Office Hours: AnnenbergTech’s Calvin Selth on LA’s Efforts to Broaden Its Tech Sector

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Calvin Selth
Courtesy of Calvin Selth

AnnenbergTech's Calvin Selth joined this episode of Office Hours to talk about bringing inclusion and diversity to L.A.’s tech community.

An offshoot of the Annenberg Foundation, AnnenbergTech works with the tech community in L.A. to create more opportunities for philanthropy and to increase civic participation among companies and individuals. Selth leads ops and program management for one of the organization’s most ambitious efforts: PledgeLA, a collective of more than 220 tech companies, VC firms and the L.A. Mayor's Office.

In his role, Selth collects data to help promote diversity and inclusivity in Los Angeles’ growing tech sector

“I joke with folks that we're called PledgeLA, [but] the decision was to do more than ‘pledge’,” Selth said. “Really [we] have to be focused on action, not just being a big list of excited organizations, but to focus on accountability.”

Part of that effort is regularly collecting hiring and funding data from the companies who work with PledgeLA, to hold them accountable for reaching their diversity goals.

So, how’s that going?

"I'd say, okay–with cautious optimism," Selth said

In 2020, following the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, companies across the U.S. promised to do better in terms of their commitment to diversity and inclusion. That included venture capital firms in the region.

“The conversation… was really around more capital and access to entrepreneurship in the Black community,” he said

Data showed there was an increase in the amount of capital provided to Black founders that year, while the amount provided to Latinx founders stayed flat, and funding to women-led startups went down.

“It shows that we have sort of a fitful attention span,” Selth said, adding that companies can change when they can focus on the moment, “but if that doesn't reflect processes that are easy for the firm to sustain when they're busy, it's not likely to recur.”

Selth said he thinks many companies do their best to try to be “colorblind” or “unbiased” when hiring. That ideology, he said, can actually get in the way of creating a workforce that reflects the community.

"If you're looking at your product management team, and you know that that doesn't reflect the talent pool here in L.A., I think it requires facing a little bit of that discomfort to say, 'We might actually need to write down a goal about how many women we might like to see on our team'," he said.

Selth also knows that people may not want to feel like they're just fulfilling a quota. He stressed the importance of outreach efforts to make sure that candidates in the pipeline come from diverse backgrounds.

Selth saw some of this firsthand as a bilingual teacher for the Teach for America program, where he worked with high-poverty students in Long Beach, eventually becoming an ambassador for the program for area universities.

"It taught me a lot about the challenges that youth are facing in that specific community. Issues of immigration, poverty, access to high quality education, how that impacts career opportunities," said Selth.

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dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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