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Diversity delivers in the workplace: Intel shows the way

Internet of things supply chain expert Ninette Vaz explains Intel’s commitment to global diversity and inclusion, and how a closely-woven, inclusive community not only enriches the work environment but makes smart business sense as well.

Think of diversity as a tapestry. Taken separately, you’ve got a mass of fibers. But put together, explains Intel’s Ninette Vaz, each thread enriches the total pattern. These individual units bond into something wholly new. Something special.

“I think that tapestry shows the interesting complexity of people,” says Vaz, Global Supply Chain Internet of Things Senior Manager at Intel. “If you have various threads that make up the fabric, the more threads and the more layers, the stronger the fabric.”

Diversity is deeply woven into Vaz’s identity, history and experiences. She was born in the Middle East to parents of Indian heritage who hailed from Goa, a part of India that was formerly a Portuguese colony for 400 years – Portuguese was in fact her parents’ first language. She then attended high school and university in the U.S. – earning an MBA with a focus on finance and supply chain – before settling with her German husband in Phoenix, Arizona, where Intel has 10,000 employees across two campuses. She’s also co-chair of Intel’s Arizona site committee, a group composed of senior members that advises on community, diversity and other issues in their workplace.

Tech giant Intel, founded in 1968, today boasts a diverse workforce of approximately 107,000 regular employees in more than 50 countries. And it’s become a pioneer for diversity, not just in the tech field but in corporate culture in general. In 2015, Intel set out ambitious plans to achieve full representation of underrepresented minorities and women in its U.S. workforce by 2020, and seamlessly managed to accomplish its goals a full two years before the deadline.

But when Vaz first started at Intel in 1989, the landscape was rather different. In its early years, high tech wasn’t known for being gender diverse, nor was her chosen specialty, supply chain logistics, a field that united her analytical brain and emotional intelligence.

“I was definitely one of the younger people in various staffs, as well as often the only female,” Vaz remembers. “But I think the combination of how I behaved, shared openly and built up relationships helped – they welcomed me in.”

Vaz also points to Intel pioneer Andy Grove, born András István Gróf in Hungary, a refugee to the U.S. who joined the company in its infancy as its third employee, eventually becoming an important leader and manager. Global ambitions led to open minds and the early planting of the seeds of diversity, she notes.

The mix matters

For companies finding their feet in this area, Vaz offers pointed advice. “I encourage everyone to not consider diversity and inclusion a program or a current trend, but rather a value that they believe in,” says Vaz. “And I think it’s a value that can not only enrich the work environment, but can also enrich people’s personal experiences and lives.”

Increasingly, organizations are implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives – but with varying degrees of effectiveness. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study from 2017 shows that 87% of the companies who responded considered diversity and inclusion a value or priority. Yet nearly half of the respondents agreed that diversity remained a barrier to employee progression at their organizations.

According to Boston Consulting Group’s study “Getting the Most from Your Diversity Dollars,” 91% of the companies surveyed on gender diversity had a program in place, yet only one in four women told researchers they actually benefited from these schemes.

To help counter challenges such as low worker morale and employee retention figures, Intel has introduced what it calls the “Warmline”: a friendly, confidential employee hotline to call for answers and advice from – and for – employees of various diverse backgrounds.

The Warmline initiative was introduced at Intel’s U.S. locations in 2015. In the following three years, more than 20,000 cases were processed, resulting in an employee retention rate of 82%. Overall, between 2015 and 2018, the exit rate of underrepresented minorities at Intel decreased by 28.4%. Due to its tremendous success, Warmline will be rolled out globally to all Intel locations.

Another project, Awesome (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education), has earned Vaz accolades. “I think it’s important for diverse employees to have ‘a tribe’ where they feel fully understood and get support,” says Vaz. “This support can come from within your group or company or outside.” As an example of external support, Awesome encourages women’s leadership in the supply chain by providing opportunities for collaboration, learning and recognition. As an enthusiastic advocate of their network, Vaz finds their stories and speaker events to be “valuable, authentic and inspiring."

ADDING VALUE: Ninette Vaz, Global Supply Chain Internet of Things Senior Manager at Intel.

Making connections

Intel has also initiated a program to increase global supplier diversity in the international communities where it does business. In 2018, it spent $777 million on diverse suppliers, a figure on track to hit $1 billion in 2020 – alongside the planned $100 million in annual spending on women-owned businesses internationally, also scheduled for 2020.

“Supply chain logistics is the profession that connects people,” she says. And through the connections, Intel wants to set an example that others can follow.

“This is one of the areas where we don’t want diversity and inclusion to be a competitive advantage,” she explains. “We want the opposite. We want diversity and inclusion to be so common that everyone has that as a capability. So we’re trying to spread the word. And not only just do it as a role model, but really help others as they’re trying to establish this culture within their organizations. We have the ability to influence our suppliers, and we are taking an active, responsible role to make that happen.”

As of January 2019, the company reached its goal of global gender pay equity. Such leadership has contributed to Intel’s consistent rise to the high end of the charts of Gartner’s Top 25 supply chain ranking. “When you get to the real depth of what you can do in supply chain, it’s oftentimes through creative thinking, it’s through diverse thought, and it’s through building deeper relationships with people over time,” Vaz says.

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Dollars and sense

Diversity can also be profitable when it comes to the bottom line. A 2017 study from Boston Consulting Group strongly suggests that companies with diverse management teams have higher innovation revenues. It states that companies reporting above-average diversity in their management teams also showed innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity.

Additionally, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, compiled by consulting firm Development Dimensions International, companies where women hold at least 30% of leadership roles are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained, profitable growth. These firms are also 1.7 times more likely to have “greater leadership strength.”

Gartner’s research strengthens the case for the value of diversity even further, stating, “Through 2022, 75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets,” in its report “Top Strategic Predictions for 2019 and Beyond.”

“If you think about it,” Vaz says, “our customer base – and the world – is so diverse that, if you don’t do this, you’re actually creating your business in a silo and you’re going to miss out on business opportunities", she says. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for people and adds value to business.” —  Susanne Stein

Published: October 2019

Images: iStock; Intel

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