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raceAhead: Intel’s Not Surprising New CEO

January 31, 2019, 7:37 PM UTC
Intel Corporation has named Robert Swan as its chief executive officer. His promotion was announced Jan. 31, 2019. Swan, who previously served as the company's chief financial officer and interim CEO, is the seventh CEO to lead the company based in Santa Clara, Calif. (Credit: Intel Corporation)
Intel Corporation has named Robert Swan as its chief executive officer. His promotion was announced Jan. 31, 2019. Swan, who previously served as the company's chief financial officer and interim CEO, is the seventh CEO to lead the company based in Santa Clara, Calif. (Credit: Intel Corporation)
Courtesy of Intel Corporation

After a seven-month search for a new chief executive, Intel’s board announced today that interim CEO and former chief financial officer Robert Swan would stay on in the position. It was a surprising choice for the legendary chipmaker, which has always opted to place long-time, veteran executives in the top spot. Swan joined the company in 2016, making him the first new kid on the C-Suite block.

What’s a little less surprising is that Swan is another in a short list of very dedicated and highly qualified white men tapped to run Intel.

Now, I’m not calling out the chipmaker, exactly.

In fact, since 2015, they’ve taken a very public leadership role in addressing equity in tech, and have set and met a series of incremental inclusion goals which were established by former CEO Brian Krzanich. (Krzanich resigned last June after it was discovered he’d had a consensual relationship with an Intel employee, a breach of company policy.)

Last fall, the company announced they’d achieved “full representation,” a metric which means their workforce reflects their understanding of the available talent pool— for them, roughly 27% women, 9.2% Hispanic and a little under 5% African American.

It’s not even close to full equity, but one in a series of steps aiming to improve representation overall.

Barbara Whye, Intel’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, characterized it to The Wall Street Journal, as “like one inch on the 12-inch ruler.” One part of her efforts to retain talent is the WarmLine, an internal leadership service that helps existing employees find support if they think they’re being overlooked for advancement.

And yet, progress is still slow. White men still account for more than 70 percent of corporate leadership in Fortune 500 companies.

A short while back, I asked two researchers from the University of Colorado, David Hekman and Stefanie Johnson, for their thoughts on why underrepresented talent isn’t making it up the leadership food chain.

Both separately and together, they’ve been conducting original research on how bias works, and to use their words, working on the puzzle as to why top-level leaders are disproportionately white men.

One piece of research, published in the Harvard Business Review, offers an important clue. It showed that women or people of color who promote or advocate for each other tend to be penalized, which impacts their careers.

“Our set of studies suggest that it’s risky for low-status group members to help others like them,” they wrote. “And this can lead to women and minorities choosing not to advocate for other women and minorities once they reach positions of power, as they don’t want to be perceived as incompetent, poor performers.

This theme was echoed in Claire Zillman’s must-read essay in today’s Fortune’s Broadsheet.

She began with a report from the World Economic Forum in Davos, and a panel of women who had become world leaders including Lithuania President Dalia Grybauskaitė and former Chile President Michelle Bachelet. In telling their stories, most expressed surprise that they’d gotten a job that they didn’t actually seek.

Panelist Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, noted, “It’s interesting how… [you’re] saying, ‘I never wanted the job I ended up with.’ And I wonder if that’s partly because we’re women, and women are not supposed to be too ambitious.”

It will take friends in powerful places to change this. “The best people to advocate are white men,” says Hekman. “They get penalized far less.”

Which sounds like a great reminder for Intel’s CEO and the white male executives in talent pipelines everywhere: You all have an essential role to play in changing the culture so women of all colors and people of color of all genders can speak up for themselves.

That kind of advocacy has a ripple effect that gives everyone around them permission to address and dismiss any hidden biases – like their contempt for overambitious women. “Just acknowledging race and gender before decisions are made will help,” Hekman says. “Other people will be less biased in their judgments. And it matters that it comes from the top.”

On Point

Universal accepts the 4 percent challengeThey’re the first major studio to agree to take on the recently announced Time’s Up challenge to work with more women directors. As a result, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, and DreamWorks Animation have all agreed to announcing a new women-led project within the next 18 months. First mentioned at Sundance, the 4% Challenge asks producers, actors, and other industry leaders to commit to a woman-led project within the coming year and a half. Amy Schumer, “Crazy Rich Asians” producer Nina Jacobson, and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” writer-director Angela Robinson were among the first to sign on. Click through for more info and stats.Women and Hollywood

Octavia Butler credits LeBron James for her equal pay for upcoming film
Butler and the NBA star are teaming up to produce on a Netflix series about Madam C.J. Walker, the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire.  Butler is also set to star. But it was James who stood up for her in negotiations, making sure she was being paid on an equal footing to the male talent. “I have to say, when I was negotiating my deal for ‘Madam C.J.,’ LeBron James had to intervene,” Spencer said in an interview at the Sundance Film Festival, according to IndieWire. Jessica Chastain modeled similar allyship last year when she asked that Butler be paid the same as her on an upcoming film.

What are open letters demanding diversity really about?
Don Prophete, a partner at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, has some strong words for the corporate general counsels who have been writing open letters demanding law firms improve their dismal diversity stats. “Here is what has happened to law firm diversification since the first letter was penned in the early 2000s,” he begins. Nothing. “Today, law firm racial diversity has either remained stagnant or has decreased significantly.” In telling his own story, he clicks through some reasons why, and with it, his impressive credentials. “Despite my success in the profession, my significant name recognition and my trial skills, I have never in 28 years of practice had a single GC reach out to me based on reputation, pedigree or skill to hire me for a major matter, like many of my white counterparts have been,” he says. “These signatory letters have been more public relations than actual practice.”
American Lawyer

Kim Davis violated the civil rights of others
Former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who became famous for her refusal to provide marriage licenses for same-sex couples, should be held responsible for the legal costs incurred by the state after she was sued in 2015, says the lawyers for Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Davis, who cited her religious beliefs for her actions, is being blamed for failing to do her job in light of the June 2015 Supreme Court decision which legalized gay marriage. A panel of judges is reviewing her case today. The suits incurred nearly $225,000 in legal fees.


On Background

The first time never I saw your face
Buckle in for an excellent interview with Joy Buolamwini, of the MIT Media Lab, who explains why addressing biases in predictive software should be a priority. She starts with facial recognition software, which often fails to recognize black faces. It’s calling everything into question. “[W]hat we have right now is blind faith in AI that doesn't acknowledge how easy it is for bias to creep into the systems. And at the end of the day data reflects our history, and our history has been very biased to date.” According to Buolamwini, the first field to feel the bias may be “precision” health care. “There are biological differences that are really important to make sure we address when we're looking at the efficacy of drugs or various treatments.” Her amazing TED talk is here.

Access to mental health care varies by race or class because of biased therapists
This study from the sociology department in Princeton shows that working class people were less likely than middle-class ones to be accepted when calling for an appointment, with black patients even less likely than whites ones. “Although we expected to see evidence of racial and class-based discrimination, the magnitude of discrimination against working-class therapy seekers, in particular, exceeded our grimmest expectations,” said the author. All callers were covered by the same insurance.

A reading list of queer, black poets
Jussie Smollett has become, in many ways, a queer, black poet for a new generation; using his art to affect, comfort, inform and motivate. This list of queer black poets since the Harlem Renaissance are less well known. All were iincluded in Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books, May 2018), a book which aims to restore their place in syllabi and history. “Many of these poets were not only visionary writers, but also freedom fighters, survivors, legends, and proof that the vital poetry of queer black artists has shaped the world of American letters,” writes Christopher Solo. Did you know a major black arts collective formed at James Baldwin’s funeral? Well, now I know.


We see allies getting a lot of points for using terminology that marginalized communities have been using for a while, like when men talk about feminism or white people talk about racism. There's a real celebration of those instances as opposed to a willingness to listen to the people most affected. 
—Moya Bailey