On Monday morning, a cross section of Los Angeles’ close-knit tech investment community gathered on the plaza of the Annenberg Space for Photography to mingle with Mayor Eric Garcetti, drink mimosas — and commit to changing their ways.
The event marked the beginning of PledgeLA, an initiative by the Annenberg Foundation and City Hall that asks venture capitalists and the companies that they fund to make a three-point pledge: diversify their companies at all levels, increase community engagement, and measure and report their progress.
“The tech industry looks a little different because people are wearing T-shirts and flip-flops,” Garcetti said from the stage. “But the boardrooms and C-suites look like something out of ‘Mad Men.’”
The initiative grew out of Annenberg Tech, a project focused on spreading the benefits of the growing local tech sector by encouraging social-impact investing and workforce development.
“Tech cannot keep growing at this explosive rate without engaging with the community,” said Annenberg Foundation Chief Executive Wallis Annenberg. “What I want with this partnership is to say, ‘Let’s all grow together, so everybody benefits.’”
Forty-eight venture capital firms have signed on to the program, representing the bulk of L.A.’s tech investor class. They are joined by 39 tech companies in the city, including heavy hitters such as Dollar Shave Club and Tradesy, an online resale marketplace for women’s fashion.
Data provided by the Annenberg Foundation outlines the scope of the problem. On the investment side, only 11% of venture capital partners in L.A. identify as women, and only 2% identify as African American or Latino. On the start-up side, more than 90% of local venture-backed companies are led by white men.
“As a native Angeleno, I know personally that the lack of diversity in tech is not because of a lack of talent or ambition or innovative thinkers,” said Nonny de la Peña, founder of virtual reality company Emblematic Group. “It’s often because the networks of opportunity are granted to a limited few — if we’re going to see a change made on these issues, it’s going to take recognition and coordination at an industry-wide level.”
The first step for venture capital firms that sign the pledge is taking a survey that measures diversity in their companies — on metrics including race, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation — and engagement in local philanthropy and education.