The Consumer Electronics Show is a time for gaming and tech communities to revel and celebrate with new hardware introduced, featured demos of upcoming technology, and keynote speeches from some of the most innovative companies shaping the future of the tech industry. This year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich gave a keynote speech — uploaded on Youtube — featuring 3D printing, motion intelligent computers, depth perceptive cameras, facial recognition software, and advanced robotics. Near the ending segment, Krzanich touched on the Diversity in Technology Initiative — Intel’s efforts “to reach full representation at all levels in [Intel’s] workforce by 2020.” To promote this, Intel “will invest $300 million to grow Intel’s diverse population, fund initiatives to support more participation and positive representation for women and under-represented minorities in technology and gaming, and increase the pipeline of women and diverse candidates entering the technology field.”
Short as it was, the statement drew attention from some of the biggest media outlets, as well as the ire of Internet communities. And for good reason, too — diversity and equal representation is one of the pressing topics in the West, precipitated by increased coverage of controversial events and a community’s coming-of-age. The statements Krzanich gave also suggest certain motivations that viewers might be hasty to conclude, such as instilling a type of affirmative action in the employment process that would favor a prospective employee’s background over their merits. The Western idea of individualism has taught us that this is inherently unjust — but we should also consider the ambiguity of his sentiment. What does it mean to reach “full representation” in the workforce? I assume only that Intel’s plans to diversify its staff will comply with EEOC guidelines, and with a purported net worth of $54 billion we can rest assured that this is a calculated decision and announcement — otherwise, heads in Legal and HR are gonna roll.
Not only does Krzanich propose to do this by investing $300 million to various nonprofit organizations that support women and underrepresented minorities, but he also ties the salaries of Intel’s leaders to the progress of this goal…and gives them a five-year deadline. If five years is too short a time to effect change in an industry that’s reported by the Anita Borg Institute to contain 1.8% African Americans and 3.5% Hispanic Americans (survey of 1,795 technical workers in Silicon Valley), then at least Intel is giving some incentive to change that. Some may be quick to say that the call for minority representation is unnecessary; that this is a correct representation of the tech industry. But the same people also understand that white men do not dominate careers in technology because they possess an inherent advantage — it’s a cultural trend that’s been slow to catch on.
The perception of tech fields up until the past decade has been met with little regard because before the Internet boom, tech was a relatively small industry. Software development was a blip on anyone’s radar, and the gaming community was splintered and met with disdain. Now, some of the highest grossing salary jobs are in the tech industry. Web-coding is easily accessible and considered a pastime by some. Gaming commands the attention of 58% of Americans. It’s all changing, and we’re changing with it. If we hold on to this antiquated notion of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” we’d be going against the very ideals that shaped the tech and gaming industry. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t broken; we can always make it better. It should go without saying that diversity in employment does not neglect merit or potential. To assume that diversity leads to dilution in skill would be… prejudiced, no?
Strangely enough, one of the most contentious points brought up was the inclusion of IGDA and Feminist Frequency among the list of nonprofits that showed up behind Krzanich as he talked about increasing the pipeline of women and minorities stepping into the tech industry. It’s as if, for all the other 15 organizations listed, the mention of these two draws negative remark — remarkable only because of their inclusion in the Gamergate controversy. And this somehow damages the reputation of Intel, a company that was praised for eminently removing advertising from Gamasutra for the publication of an article that sparked the ideological fire — advertising was reinstated shortly after.
Let it be known that Feminist Frequency — for all its misgivings in presenting paltry feminist analysis and cherry-picking titles to promote a slanted perspective of the gaming community — did first project an issue long overlooked by gamers and game developers, did encourage more gamers to view game narratives and characters critically, did raise awareness of the treatment of women in the gaming community and industry. Let it be known that IGDA — for its misgivings in supporting a purported “anti-harassment” application that was clearly a work-in-progress — has existed in earnest (by Ernest) and was responsible for the development of Global Game Jam from 2009-2012, and via IGDA Scholarships awards select students in game and tech fields with mentorships and passes to coveted industry events. Both have sway over a number of aspiring gamers that are a part of this community. And both have conducted themselves deplorably on social networking platforms.
At this point, I’m not here to vindicate these two organizations. In fact, I support neither organization; my only reason for providing context is to compare the magnitude of their respective flaws to their respective accomplishments — feel free to weigh in. Intel’s decision to provide financial backing to them along with UNCF, Out & Equal, The National GEM Consortium, and ESL shows that a company cares for tech and game enthusiasts regardless of their affiliation. Perhaps this decision is a PR move — nevertheless, it’s a PR move that will instill change in the industry, and more importantly, a PR move that educates investors on the changing times. While I chuckled at Krzanich’s shaky voice, his drooped eyelids that shielded light and audience, and the improvised remarks through less-than-amazing product demos, I saw and heard the transformation in those final moments.
His tone steadied. His composure shifted.
“It’s time to step up and do more.”