An impactmania interview with Intel’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer & Vice President of Human Resources, Barbara Whye. The world’s second highest valued semiconductor chip maker leads with a $300 million investment in diversity work. Barbara Whye shares her experiences with Intel’s WarmLine, an employee reporting system; fatigue around diversity training; and how to build a lasting inclusive work environment.
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
According to the Economist 12 of the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from human resources and I’m here to organize a diversity workshop.” Are you and your department the most feared within Intel?
No, of course not! Our department is made of a team of engineers and scientists who are trying to help Intel achieve a diversity and inclusion goal that no other tech company has yet accomplished.
When I think about Intel’s diversity and inclusion team, as well as our greater HR team, we are leaders. We are trying to make the impossible possible and believe strongly that we’re well on our way to doing that.
Give me an example of the Intel’s WarmLine. I understand more than 8,600 cases are made since rolling out the online employee reporting system.
We’ve had over 10,000 cases now, and 90 percent of individuals are still at Intel, based on the work of the WarmLine, the partnership with managers and the greater Intel. The WarmLine is one of the most innovative systems that I’ve experienced, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time inside and outside of Intel looking for innovative solutions to mitigate some of the diversity and inclusion challenges that we have. The WarmLine is a system that consists of a set of case managers who work with our employees to talk through different retention challenges that are faced.
Give me an example of the kind of cases that are logged?
In many cases, when employees leave companies, they are not always forthcoming about their reason for leaving. They may say something like: “Boss, I’ve decided to take on a new job, because I need to go back East and take care of my parents.” When in reality, the underlying issue may be: “I no longer feel as if I can grow in my job. I tried to architect a path beyond the current job and I wasn’t successful however, I did find that outside at another company.”
The WarmLine is giving Intel an opportunity to have these types of meaningful conversations with employees while they’re still at the company. One example could be an engineer that has been in a role for five years. They might be interested in taking on a role in marketing, but they don’t have a network in that department. A case manager would work with that person, work with their management team, and work with the leadership team in the other area to try to do some matching. That just can’t happen naturally sometimes, and especially when the employee does not have sponsorship or a network.
If I look at the total data of the WarmLine today, of the 10,000 cases, our top two issues are employee growth and progression. The other issue is the connection between the manager and employee. There is a famous quote that states “Employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers.”
That WarmLine data is helping us to understand what we need to do differently, and we are taking specific actions as a result. I can see the data broken down by organizational departments as well so that when I’m speaking to leaders, I can say, “These are the department’s issues surfaced by the WarmLine data. You may need to talk more openly about the opportunities in your organization so that employees can connect with that.” In parallel, based on the WarmLine data, we can develop some deeper training for managers to make employees feel more inclusive. We are teaching managers why it is important to have a psychologically safe environment for employees to have gnarly conversations.
Has there been a structural change rolled out company-wide because of some feedback you’ve received from employees?
Absolutely, from the WarmLine data, we learned that we had to do some additional training and development as it relates to our managers. We’ve rolled out management training that we call ‘Managing at Intel’ and added an inclusion module also based on that WarmLine feedback. That training will reach 15,000 managers, which we think is critically important to the success of this work. The managers are the front line; much of the employee experience is through their direct managers. The more training, support, and development the more we inspire leaders to lead from a place of inclusion. Then, we will have the ability, not only to achieve our representation goals, but to also sustain them.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about companies experiencing diversity fatigue. How does Intel organize the diversity training to not add to this phenomenon?
Yeah, there are two things about Intel’s culture that help: Intel is a very data driven company. I often say English isn’t our first language, data is. Part of the way we frame the work of diversity and inclusion is structured around data, goals, and measurements. We also have structure around accountability. Our company has bonus goals around diversity and inclusion. About seven percent of all employees’ bonuses are based on whether or not as a company we achieve the diversity goal that we set.
That helps in terms of mitigating some of the fatigue. The way you deal with this fatigue is to have wins along the way, and celebrate those wins. Finally, bring everybody along. This is key. Everyone wants to belong and experience inclusion.
Harvard Professor of Sociology Dobbin found companies that have diversity training would have employed more women and black men today, if they didn’t have the diversity training. What are your thoughts on that?
Training in and of itself will rarely be successful. Training is most powerful when it is one of multiple levers and part of a comprehensive strategy. Because at the end of the day, diversity and inclusion have to be integrated into all of the systems: from on boarding to integration to management. It’s embedded in how we progress and how we pay employees.
You get training transformation if you are monitoring the behavioral changes as a result of training or articulating the behaviors that you want to see and making sure that those behaviors marry up with some level of accountability.
I have the advantage of being an electrical engineer and have had the benefit of going through many major transformations on the software development as well as on the hardware side. Throughout those large transformations, they go through three steps.
- You have to be aware of the challenges or the issues that you’re trying to change.
- Then, you have to find ways for people to own the desired change. People will own change when they connect to the value or understand the cost of not changing
- Finally even with awareness and ownership, practice and deepening of muscle is required to fully sustain the change over longer periods of time.
Those three steps work across software development life cycles, diversity and inclusion, dieting, and getting along with your in-laws.
I got that!
This diversity and inclusion work is a transformation within the tech industry. It’s a transformation for Intel. Leaders have to have a willingness to become more aware and astute of many different things. This change is important to the company, to its revenue, to our nation. How do I show up in terms of my bias? How do I lead as an inclusive leader? This is not surface-level work, but neither is that for any other major transformation that one has to undertake and sustain.
You touched on this, but what in general is needed for social and cultural impact on a larger scale, beyond Intel?
Fundamentally as it relates to diversity and inclusion work, this work is not a “one and done”, and this work is constantly evolving. It requires you to have the willingness to listen, to learn, and to be uncomfortable sometimes. I think we have to create this inclusive space where all the different voices can be heard, because at the heart of engineering, designing great products, and making sure that you connect with your customers, is diversity of thought.
We have to ensure that we bring different voices and different ideas to the table. These differences may not always be about race and gender. It could be some background I could bring to the room, because I grew up in a tiny town in a rural community in South Carolina. It’d be very different from what someone else in the room may bring from San Francisco. All of that work is important in the voices, in the experiences, in the full breadth of creating an environment where employees can bring all of that to the table to make the company stronger. It definitely will increase revenue. I’m so proud of Intel in that we’ve been doing diversity and inclusion work at the same time that the company is experiencing record revenue.
If all the data points point to an increase to the bottom line, what is the core cause?
If you were to do a root cause, it would be a multitude of issues. We recently did a research study across 8,000 of our employees. And that research study was cutting at the question that you’re asking, which is, what does it take for me, as a multicultural employee to be retained at Intel?
First and foremost, employees want an environment where they can bring their full experiences. The inclusion is so important, ensuring that employees are not feeling isolated. And that’s isolated as in being the only person on the team or being placed in a role that’s not a meaningful role; we call that role isolation. Another item that we learned was sponsorship. Many employees find themselves in situations where they do not have sponsorship. These sponsorships are key to retention and growth, because sponsorships help you to build a bridge between the job that you have, and the job that you aspire to have. As a result of the study, we implemented an inclusive hiring methodology, because in many cases, jobs are received outside of the formal channel. For all of our requisitions, we aim for a diverse set of interviewers, and a diverse set of candidates.
Intel’s new hires diversity mark hits 45 percent of the workforce, underrepresented minorities are 13.2 percent of the workforce.
For other companies, what would you suggest as some of the tools to measure impact, or cultural change in general? How do you do that?
I would elevate that companies should begin tracking and publishing their retention goals. When we started this work, there were many levers that can be deployed, hiring being one of them. We quickly learned that there is great talent, and we can hire great talent. Equally as important, if not more important, is the retention of that talent. Set goals around your retention, and set goals around your exits, because that’s really what this work is about. Retention is the outcome of a series of many different events and transactions that may be happening with your employees. But if you’re tracking it, you have an opportunity to focus deeply there, and start to unpack some of the root causes that may be getting in the way of retention.
Intel, as a part of our effort, is actually tracking our retention efforts. That’s the one metric that is so critical, not only for the work that we’re doing right now, but for the work in the future. Because it’s not enough to hire an employee — ensuring that you have the right environment for that employee to grow and to be constantly nurtured and challenged, as well as creating the space where one can bring their voice to the table and feel included, that’s the real work.
When companies wish to make a sincere effort to build a lasting and inclusive environment, what would be some simple steps to start?
I would give three.
The first one would be transparency, being transparent with your numbers, engage the whole corporation, from the CEO and throughout the organization. But also be transparent with where you are. You can’t move from A to B if you don’t have an awareness or visibility to where you are currently. For many companies, there’s a fear CEOs and leaders have about being upfront and transparent with their data.
The second guidance would be to set goals and hold yourself accountable. The beautiful thing about our CEO, Brian Krzanich, is that he approached the diversity and inclusion project as a visionary leader, no different than he did trying to solve a challenge in artificial intelligence. He saw this as an engineering challenge and brought together the best in engineering mindsets and methods to solve it.
Then the third point would be to develop a holistic strategy. When you look at diversity and inclusion work with retention as the outcome. There’s a series of transactions that happen along the way. By deploying a list of strategies and looking at everything from the first point of engagement with the employee to how well you onboard that employee, to how well the employee can grow and/or develop to senior leadership. Also working with your business units, and your HR partners in an integrated way. This work is a system.
I think having a comprehensive and holistic strategy is something that I would advise. Because you will not achieve success when you focus just on one part. If you only focus on hiring you can’t get there, if you only focus on onboarding you can’t get there. This is an integrated system, and you have to be mindful of how the outputs of one system feed into the inputs of the other.
Who has made an impact on your professional DNA? Who has helped form you to become an engineer, CDIO, and leader you are today?
There is a wise saying that starts with, “it takes a village.” That has been so true for me. I have had a host of mentors, sponsors, and role models. My family has likely been the biggest impact and most consistent impact on my professional DNA —especially my mother. She is fearless, resilient, and always full of faith and optimism. I model these traits daily and in doing so, it accelerates my ability to lead, learn, and unlearn.
What has she said that you bring to work?
What brings me to work is knowing that the work I’m doing at Intel will make the tech industry a better place for future generations. Our daughters, sons, granddaughters and grandsons will have a better experience pursuing careers in tech because we never gave up. We are persisting to drive the necessary change. There is a quote by Sheryl Sandberg that is pinned on my Twitter profile that says, “Leadership is about making others better in your presence so that the impact is felt in your absence.” This is what we are aiming for in Intel’s diversity and inclusion efforts. We are working toward making a demonstrable impact.