do it. We go and put in the engineering effort and do what it takes. We'll do the same thing here."

Silicon Valley doing 'what it takes'

Many other companies are attempting to "do what it takes."

In June, Facebook said it started a new program within a handful of divisions that requires the applicant pool for a job to include at least one minority. A Facebook spokeswoman said at the time that the program is similar to the Rooney Rule, referring to a regulation imposed by the National Football League requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior football operation jobs.

The Rooney Rule -- which was enacted in 2003 -- has proven successful: 22 percent of NFL coaches are now African American, up from 6 percent before the regulation was put into effect.

To address its own issues, Google has pledged $150 million to focus on diversity initiatives this year. Apple CEO Tim Cook, whose company last year revealed that its workforce is 70 percent male, said the industry in general hasn't done enough to attract women. He added that diversity, in addition to being an ethical charge for a company, is one that could boost its financial performance.

"The most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that," Cook said in June on the sidelines of his company's Worldwide Developers Conference. "If you believe as we believe that diversity leads to better products, and we're all about making products that enrich people's lives, then you obviously put a ton of energy behind diversity the same way you would put a ton of energy behind anything else that is truly important."

It goes beyond business

Business benefits and changes to employment policies aside, Silicon Valley tech companies must also address the treatment of women and minorities, with some companies facing high-profile lawsuits and charges of discrimination. As the tech industry's influence has grown, so have concerns over how diversity (or a lack thereof) can impact global issues, including employee benefits and health programs.

Last month, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg highlighted what her company calls " unconscious bias." She noted that studies have proven that women and minorities have an exceedingly difficult time finding jobs, due in no small part to bias.

"One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have," Sandberg wrote in a post on July 28. "Studies show that job applicants with 'black sounding names' are less likely to get callbacks than those with 'white sounding names' -- and applicants called Jennifer are likely to be offered a lower salary than applicants called John. And organizations which consider themselves highly meritocratic can actually show more bias."

Apple added another concern to the conversation on July 23 after it announced that it supported federal legislation that would ensure equal treatment in the workplace for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. The legislation would specifically safeguard the LGBT community from workplace discrimination. In March, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization in the US representing the LGBT community, conducted a survey that found that 63 percent of LGBT Americans have faced discrimination in their lives, and the majority of those instances occurred in the workplace.

"At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love," the company said in a statement. "We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity."