Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger on the company’s culture

While Gelsinger has had plenty of opportunity to discuss his plans to bring Intel back to glory, he hasn’t spoken as much about the people who will help him deliver on his strategy. In honor of International Women’s Month, I invited Gelsinger—who worked at Intel from 1979 to 2009, then returned as CEO in February 2021—to join me on a LinkedIn Live to discuss Intel’s culture and the role diversity and inclusion play in innovation.

Intel has gone to great lengths to support the advancement of women in tech. More than 30% of Intel’s leadership team is made up of women. As part of its 2030 corporate responsibility goalsthe company has committed to doubling the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles, in addition to reaching 40% representation of women in technical roles.

Intel is also part of the Alliance for Global Inclusiona coalition launched in 2021 that aims to improve diversity and inclusion practices, as well as promote transparent reporting in four critical areas: leadership representation, inclusive language, inclusive product development, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) readiness in underserved communities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Carolina Milanesi: Let’s start with your Intel journey—not from a tech perspective, which you get plenty of opportunities to discuss, but from a people and culture perspective.

Pat Gelsinger: Let me start with the beginning of my journey with women in technology. I remember that in about 2000, I took over the Intel fellows program, and at the time we had zero female fellows. I worked super hard, and we got one. And then she left the company. I was crushed when this occurred.

Obviously, I worked on that more, and the work continued in my absence. But today we’ve made a lot of progress in this regard. We can look to where we were at zero and now we have substantial representation at the most senior ranks, but we still have a long way to go. Also, the cultural expectations of a company like ours today are very different than they were in that “rack ’em up, eat ’em up” kind of world. Clearly, we still want to be that data-driven, challenging culture, but we want to do it in a much more human-first, engaging, and inclusive way. And so it’s a very different company that I’ve taken over today.

Let’s talk about the change that we’ve seen during COVID-19. In business across the board, the idea of ​​culture and the importance of talent has really grown during the pandemic, and now a lot of organizations are starting to go back to work and thinking about hybrid work. How do you keep people engaged?

It’s not like we’re going to snap back to the way things were before COVID.”

There is no going back. It’s not like we’re going to snap back to the way things were before COVID. This idea of ​​hybrid work, distributed work, is here to stay. And in some regards, there’s goodness here. We’ve had many people say, “If I can work from anywhere, I prefer to be closer to my family. I prefer to commute less. I have an ailing parent, and . . . I could be more engaged in their lives. I have young kids at home, maybe I can stay in the workforce. Maybe I can job share, where I might not have been able to before.”

I just think there are many good aspects from what we’ve been through and I don’t want to lose those. But at the same time, people yearn to be together. I think of the big three: culture building, celebration, and vision or strategic planning. We need to be together to do those things. So how can I say, “I don’t care where you live currently, but when we’re doing those three things, I need you here?”

We are accomodating and establishing the relationships that enable [distributed work], and we’re trying to build a culture that’s on mission. I want a team of 121,000 rabid “I am Intel” [employees] who are on mission. Because we’re going to rebuild this iconic company, we’re going to be this foundation for the technology industry, and we’re going to be a force that is shaping technology for good and in powerful ways to improve the lives of every human on the planet. If you want to be part of that, you want to be on this team. And I think that the combination of making it easy for people to work in this environment, accommodate what they need, but then releasing their passions for the incredible mission that we’re on, that’s pretty powerful.

‘I’m still not satisfied’

Your leadership team is so strong from a women-led perspective: Sandra River, Michelle Johnston Holthaus, Christy Pambianchi, Ann Kelleher, Dawn Jones, Tara Smith, Karen Walker, and I’m sure I’m missing some. There’s nothing more attractive to someone looking for a job than seeing themselves represented in the C-suite. What does diversity mean to you in terms of thought leadership and innovation?

I am proud of where we’re at right now. My two biggest business units are run by women. My biggest technology leadership role, technology development, is run by a woman. That’s just unheard of in the tech industry. Also, four of my nine board members are females and two of those very senior tech females, the dean of engineering at Berkeley and the dean of engineering at Princeton.

So right now, overall, we’re pretty good. But I’m still not satisfied. It needs to be better. There are still areas where we have representation gaps. Our African American community, we’re not where we need to be. We have to keep working on those areas.

I get emails from grandmothers saying: ‘I’m excited for you to be in the heartland so my kids can come home.’”

But to me, this idea that we can come together and bring our whole selves to the workplace, it unleashes energy, it unleashes creativity. It creates more passion and [communicates that] “I can be all that I am in the workplace.” And we also then unleash [employees] into their communities, that cycle starts becoming a positive one for the company, that just creates an almost unstoppable force.

Tell us more about what you’re doing to drive your middle management, which is usually where, from an employee perspective, you feel that power of allyship, and then what you do externally for the benefit of the broader society and community that you’ re in.

[There’s] so much we could say on this one. Today’s announcements in Ohio: $100 million, and part of it is the “Silicon Heartland,” as we call it . . . pulling them forward to be technology leaders. We rolled out this program engagement across not just the major universities in the region but also the community colleges in the region.

[Here’s a] fun little story: When President Biden walked into the greenroom before we did Our Ohio announcement together at the White House press conferencehe walked up to me, and the first thing he said was, “My wife [Jill Biden] loves you. She asked what I was doing tomorrow, and I told her about Ohio, and I told her your story, having come through the community college system.” And right now I’m an iconic company CEO. So this idea of ​​being able to reach into a deeper community: You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy League school to make a dramatic difference at a company like ours.

This resonates into the community. It also resonates to more diversity. Because you’re able to say, “I do want to do unique programs in historically black communities or communities that might be more underrepresented in the workforce and reach into those.” When we think about this allyship aspect, we also truly want to unleash our people into the communities that they’re participating in. And to me, that’s something that when they start to feel like they can make a difference in their community they say, “Hey, I want my kids to work at Intel.”

I get emails from grandmothers saying: “I’m excited for you to be in the heartland so my kids can come home.” You know, those are wonderful. That’s what we’re working to unleash. I want to enable people to have that kind of expression in their communities, in their colleges, even going into the K through 12 community so we start to create this love and passion for technology even at the earliest stages of their life. And if I can build that into my leadership team at all levels, they become the great ambassadors as we go into our communities and organizations.

‘I call it my five L’s’

You’ve decided to live your faith publicly, and in a way that I find very subtle and effective at the same time, which is sharing scripture passages and Bible passages on a Sunday. Everything is always so amazingly tied into what is going on in the world at that point in time. Why did you choose to be vulnerable and share that?

There are three different aspects of this to me that are super important. If I’m going to say to my people, “I want you to bring your whole self to the workplace,” that may be in the area of ​​gender identity, that may be in terms of your personal passions as well, or maybe your ethnic communities. It turns out that religion and faith is seen as one of or the most important things to over half of humanity. Various studies show somewhere between a 60% to 70% rate, that it’s one of our highest, most passionate things to them. And it is for me, as a very visible Christian. So how am I going to ask people to bring their whole selves to the workplace but that any faith perspective has to stay out of the workplace?

We celebrate the Jewish holiday because we have a big Jewish community and we’re celebrating, not because we’re Jewish, but because we want them to feel like we are all with them and their celebration. So to me, it’s critical to say you’re going to bring your whole self to the workplace. To truly be diverse and inclusive, you have to bring a faith perspective as well. And that’s me, that’s who I am. But then I also simultaneously have to make it great for other faith perspectives, including no faith. So I have to be able to say, what’s that Diwali holiday? How would an Islamic person think about those holidays? I want to know those perspectives. And the more I seek those perspectives, the more I can talk about my perspectives on things. To me, that’s where the magic gets unleashed.

I’ve gotten so many good comments on my scripture verses over the years and the other talks I’ve done on this subject over time. But to me the idea, and I call it my five L’s, is leaders need to listen, they need to learn, they need to link, they need to lift, but fundamentally they need to love their organizations and what they do. I just love Intel. I love my leaders, my 121,000 people, and, most importantly, the mission that we are on together.


Carolina Milanesi is principal analyst at Creative Strategies and founder of the Heart of Tech, a tech consultancy focused on education and diversity. She has been covering consumer tech for more than 15 years.

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