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5 Ways to Close the VC Gender Gap with Melissa Cheong and Tyler Gallagher

We need to start telling girls at an early age that they can cultivate their own brand of leadership in conjunction with companies ensuring that women are represented at all levels within their organizations, at the entry-level as well as within management. The wage gap between men and women needs to disappear, sending the message […]

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We need to start telling girls at an early age that they can cultivate their own brand of leadership in conjunction with companies ensuring that women are represented at all levels within their organizations, at the entry-level as well as within management. The wage gap between men and women needs to disappear, sending the message that one group is not valued in the workforce more than the other. Both of these two points will help to eliminate the subconscious social biases that serve to limit women in their career trajectories. They will also ensure that women continue to have a seat at the table throughout various stages of their career progression, given that equal economic earning potential in their families should be made possible in a merit-based system, rather than having their earning power be limited by their gender.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Cheong, the Managing Partner of Blackhorn Ventures which invests in entrepreneurs who are improving resource efficiency with science and engineering-based market solutions. She was the Chief Investment Officer at ZOMA Capital, the private family office of Ben and Lucy Ana Walton, where she oversaw the management of the family’s various investment activities and has twice been named by Trusted Insight as one of the “Top 30 Family Office Chief Investment Officers.” Based in Colorado, Melissa received an MBA from Columbia Business School and is an in-demand speaker on social and environmental impact investing issues.


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?

When looking at new investment opportunities we make it a priority to target founders who demonstrate high levels of grit and tenacity. In general, the women working in our sectors tend to be extraordinarily impressive having gone through challenging technical programs and intense career paths where, more often than not, they’ve been in a minority position which requires them to develop an above-average level of resilience. Currently, within our existing investment portfolio gender diversity representation is particularly striking given the fact that our primary focus is on industrial technology-focused companies, which arguably have an even lower rate of female representation than within the broad umbrella of venture backed technology start-ups.

6 out of 22, or 27% of portfolio companies have female founders or co founders. 17 out of 22, or 77% of portfolio companies have female representation on the management team or at the senior level. 11 out of 22, or 50% of portfolio companies have female representation at the board level.

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

1.Cultivate leadership skills starting at a young age for girls, empowering them to believe that the “sky is the limit”

2. Ensure that organizations make an effort represent gender diversity at all levels within their labor workforce, even if it means that they need to work a little bit harder to get there

3. Work to promote gender pay parity policies and practices for employees of all levels, eliminating the wage gap that plague a broad range of industries

4. Make it possible for women to remain in the workforce by creating more thoughtful and supportive family friendly family-leave policies, and more flexible return to work schedules

5. Shift cultural norms so that men can share a more equal distribution of broader home responsibilities for their families

We need to start telling girls at an early age that they can cultivate their own brand of leadership in conjunction with companies ensuring that women are represented at all levels within their organizations, at the entry-level as well as within management. The wage gap between men and women needs to disappear, sending the message that one group is not valued in the workforce more than the other. Both of these two points will help to eliminate the subconscious social biases that serve to limit women in their career trajectories. They will also ensure that women continue to have a seat at the table throughout various stages of their career progression, given that equal economic earning potential in their families should be made possible in a merit-based system, rather than having their earning power be limited by their gender.

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. 🙂

At Blackhorn, our mission is to leverage technology to accelerate broader resource efficiency in large industrial markets within the Transportation, Energy and Built Environment sectors. I think that my hope would be for a resource efficiency movement to sweep through the broader economy, pushing traditionally and historically wasteful sectors to use less to make more. It wouldn’t even need to happen overnight, as I know that change is sometimes hard and requires transition in order to yield more effective outcomes. As long as there was steady momentum and broad social consensus that this was just a better way to do business for all stakeholders, I would be satisfied.

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

One of my absolute role models in business is a woman named Helen Leong. Her resume matches many of the top entrepreneur/VC’s out there: an immigrant from China accepted into Stanford at 17, receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in physiology. She spent sixteen years at Stanford as a teacher and biomedical researcher, became the managing director of a biotech VC firm and then served as chairman and CEO of a biotech company. Oh, did I mention that all of this happened in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s? Helen was a true pioneer. At a time when women, especially women of color, were practically nonexistent in business and finance, Helen thrived and turned her success into great philanthropic pursuits as well. I know all of this because in addition to being an amazing woman, Helen Leong is also my great aunt. She’s 93 years old and just as vibrant and inspiring today as she was 60 years ago.

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

I believe that in order for women to truly become successful and effective leaders, they need to be mentored and supported by both women and men. And in that same vein, they should be challenged and pushed to excel within a peer community made up of both genders. I fear that by isolating a group based on gender or even race, we are aren’t fully challenging them or allowing them to push their leadership potential within the realities of the broader market. That being said, there is a case to be made that funds which focus exclusively on women and minorities might be able to generate alpha by targeting and mentoring a pool of overlooked human capital.

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

On numerous occasions, I’ve worked with younger women who suffer from what I sometimes refer to as “imposter syndrome.” I think that there is a tendency to second-guess one’s skills and talents, based on the belief that they are seemingly not qualified for their role or responsibilities. The confidence factor can be so limiting and I try to encourage the women around me not to doubt themselves and to try and embrace their skills and qualifications. It is really amazing how confidence can really play such a tremendous role in generating improved outcomes in the workplace. This is something that I always work to cultivate with the women who have worked with me — Not to question their own abilities and to trust their intuition and judgment in those most critical moments.

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. 🙂

I think that this might be Oprah Winfrey, as she has seemingly done it all and I have tremendous respect for her and how she serves as a role model for women and girls.

Thank you for all of these great insight!

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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