Intel Pledges $300 Million in Workforce Diversity Push


Intel CEO Brian Krzanich updated his vision for computing and wearable devices in his Computer Electronics Show keynote Tuesday evening, as expected. But the executive also took on Silicon Valley’s sorry record on hiring women and minorities, pledging $300 million over five years to address the issue.

“It’s time to step up and do more,” Krzanich said. Intel announced a new goal to reach “full representation” of women and under-represented minorities in the company’s U.S. workforce by 2020. Krzanich didn’t give specific numerical goals, but the company said full representation means Intel’s workforce will be “more representative” of the talent available in America.

“This is going to be difficult to achieve,” Krzanich admitted. But he said the company would tie the pay of managers to achieving the diversity goals. “We will as good engineers measure and report our progress on a regular basis with full transparency,” he said.

Krzanich said the money will be spent on a variety of programs to help build a fuller pipeline of diverse job candidates, including funding non-profit groups and educators to support better representation of under-represented people in technology and videogame companies.

The pledge follows disclosures by many tech companies about disappointing numbers of women and minorities in their ranks, as well as incidents of harassment involving female gamers. (Intel’s own most recent filing, for 2013, said 76% of employees were men and 24% were women; 57% were white, 29% Asian, 8% Hispanic and 4% black. The percentages of women and minorities are smaller for leadership positions).

Krzanich, who became CEO in May 2013, has set a pattern of using the big Las Vegas trade show to diverge from purely commercial concerns. Last year, for example, he ended his talk by speaking passionately about the need to rid the semiconductor industry of “conflict materials” believed to help fund violence in some African countries.
The discussion of diversity was also a postscript to an address that focused on Krzanich’s effort to move Intel’s chips beyond PCs, as well as efforts to update PCs with technologies such as 3D cameras–a product that the company calls RealSense.

Intel showed how the camera could enable tricks such as a virtual piano keyboard, in which a user moves their fingers in air to play notes without touching anything. A company called Ascending Technologies also showed how flying drones can automatically avoid objects when equipped with multiple RealSense cameras. A drone successfully flew through an elaborate obstacle course erected on the side of the CES auditorium without human assistance.

Another new disclosure Tuesday was Curie, the code name for an ultra-small module of chip technology that is specifically designed for wearable devices. Besides a processor based on Intel’s Quark technology, the tiny Curie circuit board—which Krzanich showed encapsulated in a sport coat button—has a device for controlling sensors, wireless communications and other components to provide essentially all the functions of an activity tracker or similar devices, said Mike Bell, the vice president in charge of Intel’s new devices group.

“This changes the game in wearables,” Krzanich said.

Krzanich, who has pushed the chip maker to work with fashion brands, also announced plans to cooperate with Luxottica Group ‘sLUX.MI -1.86% Oakley unit. The company said the collaboration would focus on smart versions of premium, luxury and sports eyewear. Intel in December had announced a relationship with Luxottica, while providing few details.

Intel also demonstrated how a sensor-packed jacket and software can help a person with limited vision detect people and other objects around them. Krzanich said the company would openly share the technology so developers can improve on it to help the visually impaired.