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Obama pushes tech startup community for more diversity

Kenneth Corbin | Aug. 7, 2015
If startups in the tech sector and other high-growth industries are going to continue to emerge and thrive, the business landscape must become a more inclusive environment, one that is more welcoming of women, minorities and regions outside major urban and university centers, the White House is warning.


Credit: flickr/Steve Jurvetson

If startups in the tech sector and other high-growth industries are going to continue to emerge and thrive, the business landscape must become a more inclusive environment, one that is more welcoming of women, minorities and regions outside major urban and university centers, the White House is warning.

"We've got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot," President Obama said this week in remarks at the White House. "The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban. They might never set foot in Silicon Valley. We've got to unleash the full potential of every American -- not leave more than half the team on the bench."

Obama kicks off first White House Demo Day

Obama spoke at the first-ever White House Demo Day, an event that brought a handful of entrepreneurs to Washington to showcase the products, services and applications they are trying to build businesses around.

The White House marked the occasion by announcing a string of commitments from businesses, investors, cities and universities aimed at furthering what the administration is calling "inclusive entrepreneurship."

Several leading players in the tech sector joined with the White House effort, offering various pledges to enhance diversity in the workforce. Amazon, Microsoft, Pinterest and Xerox, for instance, are each committing to consider a diverse range of candidates when interviewing for senior leadership positions. Intel pledged to invest $5 million over the next five years in a partnership with Georgia Tech to fund research projects aimed at drawing women and minorities into the engineering field. IBM is planning to expand its partnership with the Girls Who Code program.

More than 100 engineering deans have committed to step up their efforts to recruit a more diverse student body.

Obama noted that startups and young companies collectively account for nearly 40 percent of new hires, but cited studies finding that less than 3 percent of venture-backed firms employ a woman as a CEO, and not even 1 percent were founded by an African American.

"Yet we've seen again and again that companies with diverse leadership often outperform those that don't," Obama said. "That's the market that is out there -- not just here in the United States, but globally. So that lack of participation from everybody isn't good for business."

Top venture-capital firms are getting in on the act, as well. More than 40 VC firms, including the likes of Kleiner Perkins and Andreesen Horowitz, are committing to promote diversity in the startups they invest in, and have agreed to participate in an industry survey evaluating diversity both at the VC shops and their portfolio companies, with the results to be made public.

 

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