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Melinda Gates' VC firm invests $50 million to boost diversity in tech across the US

Starting with Chicago, Pivotal Ventures will work with three cities outside of Silicon Valley that it hopes will become inclusive tech hubs.

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Melinda Gates' Pivotal Ventures will invest in creating inclusive tech hubs, starting with Chicago.

Angela Lang/CNET

Creating a more inclusive tech industry could start outside Silicon Valley. At least that's the approach Melinda Gates' Pivotal Ventures is taking with a new $50 million initiative to foster inclusive tech hubs around the country. It's called Gender Equality in Tech Cities.

In the coming five years, Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company Gates founded in 2015, will go to work in three cities (two of which haven't been announced), corralling local governments, academic institutions, businesses, venture capitalists and nonprofits. The goal is to get more women, and particularly more women of color, working in tech, Pivotal Ventures said Tuesday. 

"If these emerging tech hubs are supported to prioritize women's representation and inclusion as they grow, they will be better positioned to tap into the full range of local talent, while also helping create a blueprint for closing the industry's gender gap nationwide," Gates said in a post on LinkedIn.

The first city on the list is Chicago. Gates cited the Windy City as the home for an increasing number of VC firms, as well as a destination for large tech companies. For example, LinkedIn, Google and Salesforce have Chicago offices, to name a few. 

Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities is Pivotal's latest push to change an industry that's largely white and male. In October, Gates pledged $1 billion over the next 10 years toward expanding gender equality in the US. Tech has been increasingly scrutinized over its demographics -- tech jobs are some of the fast-growing, highest paying jobs around, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, but not everyone is getting in on that economic opportunity. What's more, there's concern that at a time when society-altering technologies like artificial intelligence are being developed, they're being developed without the consideration or input of women and people of color. An April 2019 report from the AI Institute delved into how a lack of diversity among teams building AI can lead to systems that perpetuate racial and gender bias.

Pivotal Ventures plans to address women in tech at various stages of their careers. A partnership with Cornell Tech's Break Through Tech and the University of Illinois at Chicago will aim to increase the number of women graduating with computing degrees. Likewise, global innovation agency SecondMuse will help recruit local startups, businesses, venture firms and the like to come together on objectives like setting goals around hiring and retention, finding funding for women entrepreneurs, and groups like  AI4ALL and digitalundivided will also help black and Hispanic women startup founders.

"As the tech industry continues to grow beyond Silicon Valley, stakeholders must actively start shaping the cultures of these emerging tech hubs to be supportive of women from the start," the statement said.