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Intel's workplace diversity: Progress, but more work to be done

Intel says that it's on pace to hit its diversity hiring goals for 2015 and continues to peg 2020 as the year it hopes to reach full representation in its workforce for women and minorities.

A diversity panel discussion that Intel hosted in January included Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, right, and Intel Chief Diversity Officer Rosalind Hudnell, left. Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Intel has made some progress in achieving its 2015 goals for workplace diversity, according to a report released Wednesday, but the company acknowledge that more work must be done.

Intel hired nearly 3,000 people in the US in the first half of 2015, including 43.3 percent who the company labels "diverse" -- women, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. The 43.3 percent exceeds Intel's self-determined goal of 40 percent, and the company hired more women and African Americans than expected, accounting for nearly 1,200 new employees. However, Intel fell short of its goals for hiring Hispanics and Native Americans, who together accounted for 231 new workers during the period.

Intel's report, dubbed the 2015 Mid-Year Inclusion Report, represents one of the most comprehensive releases by any major tech company on the efforts under way to address Silicon Valley's lack of diversity in hiring and retention.

The company has some work to do. At the end of 2014, more than three-quarters of Intel's 54,000 workers were male and 56 percent were white. Just 8 percent of the company's employees were Latino and 3.5 percent were African American.

Intel openly acknowledged its lack of diversity in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that Intel would invest $300 million to increase diversity in the workplace and would tie executive compensation to the progress Intel makes to improve diversity. A report surfaced last week that Intel will pay up to $4,000 in bonuses to employees who refer a woman, minority or military veteran to its workforce. The fee is double Intel's current referral bonus.

"What I have been so personally struck by since January is the genuine pride and desire of our employees who are coming together to help improve," Rosalind Hudnell, chief diversity officer at Intel, said in a statement Wednesday. "People of many backgrounds...are committed to Intel's goal and see the value of working in an environment of full inclusion. Our intention is to do all we can to collaborate and share openly so that what we all desire becomes the reality."

The company's goal is "full representation" of women and minorities in its workforce in 2020. The phrase is not easy to define, though. Intel's report includes a detailed chart that takes into account job types, level of employment, and availability of qualified workers.

Intel is among a handful of major tech companies tackling the issue of diversity and setting official goals.

In June, Facebook kicked off a program within several divisions that requires the applicant pool for a job to include at least one minority. Earlier this year, Google pledged $150 million to focus on diversity. And 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 and considers diversity an ethical and financial necessity. "The most diverse group will produce the best product. I firmly believe that," Cook said in June.

Pinpointing issues

Creating more diversity isn't necessarily simple. An Intel spokeswoman said Wednesday in an email that the company's efforts at "awareness and training are not enough to drive behavior change." The spokeswoman added that Intel is likewise examining its corporate culture.

Back in January, Intel's chief executive told CNET he wasn't sure how well the company would do in improving diversity and acknowledged that Intel doesn't automatically know the best strategy.

"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."

In terms of corporate culture, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg suggested last month that " unconscious bias" may be part of the problem. She noted that studies reveal that women and minorities can have an exceedingly hard time finding jobs, due in no small part to people unconsciously choosing one group over another. "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," Sandberg wrote in a blog post.

Intel's Hudnell acknowledged the same, saying that the unconscious bias is an issue that goes far beyond Intel.

"The reality is that we are trying to do inside our walls what society is still trying to do outside our walls," Hudnell said Wednesday. "Humans come into the workplace filled with life experiences that shape their values and beliefs."

As part of its analysis for the new report, Intel found that employee retention can contribute to workplace diversity problems. The company indicated that if can keep its hiring goals on track and then retain those employees, it could more easily reach its diversity goals.

"Retention is a key issue for our industry at large," the company said in the report. "It is no surprise that Intel also faces challenges retaining key talent. While we are currently tracking to our goal of retention at parity, we would close our representation gaps even faster if we could improve retention at the same rate we have improved hiring representation gaps more quickly."

In addition to more traditional goals, Silicon Valley is beginning to address the issues that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community face in the workplace. Last month, Apple announced its support of federal legislation to ensure equal treatment for LGBT employees.

For its part, Intel said it is focused on balancing its workforce and has started programs designed to reach out to LGBT workers.

"Right now, our greatest need in the US is to balance our workforce. Currently, under-represented minorities are women, African Americans (black), Hispanic and Native American," an Intel spokeswoman said. "We have a broad view of diversity, however, and our initiatives include many other groups, including veterans, individuals with diverse abilities and LGBTQ."