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Is Intel’s diversity goal really that ‘bold’?

Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., speaks during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich made a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday by pledging to grow the company's ranks of women and minorities.

Intel apologized earlier this year after inadvertently wading into the controversy known as Gamergate, a contentious debate in the gaming industry over gender and journalism coverage. Yet in his keynote speech this week at the annual high-tech confab, Krzanich promised to invest $300 million over the next five years into diversity efforts. He committed to hold managers accountable for their results in hiring and promoting women and minorities. And he made yet another pledge: He said Intel is setting "a goal to reach full representation at all levels of our company's workforce by 2020."

But what does "full representation" actually mean? At first glance, one might guess Krzanich meant his goal is for Intel's employee composition to reflect the U.S. population, which is made up of roughly 51 percent women, 17 percent Hispanics and 13 percent African Americans, according to 2013 U.S. Census data. In the accompanying press release, Krzanich said that "without a workforce that more closely mirrors the population, we are missing opportunities, including not understanding and designing for our own customers."

Some media outlets did in fact interpret it that way: In one story, for instance, Bloomberg wrote that Krzanich "pledged to make the chipmaker's workforce match that of the U.S. population by 2020."

But read a little closer, and ask the company what "full representation" really means, and it becomes clear that's not exactly the current goal.

Mirroring the general population, after all, would be dauntingly ambitious. In 2013, Intel's employee makeup was just 24 percent women, 8 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent African American. That means Krzanich would have to more than double his percentage of employees in each of those groups over the next five years.

So what did Intel actually mean? The company's press release said, "full representation means Intel’s U.S. workforce will be more representative of the talent available in America." When asked to further explain that, the company provided the Post with this translation: Intel's goal is to reflect the number of women and minorities who have the skills to take on jobs at Intel.

Now, that's quite a different goal.

"We’re an engineering company," said Rosalind Hudnell, Intel's chief diversity officer, in an interview. "The technical workforce can only mirror those people that are going into technology."

Is that really, as the press release stated, making "the seemingly impossible possible"? Hudnell said the company does its own analysis — not only of Census figures, but of things like degrees granted and its existing employee population — to create what it calls "full market availability" for candidates in different job categories. As a result, she said, "our finance group has different goals than our engineering groups, which have different goals than our marketing groups, which have different goals than our manufacturing group."

And in many cases, those goals could be significantly lower than the demographics of the general population, Hudnell acknowledged.

For instance, when it comes to filling entry-level tech jobs, just 18 percent of computer science undergraduate degrees in 2012 were awarded to women, according to the National Science Foundation. That's a long way from 51 percent. Meanwhile, less than 6 percent of all electrical engineering bachelor's degrees were awarded to African Americans in 2012, NSF numbers show.

In his speech, Krzanich did not provide specific percentage targets. But a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail that Intel would be making its goals public: "Given we recently received our year end numbers, and the process for determining the goals is fairly complicated ... it will take some time to flesh them out." Hudnell did say meeting Intel's new goals would increase its population of African American workers by 48 percent, its overall diversity population by 14 percent, and require the company to make about 2500 new hires.

Intel is a Silicon Valley stalwart that has a much longer track record of sharing its diversity statistics than the many other high-tech companies that didn't start publishing their numbers until last year. As a result, it should be well positioned to prompt other tech giants also to improve the dismal numbers of women and minorities in the industry.

To succeed at that, though, the company will have to be as fully transparent as Krzanich promised in his speech. Intel's efforts to set actual goals for itself are commendable, and, as long as the company sets the bar high enough, it has the potential to lead the industry forward. But until we know what those numbers look like, we can't know how ambitious they really are to achieve or how to measure Intel's progress against them.

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