Desperately Seeking Funding, Susan...

Ouch. I came across a Harvard Business Review article revently by a group of Swedish researchers (Malmstrom, Johansson and Wincent) – they recorded Venture Capitalists’ (VC) conversations and analysed how differently the VCs spoke about male and female entrepreneurs.

It’s uncomfortable reading…the language these VC guys used (and yes, no question, it will usually be guys) to describe male and females was radically different. (When writing this I accidentally wrote “tragically” instead of “radically” at first. Freudian slip? Maybe…but then maybe tragic is the right word.)

The research showed that the VCs produced typical stereotypes of women as having qualities opposite to those considered important for an entrepreneur and questioned the female entrepreneurs’ credibility, trustworthiness, experience and knowledge. On the other hand, the VCs had stereotypical beliefs about males that reinforced their entrepreneurial potential – the men were assertive, innovative, competent, experienced. Have a look at this summary :

It beggars belief. Youth for men is promising, yet youth for women is inexperience? Men are being praised for being aggressive, whereas women are being savaged for being emotional? Caution from men is good, yet caution from women is risk-averse? And of course you probably do not need to ask who got the funding…far more women than men had their funding applications dismissed, and of the rest that did get funding, yup, you’ve guessed it, the men got far more than the women.

This is unacceptable. When a funder holds in their hands the hopes and dreams of an entrepreneur and allows their biased gender viewpoints to potentially ruin that person’s dreams, it is just not on.

It’s fair to say there has been some recent snash in the comments section of the above article, disputing the validity of the research, questioning the statistical relevance, etc. Some of the comments may indeed be valid. But the hard facts are that inappropriate gender bias is insidiously prevalent in funding early stage female-led companies. I have been a VC. I am an investor. I see it. Every. Single. Day.

Waken up funders. Now. Women are 50% of the population and research shows that most of the economic growth globally is going to come from women from now on. I always encourage women to embrace their differences in business, encourage organisations to see that diversity and balance is massively important, but reading research like this hurts me – we have such a long way to go…

So what can we do? Rise up ladies, rise up. Get a bit of gender agitation going. Call people out. Loudly. Noise them up. Let’s keep working away to ensure that business support is both gender-appropriate and gender-specific for women and let’s get a lot more female business angels and female VCs investing in female-led companies. Onwards. Upwards. Perseverance wins though every time…

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