A group of researchers in Sweden recently found that there is a huge gap in the perception of male and female entrepreneurs by government venture capitalists (VCs) – surprise, surprise! They were given access to decision-making meetings of these VC’s, and were able to observe the language of the process. And there they found that- “stereotyping through language underpins the image of a man as a true entrepreneur while undermining the image of a woman as the same.” The fact that the VC’s were often swayed by gender stereotypes did affect the allocation of the funding a great deal. Women entrepreneurs received 25% of the amount they applied for, compared to 52% for men. A whopping 53% women had their applications dismissed, while the number was 38% for men.
As you can see from the above image, language used to describe applicants of each gender were vastly different. Entrepreneurial potential of men was automatically assumed as greater than that of women. The perception of their youth even, was different. Youth for men was viewed favourably, but for women was considered as inexperience. Arrogance or aggression in men was found promising, but women’s excitement and experience were peppered with discussions about their emotional shortcomings. The presence of caution in both genders was described very differently, evidently to the detriment of women.
It is surprising how one variable, which is gender, can influence the perception of the same trait or characteristic in different ways. The stereotypes that surround each gender colour our impressions to the extent that we apply them in unrelated situations. While aggression of men did not bring in the question of their emotionality, women’s excitement somehow sparked a discussion on their emotional shortcomings, which is frequently attributed to women and is cited as a reason for their being ‘bad businessmen’ (another sexist word). Women entrepreneurs lacking knowledge of the market was not so much a fact than an assumption made on the basis of their pre-existing bank of stereotypical biases.
Arguably, these experienced VCs’ job is to sniff out fresh talent and promising opportunities, using a fair assessment technique while not allowing any to slip through their hands. How is it then that they fail to recognise the abilities of a whole gender, or the reason behind their own faulty assessments of it? How is it that people don’t see humans in front of them anymore? We just recognise their gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or the region they belong to, and simply make highly generalized assumptions and attach very distasteful and unfounded stereotypes to them. We never seek to find the individual behind these labels. We are content with labelling people, which dehumanizes them, making it easier to commit unspeakable atrocities-examples of which abound on our newspaper headlines daily. When shall we begin to see through this blindfold that obfuscates the humanity of people?
By Halak Pandya.
Halak is an undergraduate student pursuing literature. She aspires to be a writer. Halak also holds a Master Diploma in Bharatnatyam and a Black belt in Taekwondo. She describes herself as a luftmensch.