How A Diverse Team Drives Innovation. Hiring Matters – from Intel's VP of HR and CDO, Barbara Whye

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Barbara Whye, ASU Ph.D. progran photo

What is it to “fail”? To Barbara Whye of Intel, it’s “Fast Application of Iterative Learning.”

If you’re reading this, chances are you want to drive innovation in your organization. You understand that a workforce with a diversity of backgrounds, skill sets, experiences and perspectives is what will drive that innovation and maximize its impact for both your bottom line and society.

How do you do it? I recently interviewed Barbara Whye, Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of Intel, one of the most innovative and highly-regarded companies in the world, to find out.  She started her career at Intel 22 years ago as an electrical engineer.

She told me that “innovation is the DNA of Intel,” so I asked her how that works specifically, and she said hiring and retaining a diverse team is at the heart of it, which “requires intentionality.”

Here are insights from our conversation:

  • Value “not being the same…because sameness does not drive innovation.” A diverse set of people at the table brings a diversity of ideas, thought and “a higher level of creativity and solving problems.”
  • Don’t give in to barriers. Examine them, ask why they are there, and explore what can be done to circumvent them. You might discover an even more creative solution that way.
  • Commit to diversity goals. For Intel, it’s “full representation” of each category, that is, having the same percentage in the company of that talent base as is available in the marketplace.  This means integrating these goals into the compensation and performance systems and leveraging data analytics to track results.
  • Develop an inclusive hiring methodology. Intel’s has three parts: post all job openings (apparently most companies do not); bring in a diverse slate of candidates; and make sure the interviewers are also from diverse backgrounds.
  • “Go where the talent is.” Intel partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and those that have minority and/or women student bodies, and other diverse talent pools you want to attract. To hire experienced talent, attend conferences where your target talent pool will be. Intel attends the Society of Women Engineers conferences, and the Grace Hopper conferences, among others.
  • Offer a paid internship for promising early stage diverse talent and innovative talent.
  • Don’t rely on the Applicant Tracking System. Too often ATS’s screen out the innovative talent you need because those people do not have the traditional career trajectories that ATS’s favor.
  • Make sure every meeting has people from diverse perspectives at the table. Whye said they always have new talent, longer-term talent, and a range of functional skills and backgrounds at the table.
  • Be open to people who “disagree but commit,” as she said it’s called at Intel. That is, people who may not agree with the strategy decided upon, but they will commit to do their part in executing it.
  • Have a safe place for employees to raise “issues.” Innovative and diverse talent tend to feel even less safe talking to HR than other employees do (which makes sense since HR works for the company, not for the employees). So, Intel set up a “Warmline,” which is a 24/7 confidential call center run by people outside of HR who are trained to listen and offer constructive solutions and support, depending upon the caller’s need.  The types of issues people call in with and how they are handled is tracked anonymously so they can provide insights for improvements in the company.
  • Reframe “failure.” Whye told me that at Intel, fail is defined as “fast application of iterative learning. They are focused on the problem to be solved, with defined goals and milestones, and check in on those metrics quarterly to see if they are on track, need adjustment or if the project needs to be completely retooled. Even the CEO sits on these committees periodically, she said.

For those of us who want to advance our careers, Whye had a few key suggestions, and she practices what she preaches.

She said to “never stop learning,” Even though she’s already in top management and has been at the company for over 20 years, she he is currently working on earning a Ph.D.

Whye also said to continually “challenge yourself to stretch” beyond what you think you can do. If you think you can’t, try anyway.

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