Can Los Angeles tech treat women better?
Los Angeles continues to rise as a tech hub. Increasingly, Silicon Beach is compared to other large tech hubs as a city with a vibrant startup and tech economy. We even have a cleantech corridor in Downtown LA which contains the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) and La Kretz Innovation Campus, a 60,000 square foot building featuring R&D labs and a prototype manufacturing workshop. And in 2016, Los Angeles based startups received around $3bn in funding, a sixfold increase over 2012.
Yet, with this growth comes great responsibility. We have seen corporate culture issues in tech, including lack of funding for female or minority owned startups and fewer women in leadership or technical founding roles. So, a question that we hear frequently of late is: will Silicon Beach evolve socially before getting stuck in the same tech career trap?
Why work in tech?
Women like the intellectual challenges that a fast-paced tech or startup environment provides. They are drawn to robust compensation packages with equity upside, along with the opportunity to progress through the ranks faster than they might in traditional environments. And it is a little known fact that contributions to open-source code that come from women are accepted a bit more often than men when the submitter’s gender is unknown.
How can Los Angeles be better?
A startup economy has three main components: funding, workforce, and community. A startup’s ability to secure funding depends on the founders’ access to capital networks such as angel investment groups, accelerators, and incubators, the quality and scalability of their minimum viable product (MVP), and how well they can pitch and defend their business plan to potential investors. Since women can spot successful female founders, a good first step is to evaluate the demographics of our investors. Are they well qualified with diverse backgrounds? Are they willing to pass on investing in a friend in order to back someone with a superior product that is truly disruptive? Can they effectively evaluate a product that serves a primarily female audience or fixes a problem that mainly affects women?
In terms of workforce, Silicon Beach is full of passionate, diverse entrepreneurs and candidates. We can refute the argument that ‘there is a dearth of women in STEM’ because three of USA Today’s top five colleges for women studying STEM are located in LA county and UCLA has a large number of talented STEM graduates as well. Do we need more women in STEM and entrepreneurship? Then let’s partner with tech companies to visit colleges and universities across Los Angeles and show current undergraduates how far these areas of study can take them.
Community responsibility: current and future
The actions of today’s successful founders shape the future of opportunities for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. So we should ask ourselves what we are doing individually to improve our community. Are we helping founders learn how to hire the best people? Are we seeking out promising entrepreneurs and helping them with mock pitches, asking them tough questions so that they are prepared when they meet with potential investors? Are we helping to connect young founders with mentors? Are we judging the people we meet on their skill and the merits of their actions rather than their current social circle?
Can Los Angeles treat women better than big tech historically has? Absolutely. And it is up to us to do so.