In Los Angeles, a Foundation-backed Push to Bring More Diversity to the Tech Sector

Long gone are the days of Silicon Valley being the only tech hub in America worth talking about. New tech hotbeds are popping up all over the country lately, some in unexpected places like Boise and Richmond, but others in major cities that have historically been less focused on tech. A good example of the latter is Los Angeles, a city that is branching out from its entertainment industry roots to become one of the fastest-growing tech hubs nationwide. In fact, the 100 largest tech companies in the region reported a 24 percent increase in employment last year, and the L.A. area saw a 120 percent increase in venture capital funding in 2017.

Yet even in a huge and diverse city like Los Angeles, a familiar tech industry challenge still exists: a lack of diversity. And this issue has becomes especially highlighted with increased growth and prominence of local tech businesses. Although approximately 73 percent of Angelenos identify as a person of color, only two percent of venture capital investment partners are African-American or Latino and only 11 percent of them are women. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent of venture capital-funded companies are led by people of color or women.

The diversity issue in tech has been getting attention in Los Angeles lately from prominent foundations, venture capitalists, and the city government. With the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Annenberg Foundation, tech leaders, and more than 80 venture capitalists, a new civic initiative has emerged to spark diversity and inclusion in this growing sector.

PledgeLA, announced last month, is a unique partnership that involves a commitment to track diversity data and civic participation each year within the tech sector. Signatories of PledgeLA have agreed to make this data available to the public and to also work with local nonprofits to help bring more diversity to the tech industry. It aims to serve as a foundation for emerging businesses in this sprawling city, and to perhaps eventually even serve as a model for other cities to adopt.

It’s not surprising to see the Annenberg Foundation playing a catalytic role in this initiative. The foundation has been involved with L.A.’s growing tech community for a while now, through its AnnenbergTech program. Even as other foundations in the city have scratched their heads about how to tap into the growing tech scene in LA—which most notably includes Snap—Annenberg has succeeded in cultivating ties with leaders in the sector and getting conversations rolling about how to engage techies with local nonprofits. This prominent local funder serves as PledgeLA’s incubator and seed funder, but the Weingart Foundation is also supporting the initiative. Meanwhile, the list of venture capital signatories and tech industry signatories continues to grow. You can view a current version of those lists on the PledgeLA website.

Looking forward, PledgeLA aims to grow into a project that connects funders with nonprofits around mutual goals of equity and job training. At this time, PledgeLA signatories are completing surveys about diversity and civic engagement within their companies, and then that data will be used to establish an action plan for improvement. Stay tuned in the months ahead to learn about the results of these surveys and how Annenberg and the Mayor’s Office will be working with the tech sector to pursue shared diversity goals.

The Annenberg Foundation’s chair, president, and CEO, Wallis Annenberg, said, “This commitment from L.A.’s venture capitalists and Mayor Garcetti means that change is happening, and this change is good, as long as we can work to make Los Angeles a more diverse, inclusive and community-focused city that benefits everyone.”