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Image / Editorial

Never Judge A Pitch By Its Cover

by Bill O'Sullivan
02nd Apr 2014

A new study carried out by Harvard Business School shows that physical appearance and gender play significant roles when it comes to the success of pitches made to venture capitalists. The start-up landscape is known to be a male-dominated one, with only 11% of firms founded by women receiving venture capital funding according to the Dow Jones Venture Source. This makes it a relatively new environment rife with gender biases. Pitches form the make-or-break pivotal point in the start-up game, so their success rate is of fundamental importance in securing investors and money.


The study carried out a controlled experiment where identical business-plans were narrated by either male or female voices, while each recording was accompanied by a photo of the supposed speaker. ?Respondents chose the plans presented by males 68% of the time,? the report concluded. Attractive men registered as being the most successful, with 42% of the success accounted for by gender, whilst physical attractiveness (as rated by those looking at the photos) accounted for a 36% increase in pitch success.

Aside from illustrating that we’re far from achieving a totally level playing field, it comes as no surprise that young, good-looking men fare better at pitches than women. What the study itself concludes is that this new research allows women to know where they stand – the parameters and the obstacles they face when it comes to making a successful pitch. Physical attractiveness for instance has no impact when it comes to female pitches the study showed, and can even serve the inverse function of diminishing the pitch from the viewer’s point of view.

The study could be interpreted as arguing in favour of quotas and populating emerging male-dominant fields (such as the start-up world) with women. This goes back to the idea of rational discrimination, where someone bases an opinion or decision on what they are familiar with. Introducing women into areas where they are a minority would make it so that the preconceived image of the entrepreneur or the start-up geek as an attractive man or a hoodie-clad boy, would slowly begin to lose its power. It would essentially positively decrease the power of stereotype.

Pitching is a phenomenon that seems to be of ever-more interest in gender studies, mainly through the novelty of the start-up arena, as well as the idea of public speaking and successful pitching for the fairer sex who, whether because of education or because of preconditioned notions, have (it would seem) a little more ground to cover before they can take to public speaking and pitching with the ease with which men do.

Tomorrow we have an interview with Broadly Speaking’s Margaret E. Ward on this subject.

Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna?