It’s not often that a successful entrepreneur, author, venture capitalist, and CEO will take time out of his or her vacation to talk with a chatty lady from Wisconsin. However, Lisa Calhoun, who wears all of the aforementioned hats (and more – minus being a chatty lady from Wisconsin…that’s all me) took the time to pace outside of an Arizona golf course to have a conversation with me about natural bias, the redundant narratives surrounding successful women, how millennials are changing the workplace, and how she takes many lessons from Buddhist teachings in balancing her hectic life.
As we talked over the phone, this conversation is more focused on podcast than video. Take a listen below, or watch a brief video introduction:
Lisa’s readiness to take time to speak with me is one example of her overall emphasis on serving others. This is one of the reasons she has been so successful as a venture fund capitalist, and was the first woman to start a venture capital fund in Georgia. She is an expert at finding opportunities to help her clients, and is dedicated to creating spaces in the workplace for those whose voices might not be as recognized in the traditional business market.
Along with her impressive achievements in the venture capital world, Lisa also started Write2Market, a tech public relations firm. She is the author of How You Rule the World: A Female Founder’s Survival Guide, an advisor to Women Who Code, and an Atlanta Techstar mentor.
Lisa studied professional writing and Russian at Baylor University, and went on to earn her MBA from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Instead of obsessing about potential career paths at the beginning of her collegiate career, she took college as an opportunity to explore things she was passionate about, ultimately discovering her passion for service and entrepreneurship.
As the founder of Valor Ventures, Lisa serves her customers by finding them profitable investment opportunities. She also began an initiative called Startup Runway Atlanta that aims to stimulate entrepreneurial opportunities for women and minority groups.
Data from the US Census indicates that Georgia is number one in the nation for yielding female entrepreneurs, and number two for yielding black entrepreneurs. Lisa explains that much of this is due to the state’s demographics; Georgia’s population is 30.5% African American, over twice as large as the national average of 12.6%.
However, she suggests that there is even a more prominent reason for the emergence of entrepreneurs from minority groups and from women in Georgia:
“I think there is, in a conservative business climate, the feeling that African American entrepreneurs and women can’t get ahead as fast as they’d like to…that exists. And it creates this different landscape for a minority entrepreneur in Georgia to say ‘I can’t change the culture. But I can do my own thing!'”
Although individuals from minority groups may feel inhibited in the current business climate, Lisa claims this mobilises them to create entrepreneurial spaces where they have great chances of success.
One reason the working world is often not accommodating of diversity is what Lisa describes as “natural bias.” This is the concept that people want to surround themselves with others who are like them so their opinions are supported, and they can connect with coworkers based on similar beliefs or backgrounds. As the working world is a bit (or overwhelmingly) run by white men, business professionals want to surround themselves with those who are similar to them, creating an isolating environment for minorities and women. In Lisa’s conception, this is not a malicious inclination, but one motivated by subscious tendencies.
Yet, white men are certainly not the only individuals who are influenced by natural bias. Lisa says she has been guilty of this herself. She recognizes a certain dynamic when she is in meetings or conversation with all women, and how that can shift when a man enters the room. She fights this natural inclination to create a team where she is similar to her C-Suite or employees by actively striving to foster an inclusive workplace. And ultimately, she explains how this creates better ideas and improves the business overall.
I provide more research on the state of diversity in today’s workplace and the proven benefits of promoting an inclusive office culture. Here’s a preview:
- Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. Source
- Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians. Source
As a woman in a male-dominated field, Lisa is exposed to the many redundant narratives surrounding women in the business world. Instead of beating her over the head with the tired question of what it is like to be a woman in a mostly male field, we talked about what may be more appropriate questions to start conversations about women’s roles in fields such as venture capital. Basically, I asked Lisa to come up with a question she thinks should be asked…I’m literally outsourcing my one job as The Conversationalist.
Although so much focus is put on gender with these discussions of her role as a woman in the field, She explains how gender really doesn’t have anything to do with how successful one will be:
“This isn’t about your gonads, this is about training your mind.”
I’m nominating that as the quote of the year. Find that on bumper stickers soon when I start selling merch for The Conversationalist.
Listen to the podcast to hear more about how millennials are changing the narratives surrounding employment on their own terms, attempting to balance work and life, and how Lisa’s definition of success is influenced by her Buddhist practices.
Thank you for listening and reading! And of course, thank you to Lisa for stepping outside of that beautiful Arizona golf course to have this enlightening conversation.
Speak to you soon,