dot.LA Summit: Going Beyond Lip Service on Diversity and Inclusion is ‘A Matter of Respect’

Pledges to boost diversity and inclusion are widespread in the tech and startup world, but the industry chronically fails to realize its own goals.

That’s no coincidence. The venture capital world, which provides much of the capital fueling fledgling startups, remains a boys club with a bias towards white male founders. And that bias has a ripple effect, warping industry hiring practices and decision making. The problem is repelling workers, too, as post-lockdown resignations skyrocket and companies weigh new policies, such as remote work and hybrid schedules, to retain staffers.

“It’s about being able to show up at work as your full self, said Ricardo Vazquez, executive officer at the mayor’s Office of Economic Development, in a dot.LA Summit panel on building diversity and inclusion within startups and larger firms.

“I’m Mexican American. I can’t just leave that in my apartment, so that means creating a space where I feel comfortable being Latinx and being Mexican American,” Vazquez said.

The discussion was hosted by Form senior program manager Andrea Zak and also featured Leila Lee, the mayor’s director of small business and entrepreneurship, and AnnenbergTech program lead Calvin Selth. The talk comes as employees in the tech industry press their employers to go beyond the usual lip service on inclusion.

Just last week, members of Netflix’s trans employee resource group organized a walkout over the streaming giant’s handling of Dave Chappelle’s standup special, “The Closer.” Friday’s panel touched on Netflix’s bungled response.

“I think for me it’s just a matter of respect. I think we kinda lost that,” said Lee. “And I think at Netflix, there was a little bit of a lack of respect, in my opinion,” she added.

And expectations continue to evolve. “We’re seeing more employees expecting more alignment between their own values and the social impact missions of their companies,” said Selth.

“You can’t be stuck in the 90s or old notions of diversity, you have to continue. We’re not having a Thanksgiving conversation with our uncle. We’re talking about how we’re going to run our business and impact peoples’ lives,” he added.

Lee argues this is an area where startups actually have an advantage. It’s “where startups can really make a whole lot of difference at creating a culture that really respects each person,” she said.