Time for change: 6 techies on how to make LA tech more inclusive

by John Siegel
June 21, 2018

Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world, but despite that multiculturalism, the local tech community still struggles to ensure that its workforce is representative of all walks of life.

But a number of tech companies are taking steps in the right direction. We spoke with six local tech employees about the challenges that stand in the way of a more diverse LA, how their teams are changing that and what progress they’re seeing.

 

tala fintech startup santa monica
photo via tala
Shannon Yates + Chris Wiggins
Data Analytics Lead + Technical Recruiter

Tala is dedicated to building a team that matches the diversity of its users. Founded in 2011, the company's mission is to make financial access, choice and control more attainable to underserved communities around the world.

 

Are you seeing a concerted effort from the broader LA tech community to make tech teams more diverse?

Shannon Yates, data analytics lead: Diversity efforts — in this case, ethnographic backgrounds, professional careers and personal acumen, rather than only race or gender — are becoming a growing area of focus, although there are still considerable challenges. Through our interactions with other managers and experience with other LA tech teams, it seems that there is more recognition of the value of diverse perspectives and new ideas.

An important conversation we’re beginning to have is around retention, not just growth. Startups tend to focus on what’s next rather than realizing the value of where they are.” 

Aside from being more conscious about who they’re hiring, how can tech companies become more diverse and accepting of all cultures?

Yates: An important conversation we’re beginning to have is around retention, not just growth. Startups tend to focus on what’s next rather than realizing the value of where they are. Tala is establishing programs for underrepresented groups to share their thoughts and ideas for improving our sensitivity, awareness and empowerment as a company. An example is our Tala women’s dinners, where women from all departments can develop projects to advance women in tech, promote each other’s achievements and have a safe space for open discussion.

Chris Wiggins, technical recruiter: Companies can also make an effort by hosting or highlighting events that reflect the values or backgrounds of their teams, like celebrating like we do at Tala. These are ways to show employees that you recognize what their background and uniqueness means to them and offers a way to stand out in the industry by demonstrating a commitment to once-unseen groups.

 

patientpop healthtech marketing startup los angeles california
photo via caroline carter
Lacey Plache
Lead Data Product Manager

Since launching in 2014, PatientPop offers medical practices an all-in-one marketing platform to help them scale operations. Lacey Plache, a data product manager with the company, weighed in on how the local tech scene can embrace more intentional efforts surrounding diversity. 

 

Are you seeing a concerted effort from the broader LA tech community to make tech teams more diverse?

In order to make teams more diverse, it is key to build environments that support diversity. From what I have seen, tech companies — many of which are newer companies — are embracing the opportunity to incorporate best diversity practices as they develop.

For example, there's a lot of buzz right now about encouraging women in tech and I've seen a surge in groups emerging to support them. PatientPop has a group within our technology department dedicated to culture and diversity whose purpose is to increase the breadth of viewpoints to facilitate ideation and creativity. We also have a company-wide Women's Resource Group which celebrates our achievements and promotes career development.

The fact that many tech companies offer working environments that are conducive to working parents, such as flexible hours, the option to work from home and generous leave policies, certainly helps attract women.

PatientPop has a group within our technology department dedicated to culture and diversity whose purpose is to increase the breadth of viewpoints to facilitate ideation and creativity.”

Aside from being more conscious about who they’re hiring, how can tech companies become more diverse and accepting of all cultures?

Having flexible policies that allow people to work productively and still adhere to their personal obligations.

Sponsoring and participating in events that demonstrate diversity in tech and encouraging diverse team members to represent the company at industry events. Doing outreach to young people in high school and college to shape perceptions about careers in tech, including the need for and welcoming of diversity in tech. Examples could range from participating in career days to hosting special events or competitions to offering internships.

 

science 37 healthtech startup los angeles california
photo via science 37
Bo Roff-Marsh
Director of Test Engineering

Headquartered in Playa Vista, Science 37 is a healthtech startup working to make clinical trials accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical location. Founded in 2014, the company’s unique onboarding process creates lasting relationships across departments, helping new employees become comfortable more quickly — and building a sense of camaraderie in the process.

 

Are you seeing a concerted effort from the broader LA tech community to make tech teams more diverse?

Yes, I think this is happening in LA, especially in Silicon Beach. Here at Science 37, for example, we're solving tough problems, so we need smart folks. To find the optimal solutions, we also need people who think differently — people who approach problems from different perspectives. So diversity of thought is critical for us, and this leads us to recruit people from all different backgrounds. We have a mix of genders, cultures, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds.

We're solving tough problems, so we need smart folks. To find the optimal solutions, we also need people who think differently — people who approach problems from different perspectives.”

Aside from being more conscious about who they’re hiring, how can tech companies become more diverse and accepting of all cultures?

LA is the best place to forge innovation because we have people from all walks of life. Traditionally, and especially in the original Silicon Valley, tech looked for people in the tech industry. Why don’t we come up with some cross-training programs? We can reach out to areas where the tech industry has not been a popular career choice for younger or older generations. The city can encourage small startups to go into less affluent areas by giving tax breaks, providing safer streets and affordable housing.

 

How does Science 37 encourage collaboration across departments, personal backgrounds and experience levels?

Being inclusive and transparent is the key. Leadership and HR might need to facilitate and create examples to form the atmosphere and culture. Everybody wants to feel welcome and belong. At Science 37, all new hires start on one of two days in a month. When I started, there were 12 of us and we formed a strong camaraderie. Most of us work in different departments, and we represent a variety of cultures, but we get together regularly to share different perspectives from different corners of the company.

Even if you hire diversely, if the team doesn't actually get together, the company is not diverse. Unless the company has a culture of being inclusive and transparent, people end up siloed, seeking comfort in like-minded people. It's important to invite everybody and give them a heartwarming welcome, talk about diversity openly and create a safe environment for people to voice their concerns.

 

nom los angeles adtech startup
photo via nom
Cyndi Otteson
VP Marketing @ NOM

DTLA-based NOM is a video technology company that harnesses data to offer companies contextual targeting across social media channels. Founded in 2014, the company’s portfolio of clients include Blizzard and Universal, among others.



Are you seeing a concerted effort from the broader LA tech community to make their respective teams more diverse?

The tech community still has a long way to go as far as diversity is concerned. While some companies are making an effort to hire more women and minorities, the effort needs to go beyond checking boxes and adjusting percentages. Companies need to embrace and celebrate diverse ways of thinking. Understanding cultural differences improves company morale and leads to better business outcomes.

While some companies are making an effort to hire more women and minorities, the effort needs to go beyond checking boxes and adjusting percentages.”


What are some obstacles standing in the way of making LA tech a more diverse place?

One of the biggest obstacles is that people and companies are reluctant to challenge the status quo. LA tech companies need to prioritize and celebrate diversity as a principle of their work culture. There needs to be buy-in from every level of the organization, not the just top-level executives.

 

Aside from being more conscious about who they’re hiring, how can tech companies become more diverse and accepting of all cultures?

Tech companies can become more inclusive by getting involved with social conversations, social justice and equality issues that are important to their teams. During the hiring process, CEOs should know that even though they have an African American woman on the team, she does not represent the voice of all African American women. Companies can make any team look diverse, but, ultimately, diversity is deeper than skin color and appearances. It's important to embrace all cultures and get to know people on a personal level.

 

the riveter coworking space for women
photo via the riveter
Amy Nelson
Founder & CEO

The Riveter is a coworking space with a focus on providing women-led companies with the resources to thrive. With a second office space opening in August, the company is working to establish itself as a champion for diversity in tech.

 

Are you seeing a concerted effort from the broader LA tech community to make tech teams more diverse?

We’re seeing LA’s tech community start to make a shift toward increased diversity and inclusion, but the subtle shifts aren’t enough. We’re mostly seeing change happen at a grassroots level with smaller companies and venture capital firms taking up the charge to provide more opportunities to underrepresented. For example, Backstage Capital Founder CEO Arlan Hamilton built a venture capital fund from the ground up, and she did it while homeless. Started from scratch in 2015, her fund is dedicated to minimizing disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are of color, women and/or LGBT.

We’re seeing LA’s tech community start to make a shift toward increased diversity and inclusion, but the subtle shifts aren’t enough.”

What are some obstacles standing in the way of making LA tech a more diverse place?

It’s not filling the pipeline of talent, because there’s plenty. It’s actively holding on to that talent, actively opening more access to companies that understand its economic power and funding more companies with founders who are women, people of color or gender diverse.

 

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