'We Still Have Much Work to Do': PledgeLA Releases a Snapshot of Diversity in LA Tech

Tami Abdollah

Tami Abdollah was dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.

'We Still Have Much Work to Do': PledgeLA Releases a Snapshot of Diversity in LA Tech
Image courtesy of PledgeLA

A new survey of the Los Angeles venture capital and tech community released Wednesday has found that white employees have a leg up on jobs through their personal networks and female tech employees continue to earn less than the national average, at 71 cents to their male counterparts' $1, among other findings.

The results were provided as part of the second annual survey by PledgeLA, an initiative created by the Annenberg Foundation and the mayor of Los Angeles to promote civic engagement and diversity within the tech community.

PledgeLA has 222 signatories from L.A.'s venture capital and tech community, including Beyond Meat, Honey, Fernish, FabFitFun, Snap, Soylent and Sweetgreen, who have pledged to "increase our community engagement by supporting organizations that are making a difference throughout Los Angeles," "actively and continuously improve equity, diversity, and inclusion at all levels of our organizations and in our investment decisions," and "hold ourselves accountable by measuring and transparently reporting on our progress and impact on these outcomes." (Note: dot.LA is a PledgeLA signatory.)

On the diversity front, "PledgeLA VCs fail to reflect the diversity of Los Angeles both within firms and in their investments," the report found, noting that Latinx, Black and women founders were among the most underrepresented groups.

"We still have much work to do, but know that our driven coalition of leaders from tech, venture capital, city government, and philanthropy are committed to helping bring ever more Angelenos into high-paying jobs and most importantly, to the decision-making table," said Cinny Kennard, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation.

Key findings from participating firms include:

  • White employees overwhelmingly get their jobs through referrals and personal networks while people of color typically apply through LinkedIn or a company website.
  • PledgeLA participating companies are more racially diverse than Silicon Valley, with a larger share of under-represented minorities at employee and manager levels
  • PledgeLA participating companies are twice as likely to back female founders, but women still make up only 18% of their investments.
  • There is virtual gender parity among employees and managers, especially compared to the more male-dominated Silicon Valley, even as pay lags. Women from under-represented minority groups only make up 5% of the workforce.
  • While 74% of L.A. County is nonwhite, 44% of participating VC firms are nonwhite. That's roughly similar to the 45% from last year's survey.
  • Firms are still more white and male among their senior leaders and executives, with men making up 58% of all leadership and white VCs making up 52%.
  • Most VCs, especially non-white VCs, are "unsure" of how fair raises and promotions are.
  • Women VCs earn about $18,000 less than their male peers, or roughly 82 cents per a man's $1.
  • 8% of VCs reported experiencing misconduct, including sexual harassment, at the job or a work-related event.
Many of the 186 tech companies and VC firms that were signatories at the time annual survey was conducted did not fill it out, despite their pledge to do such reporting on their progress. In all, 460 individuals representing 76 tech companies and 46 VC firms across the L.A. ecosystem took the 20-minute anonymous survey between November 2019 to March 2020, according to PledgeLA.

Austin Clements, the chair of PledgeLA, said that "the goal is that we would eventually get to 100% participation" but in general he's "very happy" with the level of participation and general engagement on the issue this year.

The anonymous survey results are individually available to each company as well as their employees at the discretion of the company. PledgeLA committed to each signatory that it would not release individual company data publicly. The survey results are aggregated and anonymized. The initiative is planning to build out a leaderboard to highlight best practices and exemplars among L.A.'s firms and companies.

"We found that most companies just do not track these things," said Jasmine Hill, PledgeLA's Scholar-in-Residence. "The L.A. tech sector is a growing one and most of the time companies get very large and then as an add-on (or) from public outrage have to respond — and then say 'we're going to prioritize diversity'."

New Fund for Black and Latino Founders

PledgeLA and AnnenbergTech also announced Wednesday the launch of a fund for South L.A. founders, in response to the survey's findings. The fund is a $500,000 pool of non-equity funding for early-stage Black and Latinx founders in South L.A who might not qualify for traditional investment capital. Applications are expected to be opened online in August. Interested founders can participate in a virtual pitch week this fall. Twenty companies will be selected to receive $25,000. The Annenberg Foundation will provide each company with training and support from Grid110, a nonprofit accelerator program.

"We love the idea that we can get in on the ground floor of supporting early stage Black and Latinx founders in South Los Angeles...to be able to say, 'Come on, everyone should have a seat at the table. What can we do to make that happen?" Kennard said in an interview with dot.LA.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that "as we confront COVID-19 and begin the long road to economic recovery in its wake, our city will keep equity at the core of everything we do and keep the promise of Pledge LA -- to bring a more diverse chorus of voices into the heart of our dynamic tech sector."

Image courtesy of PledgeLA

Image courtesy of PledgeLA

Image courtesy of PledgeLA


Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my contact on Signal, for more secure and private communications.


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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.