Don’t Underestimate Women Entrepreneurs

Many women entrepreneurs hold back from sharing the social goals of their ventures because they fear that they will not be taken as seriously as men. Because of this, female professionals attempt to avert this ‘gender penalty’ by asserting typically male characteristics associated with business success. Yet in the male-dominated world of venture capital, such strategies can backfire on women as they conflict with feminine stereotypes.

A new research from INSEAD and Warton finds that women can overcome this double-bind by playing up their social mission to help them mitigate gender biases. In some cases, venture capitalists tend to perceive female-led ventures to be less viable compared to male-led ventures, since women doesn’t fit the stereotype of entrepreneurs as aggressive and ambitious risk-takers.

Women entrepreneurs are often advised to project an aggressive, non-feminine persona when pitching their venture. While they may initially be viewed as more ‘competent’, women who violate social expectations of warmth and care typically suffer some form of backlash.

This is also somewhat disappointing in that it confirms other recent research showing that women have to conform to gender stereotypes to be considered influential or competent. The fact that this is happening is a consequence of persistent gender biases that continue to play an outsized role in venture capitalism. While this research shows that women are judged differently to men, the silver lining is that those in the field of entrepreneurship can use this to their advantage.

“However, if it is not authentic or if it is over-used, this same social impact frame may be viewed with scepticism and backfire. It is also unlikely to change the stereotypes that underlie discrimination, and may even reinforce them,” warns Matthew Lee, Assistant Professor of Strategy at INSEAD. For this reason, such a framing strategy should probably only be used by women entrepreneurs with a genuine social mission.


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