There are people who sit around and wish their lives were different. Then there are people like Chacho Valadez.
One day in 2017, while he was waiting for customers to enter the Sprint store where he worked in Detroit, he summoned up the courage to reach out to one of his favorite venture capitalists on Twitter. Valadez had dreamed of working in VC and and followed several venture capitalists on social media. Above all, he admired Arlan Hamilton, who’d risen from homelessness to build Backstage Capital, a seed-stage VC fund investing in companies founded by women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.
That March day, Valadez direct-messaged Hamilton on Twitter asking for advice and the book recommendations she would give to an aspiring VC, Valadez wrote in a post on Medium. To his surprise, she responded, then followed Valadez back on Twitter. Soon after, Valadez tweeted about his dream to create a venture fund to invest in Latinx founders. Hamilton reached back out over Twitter, asking if he’d work for her part-time as an executive assistant.
Less than two years later, Valadez is a full-time investment apprentice and associate at Backstage Capital, which has invested more than $4 million in 100 companies founded by underestimated entrepreneurs. He’s living his dream, advancing economic and entrepreneurial opportunities every day for underrepresented groups.
In an interview with Quartz, Valadez explains how working for a female-led fund has sharpened his self-awareness, why he thinks pride is the biggest threat to men in America, and why he says men are lucky to be made uncomfortable by America’s drive for diversity and inclusion in business.
1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?
After seeing my mom and former co-workers getting passed over for promotions for reasons that made zero sense, I became much more aware of workplace gender inequality, before the Me Too Movement. I’ve also heard horror stories of sexual harassment prior to the Me Too Movement from a friend who had a man try to force himself onto her by throwing her on a couch and getting on top of her. When I started working for Backstage Capital in May 2017, I learned even more about this inequality through stories that our women founders would share with our investment partners, Arlan Hamilton and Christie Pitts.
Watching the movement as a man, I’ve learned in the midst of women’s pain, how incredibly courageous women can be in telling their stories so that their voices can be heard, no matter the cost to themselves. They do it for the greater good. They do it because they know they didn’t go through what they did in vain and they’re taking the negative connotation of that experience and flipping it and using it to encourage other women to use their voices. As a man of color in VC, I still have a privilege that women don’t, so I know I have a role to play in supporting the women in our community.
2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?
Yes, I absolutely identify as a feminist. I believe women should and will have equal rights. As a Mexican-American man, I know what it’s like to have to walk into a room and have to prove that I belong, and it’s frustrating. We are all created equal. Women, in the same way, walk into rooms and feel like they have to prove themselves as smart and capable. I see it especially in venture capital when they are asked to provide metrics well beyond what their white-male counterparts are asked, because they’re seen as inferior or unable to run a successful business.
3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?
As part of a team where as a male I’m outnumbered by some of the smartest women in Silicon Valley, I have ample opportunity to learn from and support my coworkers, who kick ass on a daily basis. Backstage Capital exists to fund traditionally underrepresented founders, including women. As an investment apprentice to our two women investment partners, I get to learn from two of the strongest women leaders I’ve ever met. I naturally champion their authority and thinking. They welcome my questions, and don’t judge my naivety when it comes to wanting to understand their unique struggles. I’m humbled to be a champion of their work, their vision, their collective voice. Just by walking the walk, learning from them, I’m showing others that learning from two female VCs is not a detriment in any way; it’s actually an advantage.
4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?
In my opinion, pride is the biggest threat to men in America today. When you’re proud and lack humility, you will not take the time to truly understand someone else’s experience in life. Pride comes before the fall.
Latinx culture has this idea of machismo, which is male chauvinism and pride. It’s strong in the culture to have men and women each do certain things. A simple example of this idea played out is that women are to clean and cook. Growing up, my mom had my brothers and me cleaning, doing laundry, and helping her cook, which are all things that a “woman is supposed to do.” I remember a specific time where a relative saw me cleaning dishes at home and told my mom that it’s a girl’s job to do that. My mom gave them an earful about how that’s not the way our house works and that her boys will not be chauvinistic.
5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what inhibits you from doing so?
I prefer setting an example to follow and asking hard questions. If I’m evaluating a company that has an all-male team of four, I ask them why they haven’t hired a woman. I see those gaps now that I didn’t before, and the way I evaluate companies has changed; it’s sharpened me. I recognize when companies don’t have women on their team they’re at at a disadvantage, and as an investor, it’s a red flag. Company culture forms surprisingly early on in an organization’s existence, and it’s very hard to course-correct as it grows. If you’re setting the precedent that women aren’t important or their voices don’t matter, that thinking will perpetuate with every woman they don’t hire.
6. Some men feel like they can’t win: They’ll be criticized by men for speaking up, and by feminists for not speaking loud enough. What would you tell these men?
Be true to yourself and the best way you communicate. Some men are very vocal about their opinions; they need to use their voice to speak up for women. There are some men who are more introverted, so they speak up in other ways like asking their boss why a female co-worker got passed over for a promotion. In my opinion, speaking up can come in different forms because not everyone’s voice is demonstrated the same.
We’re in the middle of a big shift in inclusion in American culture, and it’s going to be uncomfortable for men at times to grow and learn in that evolution. Embrace that discomfort. Make mistakes. Listen to others, and learn together.
7. If you could take back one thing you’ve said or done that contributed to bias at work or at home, what would it be? Why?
I was in a meeting recently with a woman and a man. The woman set up the meeting and brought her male co-worker with her. The man began by telling his story and asking me questions about mine. I found myself directly talking to him in giving my answers. Catching my foolish bias mid-meeting, I adjusted and made sure to address the both of them. It’s important to be present with everyone in a meeting. Sometimes bias is nearly invisible—catching it and adjusting can be seemingly minuscule, but it can make a big difference to the people you interact with.
8. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?
The best advice I received was from my dad and it was not verbal. Growing up and watching him interact with my mom taught me more about being a man than any words of advice could ever teach me. The level of love, respect, and dignity he gives my mother is abundant and unwavering.
My advice for young men today would be to be an ally for women, learn from them, and share with others when they contribute and do great work. My mom taught me how to stick up for myself and not let people walk all over me. My wife used to send me money orders when we first started dating so I could buy food, and then taught me about finances and making the most out of a dollar. After only a minimal interaction over Twitter and then a phone call, Arlan Hamilton saw something in me and took action on it before anyone else would, and it forever changed my life for the better. Christie Pitts teaches me daily how to have enthusiasm and take joy in your work. Men should help encourage women to be their best selves, because if you build up a woman, you’re building up an entire community.