Achieving a diverse STEM workforce requires more effort

It is not enough to have representation in the organisation if it does not exist in leadership and key roles, up to and including the board

When people ask me about the business case for diversity and inclusion, I ask them to explain the business case for homogeneity. Research shows again and again that companies with diverse teams are more innovative, more objective and have higher financial returns than mostly homogenous companies. In my recent testimony before the United States House Committee on Space, Science and Technology I shared Intel’s belief that a diverse workforce and inclusive culture are key to our evolution and driving forces of growth.

Despite the focus among tech companies to improve ethnic and gender diversity, there remains an opportunity shortage. There are many brilliant students ready to enter the STEM workforce, but without commitment and partnership from the federal government and private sector we can’t achieve true diversity. That’s why we support legislation to expand the STEM workforce, like Texas representative Eddie Bernice Johnson’s STEM Opportunities Act, and continue to walk the walk when it comes to implementing workforce development policies and programmes in our own company.

We are proud that our commitment to diversity and inclusion enabled us to reach full market representation in our US workforce in 2018, two years ahead of schedule. Our workforce now reflects the percentages of women and underrepresented minorities available in the US skilled labor market. To achieve this we identified gaps in our workforce and took an in-depth look at our hiring practices.

One key initiative that has made an impact, and can work well to attract a diverse workforce in any field, is our strong partnership with historically black colleges and universities and new initiatives with Hispanic-serving institutions. We engage directly with schools to develop programmes that will attract the next-generation workforce. We provide scholarships and internships to top-performing students and expose them to life at Intel, so that when they graduate they’re ready to begin a career with us. These relationships help us develop and retain a top-notch diverse team.

Along with growing a diverse workforce, we also need to increase diverse leadership representation. It is not enough to have representation in the organisation if it does not exist in leadership and key roles, up to and including the board of directors. As the saying goes: 'like hires like', and in practice leaders continue to hire talent without giving equal access to comprehensive and fair hiring processes. If we are to fundamentally change the system we must ensure diverse talent has a level playing field on which to compete.

This requires an intentional focus on and evaluation of fair hiring practices and succession planning. Far too often companies tout these practices yet are not willing to address the reality of unintended consequences associated with the constant 'tapping on the shoulder hiring' that still exists. Accountability resides in the hands of employees questioning the status quo without fear of retaliation and with senior leaders having the courage to adopt and implement fair and equitable hiring and progression systems. Only then will representation have a chance to thrive; only then will true change be adopted.

At Intel we have also learned that hiring top talent isn’t enough. We must create and maintain an environment where talent can thrive and progress. In 2016 Intel launched the Warmline, a confidential service for our US employees that help them work through professional roadblocks and improve overall employee experience. Intercepting employees before they decide to leave the company gives organisations the opportunity to address concerns and resolve issues, resulting in the retention of key talent.

While we are proud of our progress we know there is much more to be done. Just as we share our own best practices we look forward to learning from others in the industry. These initiatives will help keep US companies globally competitive, move our economy forward, generate economic participation and mobility for all. We will excel to our full potential only when we appropriately value and collectively focus on the next generation of diverse talent, prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, and hire them to create the technology of the future.

Barbara Whye is chief diversity and inclusion officer and VP of HR at Intel