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Surprise: In Fundraising, It's the Men Who Get Objectified

When it comes to pitching investors, a new study finds it's the men -- not the women -- who should be concerned with their appearance.
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Finally, some good news for female founders: If you're looking to raise money, it makes no difference how attractive you are. No time to get your hair trimmed, your teeth whitened, or your favorite dress dry-cleaned? No problem! Venture capitalists don't care.

Yes, I'm being a bit over the top here. But a recent report from the Proceedings of the National Academy on Sciences shows that when it comes to women entrepreneurs, their chances of success in making a pitch are not affected by how good-looking they are perceived to be.

Instead, when it comes to fundraising, men are the ones who ought to worry about being objectified. The researchers--Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School, Laura Huang of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Sarah Wood Kearney and Fiona E. Murray of MIT's Sloan School of Business--analyzed three pitch competitions, in which about 90 entrepreneurs presented. The researchers asked 60 angel investors, who didn't know which pitches would eventually be successful, to rate the physical attractiveness of the entrepreneurs. It turned out that "attractive" male entrepreneurs were 36 percent more likely to win a prize in the competition than other men. 

"Emotional" Women vs. "Logical" Men

Unfortunately, for women, that's about the only encouraging news (if you can call it that) from the research. Because regardless of how attractive they may or may not be, another study showed just how far women have to go in persuading an audience of the value of their business ideas.

For this study, the researchers asked 194 people to watch a pitch video, which was narrated by either a male or a female voice. The scripts for the videos were exactly the same whether it was a man or a woman doing the pitching. 

The pitches narrated by guys were significantly more likely to be funded. Some 68 percent of people said they'd fund the man, but only 32 percent said they'd fund the woman.

Even more galling, the pitches made by men were judged to be more "persuasive," "fact-based," and "logical." Even though the scripts were exactly be same. Think about it: Even when a man and a woman are making the exact same argument, it's judged as more "fact-based" or "logical" coming from a man. In this case, it didn't matter how old the viewer was, or what his or her gender was.

That's something to remember next time you hear that men are more "logical" than women--that even when men and women are objectively being equally "logical," most observers will rate the man as more logical. The problem with women's ability to be "logical" (as opposed to emotional) may originate in the person doing the judging, not the woman doing the pitching. (Or, as our tech team is sometimes moved to comment: PICNIC. As in, "Problem in chair, not in computer").

One possible mitigating factor could be that the people watching the videos weren't professional investors, although they might be representative of those who could invest as friends-and-family or as crowdfunders. One could hope that professional investors would be less biased, although given the fact that 4.2 percent of all venture money goes to women, that doesn't seem terribly likely. 

Last updated: Apr 8, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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