By Ila Ananya
She is young but inexperienced. Too cautious and does not dare. Good-looking and careless with money. Experienced, but worried.
Unsurprisingly, these are the words that venture capitalists in the Swedish government used to describe female entrepreneurs while they discussed 125 applications for funding.
Now let’s just pause for a second and look at the words they used to describe male entrepreneurs and their characters. Young and very promising. Arrogant, but very impressive competence. Cautious, sensible, and level-headed. Aggressive, but a really good entrepreneur.
By now, we must know exactly where this is going.
Recently, Malin Malmstrom, Jeaneth Johansson, and Joakim Wincet, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that they had been allowed to silently observe Swedish governmental venture capitalist decision-making meetings, and the kind of discussions they had about men and women applicants for funding. Essentially, they found that entrepreneurship potential was expressed in different ways in men and women: they had stereotypical images of women whom they believed had qualities opposite to those that are important to being an entrepreneur, while men were described, surprise surprise, as having skill because they were assertive, innovative, competent, and experienced.
Just their description of young male and female entrepreneurs should be enough — why were young men considered fully competent and raring to go, while young women were simply dismissed as inexperienced because of their age? Why were men praised for being arrogant, while women who spoke excitedly about their work seen as emotional and inexperienced? And why was cautiousness seen viewed differently based on the applicant’s gender?
With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that the study’s findings say that male entrepreneurs were preferred and given more funding than women. What they found should be startling, but it’s hardly surprising — we see enough of similar things happening in India, where companies have been unable to even do basic things like have more women on their boards. In India it’s dismissed as women not being “board-ready”, but a lot of that is simply an excuse.
We don’t know if the venture capitalists looking at applications are conscious of the difference in how they talk about men and women. Either way, it’s a signal that something needs to change desperately.