Technology companies can be pressure cookers. They are often famous for abusive behavior and lack even a hint of work/life balance and end up as places you’d want to visit (because they look good on a CV) but where you wouldn’t want to stay. With the emergence of the “Great Resignation” and massive unfilled job openings coupled with the blowback from books like Brotopia, these firms are changing. Silicon Valley, in particular, has recently stood out as being more aggressive than other regions on providing Work-from-Home (WFH) options to get and retain more qualified employees.
Recently Christy Pambianchi joined Intel as EVP and Chief People Officer. She is pushing Intel to extend its potential employment advantages further to make it a leader in diversity and inclusion (D&I).
Let’s talk about how Intel is becoming a far more diverse and inclusive place to work this week.
Tech’s unique problem
Technology companies have a unique problem: they are relatively young, advanced rapidly in the early years without getting a good grounding in acceptable management/employee behavior. These same people lived (before the pandemic) at work, and harmful practices like in-office dating resulted. In many of these firms, bad behavior had become so common that there were stories of young women repeatedly told when interviewing at different firms that part of their job was to have sex with their managers.
Women, in particular, told stories of how they were forced into relationships they didn’t want. Misogyny, hostile workplace, and discriminatory actions were not only every day; they were protected by HR. These were terrible times, but the industry has worked hard to correct these bad practices and eliminate managers and employees who didn’t get the message that the rules governing employee behavior have tightened and become more consistent over the last decade.
Intel has moved aggressively to fix its internal behavior, terminating a CEO for his bad behavior and replacing him first with Bob Swan, Intel’s then CFO who began Intel’s transformation, and then with Pat Gelsinger, who I’ve known for years to be one of the most even-handed, employee-focused executives, I’ve ever met. Once thought of as the heart of Intel during his initial career, Pat has driven a level of change into that company that I would have thought to be impossible.
Part of that change was to hire Christy Pambianchi out of Verizon, who has extensive knowledge of dealing with problems like this and with unions. Unions are slowly penetrating the tech market but haven’t yet been an issue for Intel. Understanding unions is a rare skill in tech companies but one they will need to acquire over time.
Intel’s diversity and inclusion execution
Pambianchi’s data-driven approach to the problems is impressive. Intel is a data-driven company, and first, she needed to understand the nature of the problems there. She used Intel’s employee survey and an external, international study on inclusion to prioritize her efforts.
One big concern in every firm trying to blend WFH with on-premise activity is that the remote workers will be adversely impacted regarding raises and advancement. Another was that employees wanted more flexibility in the future concerning when and where they worked, causing Intel to pivot to a hybrid-first approach to labor.
Finally, it was well known that the entire industry has a massive diversity and inclusion problem, and Pat Gelsinger wants Intel to lead, not lag on related efforts, making fixing this another Intel priority.
To drive that priority in 2020, Intel linked a portion of the annual performance bonus that managers get to metrics on inclusive hiring behaviors. Also, in 2020, Intel aggressively revised its coding language and updated its engineering guide to remove offensive terminology (like “master/slave”). These efforts were driven back into the education system so that new employees would already be trained to be more inclusive by the nature of their education.
Other programs drive much-needed inclusive leadership skills into manager behavior, eliminating it over time. Intel has historically had no tolerance for any employee that dodges high-priority efforts like this to ensure compliance or termination.
Silicon Valley in general, and Intel in particular, is working hard to change bad behavior that was core to the foundation of this industry. This effort isn’t easy, and it has often been a case of top executives getting a free pass while lower-level employees are brutalized. Efforts like this need the full support of executive management and a Chief People Officer with the will and power to make a difference.
With Pat Gelsinger and Christy Pambianchi, coupled with a far more diverse and qualified board of directors, Intel is well-positioned to tackle issues with diversity and inclusion and create one of the best places to work in Silicon Valley. In races like this, we all win because treating people right makes for a better world and arguably better products and services for all of us.
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