Startup database Crunchbase in April released some unsettling, if unfortunately not unexpected, data about who exactly receives venture capital money.
In 2016, $94 billion was invested in companies that had only male founders, while $10 billion went to businesses with at least one female founder. Not only that, but 17 percent of VC-funded startups are led by women, which is a number that has remained stagnant for the last five years.
And this kind of disparity doesn’t only exist in the United States.
To investigate the role that gender stereotyping plays in these types of decisions, a trio of Swedish researchers sat in on closed-door conversations between venture capitalists to get a better understanding of how they view the pitches brought to them by male and female entrepreneurs.
In Sweden, as a basis of comparison, one third of businesses are owned and led by women, but they only receive 13 to 18 percent of government venture funding.
Throughout the course of the experiment, the researchers chronicled the decisions made about 125 companies, 99 of which were pitched by men and 26 by women.
Describing their experiment in the Harvard Business Review, Malin Malmstrom, Jeaneth Johansson and Joakim Wincent wrote, “Aside from a few exceptions, the financiers rhetorically produce stereotypical images of women as having qualities opposite to those considered important to being an entrepreneur, with VCs questioning their credibility, trustworthiness, experience, and knowledge.”
And how did the men fare? “Financiers leaned on stereotypical beliefs about men that reinforced their entrepreneurial potential,” they explained. “Male entrepreneurs were commonly described as being assertive, innovative, competent, experienced, knowledgeable, and having established networks.”
So what are the phrases that the researchers identified that give voice to this financial divide?
Where men were “young and promising,” women were “young, but inexperienced.” When a man was “cautious, sensible and levelheaded,” a woman was “too cautious and does not dare.” When a male entrepreneur was “experienced but knowledgeable,” a women entrepreneur was “experienced but worried.”
Of the 125 pitches put to the VCs in the study, female entrepreneurs on average were given 25 percent of the amount of money they applied for, while men got on average 52 percent of the figure they wanted. Nearly 53 percent of their applications were rejected altogether, while that happened to only 38 percent of men.
According to recent data released by the Kauffman Foundation, 60.51 percent of new entrepreneurs were men and 39.49 percent were women in the United States last year. For all the gains that women do make in the business world, the comments recorded by the researchers in Sweden show in stark relief how much bias women still have to overcome.