People

Coronavirus led this company to cut diversity staff. The protests prompted a reversal.

Thumbtack says it will invest more in remedying inequities — and start by hiring a new head of D&I again.

A protester holds up a sign at the George Floyd memorial

Worldwide demonstrations against police brutality are also putting pressure on companies to do more to promote diversity and inclusion.

Photo: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Thumbtack's co-founder Marco Zappacosta published a blog post on Friday. Like many tech CEOs, he took a stand "against injustice, racism and hate." Included was a pledge that his services marketplace would make practical changes, including recruiting black employees — the company currently has none in senior leadership — and hiring a new head of diversity, equity and inclusion.

But some of Thumbtack's promises weren't new initiatives, but rather reversals of course, a sign of rapidly changing priorities in the tech industry as a racial injustice crisis layers on top of a disease outbreak.

Until March, the company had a head of diversity and inclusion, as well as a D&I team member focused on recruiting. But Thumbtack laid them off along with 30% of the workforce. Now, in the wake of a Minneapolis police officer's killing of George Floyd and the subsequent demonstrations, Thumbtack says it will invest more in remedying inequities — and start by hiring a new head of D&I again.

"As the business has bounced back from the effects of COVID-19, which caused us to lay off one-third of our employees, a new Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is the only new position that has been approved," a Thumbtack spokesperson said. "We are intentionally making this our first before any others as part of a plan to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive team."

It's an about-face for the company, but not an entirely unexpected one. Diversity and inclusion efforts were already threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, as Protocol reported last month. With protests continuing around the country, many companies are waking to the realization they have a lot of work to do.

The venture capital community in particular, where black investors make up only 3% of all venture partners, is under pressure to diversify firm partnerships and invest in more founders from underrepresented groups. In the last week, firms have rolled out initiatives from increased office hours for black and Latinx founders to new funds, like SoftBank's $100 million opportunity growth fund, that are investing in underrepresented groups.

Before Thumbtack's announcement, the company's previous head of diversity and inclusion, Alex Lahmeyer, posted on LinkedIn that he had seen the number of D&I roles decline over the last few weeks.

"Frankly, I'm scared. Not for my own job search, but for the future of strategic, corporate DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] work that we saw being placed on a pedestal just a few months ago," he wrote. "While it doesn't surprise me, I'm upset that companies use DEI programs for PR strategy and then slash them like they're deadweight."

Lahmeyer told Protocol he doesn't plan to return to his former employer. "Thumbtack informed the former D&I team that a headcount would be reinstated, but I'm not interested in returning," he said in a statement.

But the tech industry's approach to diversity could be changing. Companies including Medallia, GitHub and The Infatuation have advertised D&I-related job opportunities in the past week.

Work opportunities have also rebounded for diversity and inclusion consultants, said Will McNeil, CEO of Black Tech Jobs, a recruiting platform. "We have seen a surge," he said. "Some due to our marketing and our Coffee, Tech & Opportunity event, but much of it has been pushed by the events on the ground related to police brutality and the protests. There has been a push to action."

McNeil is hopeful he can bring back staff members he had to furlough after clients started dropping at the beginning of the pandemic. "We are looking to do that in the next week or so," he said. "And we may have to hire some contract workers, too. I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

Update: A statement from Alex Lahmeyer was added shortly after publication.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

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Nat Rubio-Licht

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While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

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Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

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These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

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Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

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