Intel CPO Christy Pambianchi on Workplace Evolution, Cultural Renewal, and the Future of Tech Talent
Intel, the tech giant known for developing the microprocessors and semiconductor chips used in many of the world’s electronics, is also a widely recognized leader in environmental, social, and governance initiatives. Intel’s focus on workplace evolution has been crucial to attracting and retaining top talent: The company was ranked No. 1 on Barron’s 2022 list of the 100 Most Sustainable Companies and No. 9 among large publicly traded businesses on JUST Capital’s 2023 rankings of America’s Most JUST Companies.
As Intel’s Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Christy Pambianchi has been integral to advancing the company’s environmental goals and championing diversity, equity, and inclusion. To learn more, Toptal’s Chief People Officer, Michelle Labbe, recently sat down with Pambianchi for a wide-ranging discussion about Pambianchi’s career, the future of work, and leading people at the now-hybrid Intel. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Over the next five years, what will you do to ensure that every current and future employee is challenged and getting the skills they need and want? How will it help you attract and retain talent?
The rate of advancement and innovation is happening so quickly. All of us need to really embrace lifelong learning and get comfortable with it. The cool thing is there are so many digital delivery training and knowledge libraries out there that everybody can access.
We have online curriculums; we have support for tuition reimbursement and certifications. We’re growing very rapidly. We’re looking to add a significant amount of capacity around the world. We’re also continuing to grow things like our software business. What we’re finding is that the system, whether it’s education or the labor market, is not generating enough workers.
There are record low unemployment levels. We have started some super innovative programs to try to attract people to the work that we have. We have a program called Quick Start. We started it in Arizona and we’re now bringing it to Oregon. You can go to a center—these happen to be anchored right now at community colleges—and go through 40 hours over two weeks, where you’re literally trying out the job.
We’re trying to show people this is a job you could do. You would love this job. It’s a great job; it’s a high-paying job. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an analytic type of person, or you don’t want to work in manufacturing. But all of a sudden, you realize you’ll be working on computers, analyzing and making something cool that’s going into products all over the world. “Oh, maybe I could do that.” We're really trying to break down those barriers to attract other people into the field.
As far as STEM goes, we have K through 12 programming. We have an AI for Youth program. We have a 10-year goal by 2030 where we’re trying to reach millions of students to convince them to pursue careers in STEM. It doesn’t even necessarily require that they come to work for Intel, but we’re trying to raise the water level for all. Almost all research shows that in [the] middle school [years], as young people go through puberty, there’s a huge drop in interest in STEM. We’re diving into underserved communities, trying to augment STEM programming and offer digital readiness for [future] leaders.
[For] college [students], we put $150 million out there, $50 million directly to the state of Ohio’s post-secondary system to create programs to train employees in the state to work in the semiconductor industry. Then with the National Science Foundation, we’re putting another $100 million out—$50 million from Intel and $50 million from the NSF for colleges across the country to recreate what was lost. A lot of semiconductor departments at universities dwindled, or their funding died out. There are fewer students with master’s [degrees], PhDs, and bachelor’s [degrees], so we’re [putting] $100 million toward that. We’re trying to do a lot to flood the channels.
Another thing I’m excited about at Intel is a program called Relaunch Your Career. It’s a way for experienced professionals who have taken a break to return to the workplace. It’s a 16-week paid returnship. There’s some transition support [for] easing back into the workplace. There are coaching sessions, dedicated mentoring, and program management. This is experimentation; figuring that out—that’s a really exciting option.
Intel is cutting-edge when it comes to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. Could you talk a bit about the approach that you are taking and whether that has helped you attract and retain talent?
Intel was an early leader in the ESG space, and we have made some pretty exciting commitments. We had a set of 10-year goals that were completed in 2019. We evaluated the next 10-year goals. We’ve put plans out called the RISE Goals for 2030—and that stands for responsible, inclusive, sustainable, and enabling. We want to do things ourselves at Intel, but we want to bring along fellow travelers and partners and have an impact beyond our walls.
In the environmental space, we just made a commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. That’s across all of our operations—we announced that on Earth Day in 2022, so that was pretty exciting.
In addition, we have existing goals to have 100% renewable electricity and net-positive water and zero waste to landfill by 2030. Those are four huge environmental commitments that we’re working on.
We’ve documented our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. There’s a lot going on right now as leaders in regulatory and government agencies and in the business community try to agree on how these will be counted and measured. There are going to be auditable standards expected. We feel we’re ready for that. We have quite a robust process that we use every year to measure all of this.
Then in the social and inclusive space, we have very firm commitments around diversity, advancing diversity in the company, and contributing to society around us. We definitely think we’re a leader in this space, and we find that’s really important to our existing workers and employees, as well as those that we seek to attract.
Intel describes itself as a hybrid-first company. What does that look like?
We have about 125,000 employees. We have labs around the world and manufacturing facilities, as well as technology development facilities. For employees working in those types of roles, they have to work on-site. We have great schedules and amenities for that, and processes we put in place to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But we also have office workers or jobs that were done remotely during COVID.
As we got to what we called “phase three” [after the height of the pandemic] in all of our locations around the world, which meant cleared for reopening by the corollary CDC or WHO-type organizations, we said, “Hey, let's take a hybrid-first approach.” People on their teams should determine, based on the work that they do, what are the right and the best ways to meet. We really embraced all the tools that allowed virtual work and virtual collaboration.
In the arc of my career, digitization and technology are the things that really changed the most in terms of their availability. But to be honest, we were pretty slow in adopting it in the workplace. If you were the remote team member, you felt like you were the remote team member. If you were that person that worked from home, you were an afterthought in every meeting.
All of a sudden during COVID, everybody learned how to use a variety of tools and work on multiple devices; how to be present with teams that might be bridging together from six, eight, or 10 locations. We want to keep that. We have operations around the world. We have a shortage of talent in many of the disciplines that we require as a company. We’ve taken a hybrid-first [approach] so we can gain that flexibility.
We’re really looking and leaning [in] with our teams to say, “Hey, innovate, experiment, and find out what’s going to be best for your team for the work that you do.” We also began to have more [fully] remote workers. And this allowed us to tap into labor pools that were previously not accessible to us, because they may not have been where we had a location or near a hub.
Especially with some of the engineering and software roles that we have, being able to find and hire talent wherever they are is really basically something we want to have as a talent advantage.
Toptal is and always has been a fully remote company. We’ve spent a lot of time investing in remote and making everybody feel included through Zoom and Slack in everything we do. Have you been using new tools to create a cohesive hybrid experience?
We definitely have added tools. We have a really great intranet—we call it the Circuit. Now we have Circuit+, which is a mobile app. Employees can get content from Circuit, but also add social posts and connect with each other, creating forums and smaller groups.
We also have a variety of collaboration tools, such as the ones you described, where folks can keep their team documents and where they can share creations and co-create. In some ways, people actually feel like they know their co-workers better.
Maybe they never saw someone’s toddler before, and their toddler happened to be off from school that day and maybe popped in to give Dad a hug. All of a sudden, this has humanized all of us. People will spend the majority of their time on Earth at work if they have a full-time job.
You spend most of your time with your co-workers. For me, thinking about how to build a culture, get people excited, and have people engaged—I really want people to have connections with their co-workers. This delights me.
And being able to continue to manufacture chips to help break through the supply shortages in the world? There’s a sense of pride and camaraderie that grew out of that as well. There was a lot of goodness that came. You’re probably thinking other companies have finally caught up to what you already knew. There’s a lot being written now: Can you really build a culture if you’re remote? Can employees really onboard remotely? They can, I did—I was onboarded as a new CPO. I’ve onboarded half the leadership team remotely. I’ve recruited board members remotely—and hundreds of scientists that are inventing products.
What is the culture like at Intel? Is that part of the transformation you are working on?
That’s a great question. It’s a company that’s 54 years young, and some of what we’re looking to do is really get back to the roots of the company’s founding culture. The way the founding leaders set the company up was intensely results-oriented, focused on innovation, and focused on being a leader in the space. We are doing a large value and culture renewal, along with a very significant investment in innovation, as well as the capacity to support next-generation chip development.
This is to support the very exciting innovation road maps that we and many of our customers have, as well as to add capacity to address the chip shortage in the world.
Scaling the manufacturing footprint of the company is super exciting to me, having spent a lot of my career in manufacturing and at innovation companies. I think the strategy is new. The strategy is to become what we call IDM 2.0. We want to not only serve all of Intel’s customers, but also become a foundry to serve other customers, who may come to us with their own designs—or want to access our design library to manufacture chips for them—to serve as many industrial and other applications as possible. It’s a transformation on a lot of levels. It’s a new strategy, it’s a reinvestment in the future of the business, as well as a cultural transformation.
You and I both are experienced HR professionals. We’ve both seen our field evolve a lot during our careers. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen, and what impact has it had on the work that you do?
I started working in 1990, so the world has evolved greatly since that time. One of the things that has happened since the 1990s is globalization. The actual technologically enabled globalization—the ability for teams to connect worldwide and work in real time—that for sure changed the face of the workplace and transformed many industries.
Our field transformed because all of a sudden you were able to create workflows that went 24 hours around the globe. One team was handing it off to another and tapping into things that previously weren’t necessarily possible.
Another big change I’ve seen in the last decade since the advent of social media and artificial intelligence is a complete transformation of almost every way of doing HR work. Technology enabled the acceleration of things that we used to have to do in a fairly manual fashion, enabling us to do other work—more predictive, business impact, or employee-experience focused. I would say those two things define what I’ve seen really transform the business and the world of human resources over that time.
So much about leading people is learned from hands-on experience. As someone who was formally trained in labor relations at Cornell, what did you learn in the classroom that you wouldn’t necessarily have learned working in an entry-level HR position?
One of the things I studied was labor history. At first, I thought, “Why do I have to take this? I already took history in high school.” They said, “No, you’re going to retake the history of the world through the eyes of work.” That was fascinating because you realize through that, the [importance of the] work that someone does. All the way back from medieval times to the current day, [work] almost defines where [people] fit in society—their social mobility, and what they have access to.
Another thing that I felt was really valuable in my formal training was the entire body of labor economics. There are microeconomics and macroeconomics, but then the actual decision of how someone decides, “I’m going to leave a farm and go work in an industrial role in a city.” Or, “I’m going to not work because these conditions exist that I can’t overcome from an economic perspective.”
[Another really interesting thing] was the body of work around organizational design, behavior, staffing, and talent. There was a lot that I learned in that regard. In the labor economic space, a fair amount is around compensation and compensation theory, benefits, and benefit plan design. So really just a strong, solid underpinning that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
You’ve been at PepsiCo and Verizon, and you’ve written about the challenges that women face in building their careers and advocating for this new normal as we come out of the pandemic. Is there something that you’re doing at Intel to try to alleviate some of this, or things that you’re seeing that are happening to empower women more?
I think back to when I started working in 1990. First, there were no women. Second, you wanted to show up and be there earlier than everybody and work later than everybody. I did that in my 20s. And then at 30, when I was starting a family, I changed companies and relocated somewhere where I was only three miles from the office. So I could not have a two-hour commute but still be that first worker in, last worker out, and maybe work again at night after the kids went to sleep.
I worked for people where the meeting starts at 8:00 and the door’s locked if you’re there at 8:01. They were predominantly men with a family support system. At the height, I had four kids under 8 as my youngest was born. I was lucky I had two shoes that matched and didn’t have vomit on my shirt on the way out the door. I do think a lot has evolved and we still have a long way to go. But there are a lot more women in the workplace than there were 30 years ago, despite all the setbacks during COVID.
COVID exposed the fact that we still lack an appropriate day care infrastructure and there are lots of places with no access or there are no affordable access points. Still, we made a lot of progress and we could continue to make more progress, but it also exposed that we have a ways to go. We’re also looking at all the benefits of the daycare ecosystem for families. Whenever an issue becomes a societal issue, we make more progress on it.
All parents, men and women, have learned some invaluable lessons during COVID. I hear from a lot of dads that are now taking paternity leave. Think back 30 years ago: A) paternity leave was unheard of, B) there were a lot of men that feared taking it, that it would be held against them from a career advancement perspective. Today, we have a lot of proud fathers taking that leave. We have a male employee resource group, and a lot of members have talked about COVID and being with their kids.
One of the things coming out of COVID is that we can make massive advancement policies for how families and work can progress together. It’s not just a “women in the workplace” issue. I do think the burden of family, probably in the majority of households, that [responsibility] falls on the mom. But more and more, we see that being split between both parents. There are a lot of other things going on with elder care, children, and teens.
I’m very optimistic in this space, that hybrid and remote work have enabled a lot. And back to the role that work plays in people’s lives, people want to know that what they do matters. These are pathways to continue to create that. We’re losing out on so much talent if we don’t have ways to safely raise children and have everybody be able to fully participate in the workplace for their own personal advancement or their economic security. I’m excited about this.
Further Reading on Staffing.com:
- Tough Conversations: Guide to Remote Work Communication
- No More Bad Zoom Meetings: The Right Way to Collaborate Remotely
- Remote Work and Mental Health: A Toolkit for Better Balance and Increased Productivity
- Why Companies Need a Remote Strategy to Survive
- 3 Ways Companies Can Narrow the Gender Gap in Technology
- The Talent Economy podcast episode: “Move The Ball Two Feet, Not Two Yards”