White House makes push to increase diversity in tech workforce

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The White House announced a series of new commitments Tuesday designed to increase diversity and entrepreneurship among people looking to find work in the tech community or start their own company.

Federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofits, venture capital firms, and companies big and small announced efforts to attract more people of all backgrounds to the U.S.’s tech boom.

“We’ve always had founders and innovators from every group, men and women, people of all racial groups, all ages, all parts of our country, but they haven’t always had access to the deep entrepreneurial resources and venture capital at the same rate as each other,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith said in a call with reporters Tuesday.

The efforts range from expanding coding and on-boarding programs to ensuring better recruitment and hiring practices, adding to the White House’s TechHire program and other financial commitments, like federal grant and training programs.

The announcement came in conjunction with the White House’s first Demo Day, which brought in more than 30 startup founders from across the country who showcased their innovations for President Barack Obama.

Agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department all announced efforts tied to the Demo Day. Those efforts included:

  • $4.4 million in awards to 88 startup accelerators through the SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund. The SBA also announced 27 prizes of each $50,000 to cities and Native American communities with the goal of enabling entrepreneurs to quickly create a business.
  • The NSF will scale up its Innovation Corps program, which provides entrepreneurship training for NSF-funded scientists and engineers. Similar I-Corps programs will be expanded or launched at the National Institutes of Health, the DOD, the National Security Agency, the Department of Agriculture, DHS and the SBA.
  • The Energy Department will train 100 undergraduate and graduate students in technology transfer and entrepreneurship over the next three years. It will also hold a “National Lab Week” at its 17 national labs, with the goal of exposing 1,000 young people to STEM and technology commercialization.
  • The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration will launch a $10 million grant program for state and local governments, nonprofits, universities and other organizations to help build capacity for people looking to create companies and obtain capital.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will extend its Patent Pro Bono program, which provides free legal assistance to in-need inventors who want to file a patent, to all 50 states.

On top of those efforts, 10 new cities and states Tuesday joined the TechHire Initiative, which helps communities partner with companies to find new ways to fill open technology jobs by recruiting and placing applicants based on their skill set. Akron, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; Cincinnati; Lynchburg, Virginia; Maine; New Orleans; Oakland, California; Pittsburgh; Rhode Island; and San Jose, California, joined the 20 cities initially announced in June. The administration plans to add another 10 cities and states by the end of the year.

Private companies announced a number of hiring commitments, including an effort by 40 venture capital firms to participate in a survey that will track diversity within their own companies as well as those they fund. Diversity within VC firms has been a hot button issue over the past year, with Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers winning a highly publicized gender discrimination trial against former senior partner Ellen Pao. Kleiner Perkins is one of the VC firms participating in the survey.

Tech companies also committed to a number of diversity-driven hiring practices, including the use of the “Rooney Rule,” a statute borrowed from the National Football League that states teams (or companies, in this case) must interview minority candidates for senior positions.

Cloud storage provider Box, social network Pinterest and document management company Xerox all committed to using the Rooney Rule to reach their own diversity goals. Amazon, Dropbox, IBM and Microsoft also announced efforts to increase their workforce diversity.

“To maintain our lead as the best place on the planet to start and scale a great company, we must ensure that vibrant startup ecosystems emerge in every corner of America, and that all Americans, including those underrepresented in entrepreneurship like women and people of color, are both encouraged and able to fully contribute their entrepreneurial talents,” the White House said in a fact sheet distributed Tuesday morning.

Read about all of the commitments and announcements on the White House’s website.

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Agencies, Commerce Department, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), Departments, Government IT News, Homeland Security, National Science Foundation, Small Business Administration, TechHire, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, White House
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