5 Ways to Close the VC Gender Gap with Erika James and Tyler Gallagher

Reduce unconscious bias via blind pitches. There is research that shows when evaluating talent (e.g. tryouts for symphony musicians) there is more diverse representation in who is deemed as having exceptional talent when try outs are conducted blindly. Modifying pitch competitions so that the entrepreneur’s demographics are not revealed may result in similar outcomes. As […]

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Reduce unconscious bias via blind pitches. There is research that shows when evaluating talent (e.g. tryouts for symphony musicians) there is more diverse representation in who is deemed as having exceptional talent when try outs are conducted blindly. Modifying pitch competitions so that the entrepreneur’s demographics are not revealed may result in similar outcomes.

As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika James, the John H. Harland Dean of Goizueta Business School. Under her leadership Goizueta remains one of the top business schools in the nation with an upward trajectory in student career success and faculty thought leadership. As an award-winning educator; published researcher on organizational behavior, crisis leadership, change management and racial diversity; and respected leader within the business community, James places an emphasis on what higher education can do to be of service to industry, and espouses the intrinsic correlation between virtuous business practices and societal benefit. She is committed to establishing an equal playing field across gender and race and, in 2014, was honored by the National Diversity Council. James currently sits on the Board of Survey Monkey. She holds a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, and received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pomona College of the Claremont Colleges in California.

Thank you so much for joining us, let’s jump right in. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what you or your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?

At Goizueta Business School we strive to cultivate an academic environment that encourages students of all backgrounds, experiences, and academic pathways to pursue their career passions — and to collaborate as a means of achieving such pursuits. Part of my role as Dean is to serve as the connective tissue among all pockets of the business school community, connecting students, faculty, alumni, and business leaders to one another and to meaningful opportunities, and bridging academia and industry in order to shape successful innovators and entrepreneurs who, together, will drive significant societal impact.

Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap, and explain?

1. Reduce unconscious bias via blind pitches. There is research that shows when evaluating talent (e.g. tryouts for symphony musicians) there is more diverse representation in who is deemed as having exceptional talent when try outs are conducted blindly. Modifying pitch competitions so that the entrepreneur’s demographics are not revealed may result in similar outcomes.

2. Facilitating and encouraging more women to serve in positions where they can invest in start-ups. Right now, Venture Capitalists are largely men and the networks that exist oftentimes unintentionally create more opportunities for male entrepreneurs to have access to VC funding. If there were more women investors their networks may likely be more accessible to women entrepreneurs in the same way.

3. Nothing beats results. All entrepreneurs (male and female) need a track record of success to gain the confidence of investors.

4. There is some research suggesting that there are gender differences in risk tolerance levels. For the investor and the would-be entrepreneur there is considerable risk. By finding opportunities to encourage small risks earlier in the lives of girls and women, by the time we get to more sizable risks associated with the start-up scene we may have forged a culture of women who are ready to assume the risks of entrepreneurship.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As an educator, I believe that education is the great equalizer and so any movement I would inspire would have education at its roots. Over the years I have come to realize that our higher education system has not really changed. It is still heavily rooted in a residential system with tenured faculty and a focus on a set of general education requirements that include language, math, science and history at its core. There is certainly value for a subset of people for this educational model and for this content. But the current education system is slowly (and in some cases not so slowly) being disrupted in ways that are less transparent to those of us who are firmly rooted in our traditional education model.

The movement I would inspire is in higher education and would entice, if not require, college-level educators to spend a sabbatical in a completely different industry or sector to see first-hand how other industries do things, what skills are needed, what technology exists, how people learn differently, etc. We have to break away from what we know and from what we are comfortable with in order to be prepared for societal changes, much less to lead society. Right now, in many ways I think colleges and universities are being led, rather than leading. It’s time we shift that dynamic.

Who’s a female entrepreneur/ VC you respect and why?

I’m inspired by people that I know and/or products with which I have first-hand experience. A couple of years ago I bought my husband a 23 and Me DNA kit and was fascinated by what he was able to learn about himself from the results that came back. I recently sent away for my own kit. The opportunity for this technology to fundamentally change one’s health-related behaviors, and potentially inform medical practices and findings is exciting. When I learned that the founder of 23 and Me is a woman, Anne Wojcicki, I smiled! Her product is changing the world in a profound way.

What do you think is the purpose and real impact of VC funds who focalize their work in women and minorities?

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for having VC funds focalized on women and minorities is the potential to create a critical mass of women and minority businesses. Until they are no longer a novelty, it will be difficult for investors to feel comfortable with women and minority entrepreneurs and businesses. Critical mass is important. When we talk about token women and minorities as individuals in companies the data have shown that we need to have close to 30% representation before some of the deleterious effects of token status subside. I suspect a similar percentage is true for the demographics of our entrepreneurship and VC ecosystem.

Can you share with us an anecdote about the real impact you’ve had in this field?

I am neither an entrepreneur nor a VC, but as the dean of a business school I have access to both. And, I have tried to be intentional at setting up opportunities for these groups to convene. Within Goizueta Business School for example, we have supported and/or created several initiatives that bring entrepreneurs, both budding and established, together with the investor community.

Although my interactions and efforts in this regard are certainly not limited to just women and minorities, I’m frequently sought out by women and/or minority individuals and groups to help facilitate direct access to investors or other opportunities. This is a role I take very seriously.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Lin Manuel-Miranda is a creative genius. His ability to think and act outside of stereotypes and traditional boundaries is inspiring. He has a way of turning things on its head which is counter to what is expected and I desire to do that within the context of higher education, specifically business education.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

About The Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and Dubai focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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