Pitching your startup to venture capitalists is never easy, but it’s even harder if you’re a woman. That’s the result of a recent study published by researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School. Even if the businesses are identical, investors are more likely to throw money at a man than a woman.
The study had two key parts. The first looked at U.S. entrepreneurial pitch competitions over the course of three years and found that “male entrepreneurs were 60% more likely to achieve pitch competition success than were female entrepreneurs.” The second part isolated gender—to ensure that it wasn’t simply that men had better ideas or better pitches.
In this second part of the study, the researchers showed images of the ventures in question, but not the entrepreneur themselves. Instead, investors simply heard the person’s voice over the slides they were viewing. This allowed the researchers to swap out a male voice and a female voice on the same exact presentation. When investors were asked to chose a project, 68 percent of them chose to fund ventures voiced by men. Only 31 percent chose those voiced by women.
A third part of the study also found that the pro-male bias is even stronger if that man is attractive. The researchers conclude:
Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs.
It’s clear, from this work, that men have a quantifiable advantage over women when pitching their businesses—something many have suspected for a long time, but haven’t necessarily been able to prove. So the idea that women who work just as hard as men, who perform as well, and who produce equivalent work, will be treated as equals and be just as successful as their male counterparts seems to be wishful thinking.