T H E S T Y L E O F
Blazer: Second Female €199, Trousers: Second Female €109. Top: American Vintage €39
What is it like to be active in the Dutch start-up ecosystem as an American woman of color? How can you contribute yourself to a more diverse and inclusive business environment? Meet Christina Caljé. She started as an investment banker on Wall Street and is now active as an investor. This year, Christina won the prestigious ‘Giving Back Award’, given by prince Constantijn van Oranje of the Dutch organization Techleap. ‘I prioritize investing my money, time and advice into start-ups with a diverse management team. Put your money where your mouth is’.
Christina was photographed at the office of House of Einstein in Amsterdam.
Photography: Nosh Neneh, Styling and make-up: Mei Ling Tan.
What did you inherit from your ancestors?
Advocating for yourself and operating at high performance is in my blood. I’m first generation born in the United States, though both of my parents immigrated to New York City in their youth. Really interesting stories of adventure and resilience, actually, so I guess I’ve inherited those traits from them as well.
My mother lived in Puerto Rico with my great grandmother for a number of years, while my grandmother had moved to New York City on her own in order to build a more prosperous life for herself and my mother. My father also led a very independent life early on, arriving in NYC from his native Suriname at 15 years old, leaving friends and family behind to pursue opportunity. It’s pretty humbling to think about how bold they were.
Politics has always played a big part in our home. I was aware of inequality in the world from an early age, particularly given the social justice that my parents instilled in me at the earliest age. My father, my mother and also my Chinese great-grandfather, were very politically active. They lobbied for a world with more social and economic equality in the forms of community activism and professional activities, leading non-profit organisations and protest initiatives. Their actions set the example for me, in terms of empathy and empowering human rights.
Only now do I see that my mission unconsciously corresponds to theirs.
Jumpsuit: Another Label €139
You worked as an investment banker at Wallstreet. How did your time at Goldman Sachs shaped you?
I have been a high potential since I was 5 years old. My childhood consisted of scoring high on national exams in order to get scholarships to fund private education at top schools. After my studies I had the opportunity to work as an investment banker on Wall Street, which was a dream for many, at the time. I liked the status and compensation – I was able to pay off my school debts, take my mother on luxury vacations and upgrade to a designer wardrobe.
But at the same time the opulence and superficiality started to frustrate and gnaw at me. Money creates money. Wealth is passed down from generation to generation. Bad behaviors were rewarded, as long as they generated money for the bank. Every day I was confronted with the fact that only a small group of people have access to the big money. I fundamentally believe that wealth should be the result of hard work and achievement, and thereby accessible to a wider group.
What does wealth mean to you?
I challenge myself to be commercial in everything I do. Women – and women of color in particular – are often undervalued. I want to overcompensate for that and advise others in my network to do the same. That is why everything I do has a commercial value, whether immediate or future.
For example, I find it important that I am paid a speaker fee when bringing my perspective to the diversity conversation, whether my contribution is as an inspirational keynote or discussing socio-economic dynamics on a panel of subject matter experts. Too often, the D&I topic gets zero budget carved out and we are all expected to donate our time to shift the perspective. That attitude needs to change, and I influence that shift, where I can.
It can be very easy to rationalize, particularly in the startup world, helping others for the sake of giving back or paying it forward. Yes, this is important, but we need to be deliberate and purposeful about negotiating an appropriate value exchange. That value exchange can be branding, network, experience, equity or cash; what suits you best. (Read: Christina won the prestigious Techleap ‘Giving Back Award’ in 2022 for her activities supporting and investing in underrepresented founders).
Cardigan: Second Female €159, Trousers: Another Label €99, Top: Nümph €69
You live with your family in Amsterdam. What is your perspective on the Dutch ecosystem in terms of equality?
Unfortunately I have to conclude that there is room for improvement, as there are still many blindspots in the Dutch view of diversity, and the urgency to take action beyond words. The sole lens is male / female, with no nuance on gender fluidity, and moreover, the conversation around representation in leadership and economic opportunity does not even include ethnic diversity.
As an American who has been navigating these conversations for 15 years since my banking days, it strikes me how immature the diversity conversation still is, overlooking a key aspect of ethnic diversity.
I do see that there has been a lot of movement in the past two years. Since the pandemic, black lives matter and initiatives such as #fundright (read: initiative for more gender equality when raising investments), the mindset seems to be slowly but surely changing. And, I would love to see some more movement on translating that awareness into action, from both a governmental and industry perspective. This is a major reason why I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and prioritise advising and investing in startups with diverse founder teams.
From banker to entrepreneur to investor. Why did you choose this path?
As an entrepreneur I have experienced how time consuming and frustrating the relationship with investors can be. Raising money, reporting, strategic compromises, there always feels to be an imbalance of power. I want to use my experience to improve the Dutch investment industry, more in line with the entrepreneur. I see that America is further along in this area.
By being an investor myself, I can also give something back to the community. Research shows that diverse teams perform better. There is a real commercial opportunity to exploit, here. I am now investing my own capital, but I am working on solutions to connect smart capital with start-ups that boast diverse management teams. Watch this space!
Blouse: Second Fermale €139 – Top: Minimum €30 – Trousers: Second Fermale €119
What does style mean to you?
My style icons are strong women who run their own business empires. Think Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Megan Markle and Jessica Alba. Their personal styles balance business but with feminine and sexy.
In this phase of my career, having successfully sold my company and moving to the next chapter, I am thinking a lot about legacy.
I notice that I am ready for a new style. I am stronger than ever and I want to radiate that. Moreover, I am more often than ever in front of the camera and on stages, so that also requires different looks, and lots of them, depending on the situation!
What I discovered through House of Einstein is that business looks don’t have to be boring. With deep colors or prints you create a business look that appeals. Furthermore, I have completely embraced suits in color and jumpsuits. The personal shoppers also have their fingers on the pulse of newest fashion trends, which is not my strongpoint. And, to keep it real, as a mom of two children in elementary school, having someone select outfits for me and send them straight to my house is such a time saver.
Blouse: Fabienne Chapot €119 – Trousers: Another Label €79
In the article ‘The style of’ we portrait Dutch changemakers about their core values, ambitions and clothing style.
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