Behind Intel's Big Give for Diversity and STEM

Intel screwed up last year when it stumbled into the gaming scandal that has become emblematic of sexist culture in tech. Now the chip company is taking real steps to diversify itself and its industry, combining funding with its own internal actions. 

Last year marked a low point (hopefully) in the climate for women in tech and gaming. And Intel became entangled when it buckled to Internet activists affiliated with GamerGate, the loose online campaign that raged against female critics in the gaming industry. But the company wants to make good, and is pushing for a major shift in the way STEM fields welcome a diverse incoming workforce, including some huge STEM funding.

And it's apparently not just lip service. Probably the most exciting part of the commitment announced recently by CEO Brian Krzanich is the company’s hiring and retention goals that will attempt to better align the makeup of Intel staff with the American population. In five years, it aims to increase underrepresented groups at Intel by at least 14 percent, and management pay is even linked to the effort. 

Related: Intel Foundation: Grants for Science Education

The company is also committing $300 million in funding, which will go toward improving the environment in the tech industry and building a pipeline for a more diverse STEM workforce. The funding will go toward historically black colleges and engineering scholarships. Intel will also be working with primary education programs that focus on underserved populations.

And directly related to the online harassment surrounding gaming that the company stumbled into, Intel will be partnering with a number of entities to support more positive representation of women and underrepresented minorities in gaming industries. One of those partners is Feminist Frequency, the gaming criticism site run by Anita Sarkeesian, who has been a main target of toxic Internet attacks.

It’s impossible to look at Intel’s decision outside of just how bad things got with GamerGate, but the problem runs much deeper. It’s been a chronic issue among tech companies that they are mostly made up of white and Asian men. It’s hard to find an engineering or software company that doesn’t have some sort of philanthropic program to encourage diversity, whether that means supporting STEM programs for Girl Scouts, or science competitions.  

Related: Where Is Google's Big Money for Girls Coding Headed? 

But the problem is extremely stubborn, because it runs deep in the culture of engineering and tech. While Intel’s announcement has been applauded, many are skeptical that they can pull it off. 

From a philanthropic standpoint, however, this effort has something very encouraging going for it. It pairs giving with enforceable decisions to change its own behavior. So often in corporate giving, we see a grant program that seeks to solve a problem of which the company is a major contributor. See: Walmart. 

Related: Huh? Walmart Foundation Battles Hunger As Walmart Workers Turn to Food Stamps

Intel’s move here is remarkably self-aware. Sure, it’s throwing $300 million at a problem, but it’s also recognizing that it is the problem, or at least a very big part of it. It might not reshape the industry, but it speaks a lot louder than a science fair.