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Intel may have figured out the secret to fixing tech’s women problem

Millennial women in tech
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Intel, the company that invented the silicon chip for which Silicon Valley is named, has surpassed its competition in one key respect: increasing the diversity of its staff.

According to a cover story in The Atlantic by Liza Mundy, while tech giants like Google and Facebook struggle to overcome bias and bring more people of color and women into overwhelmingly white, male offices, Intel may have figured out a way to make hiring more fair without sacrificing quality.

The billion-dollar tech corporation, which dates back to 1969, has managed to get its numbers up faster than its younger peers. It has succeeded not by forcing its hiring managers into diversity training sessions or by employing anti-bias apps, but, instead, by offering cold hard cash.

Intel employees walk by a sign as they enter their office in Santa Clara, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
Intel employees walk by a sign as they enter their office in Santa Clara, California.

Hirers are now rewarded for bringing on candidates who are not white men. According to The Atlantic:

Since it began linking bonuses to diversity hiring, Intel has met or exceeded its goals. In 2015, 43 percent of new hires were women and underrepresented minorities, three percentage points above its target. Last year, it upped its goal to 45 percent of new hires, and met it. These changes weren't just happening at the entry level: 40 percent of new vice presidents were women and underrepresented minorities. Intel's U.S. workforce in 2014 was just 23.5 percent female. By the middle of last year, the percentage had risen two points, to 25.4 percent.

By contrast, Google and Facebook are moving more slowly, Mundy reports, albeit in the right direction.

In 2016, Google reported incremental improvements: 31 percent of its overall workforce is now female, up one percentage point over the previous year. Nineteen percent of technical roles are held by women, also up a percentage point. At Facebook, women's overall representation went up from 32 percent to 33 percent. In technical roles, women's representation also increased a single percentage point, from 16 percent to 17 percent.

Intel made news on Monday for its ambitious investment in driverless-car technology. It is clearly focused on the future, and employees tell Mundy that they appreciate the company's commitment to making sure that future is at least somewhat female.

Still, much work remains to be done in tech overall. Although in the past couple of years, companies have "pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars changing their work climates, altering the composition of their leadership, and refining their hiring practices," Mundy writes, "the transformation hasn't yet materialized: The industry's diversity numbers have barely budged, and many women say that while sexism has become somewhat less overt, it's just as pernicious as ever."

Intel's strategy of paying for the results it wants has been effective but it hasn't yet gone viral. And even its efforts have not changed the overall situation of women and minorities. Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of the San Francisco firm Paradigm, consults with top employers such as Slack, Airbnb and Pinterest on issues related to diversity. "At Emerson's talk on unconscious bias last summer, someone in the audience asked her which Silicon Valley companies are managing bias well," Mundy writes. Emerson's answer: "No one."