Posted by Riya Roy
“It’s extremely nice what you are doing”, is a comment that was thrown at us a lot when we were trying to secure funding for our storybooks. Hi, we are The Irrelevant Project, and we create feminist storybooks for children. Our tech platform, weunlearn, works toward empowering adolescents with the knowledge and skills to lead gender-equitable lives. As a female-led endeavour, we have been witnessing instances of sexism in the entrepreneurship circle, and one of the most common stereotypes that has come our way so far, is the belief that women entrepreneurs are risk-averse. Pervasive and powerful, this prejudice prevents women entrepreneurs from securing funding for their businesses.
We have been told down the years that risk-taking is essentially a masculine trait. And though you may assume that with the strides feminism is making, this bias should have found its way to the bin by now, sadly you are wrong. It is still very much alive, but not kicking up a storm as it should. We are saying this from both experience and research that we have been looking into.
one of the most common stereotypes that has come our way so far, is the belief that women entrepreneurs are risk-averse.
When we were working toward securing funds for our books, we were told repeatedly how “nice” our project is. While that is a well-meaning compliment, but if you look at the context in which it is said, it hurts business (and feelings, of course!). We are putting in an insane amount of effort to create an inclusive world for little children to grow up in. The aim here is to make an impact to reduce negative stereotypes in multiple learning realms by empowering children to resist the script of biases, by developing awareness and critical thinking in them through the medium of fiction; the aim isn’t to be nice! Again, with weunlearn, we have seen that there are just too many questions asked when they realize that the business is female-led, especially questions about the tech person in place.
We aren’t alone in this. According to a Harvard, MIT, and Wharton study, both men and women investors are twice as likely to go for a pitch narrated by a male voice as compared to identical pitches with a woman’s voice. Apart from the shaky assumption of risk-taking being a biological trait, there is another equally precarious conjecture at play here which proposes that risk-taking is absolutely essential for success in business. Scholars suggest that something called “survivorship bias” causes this disproportionate focus on risks that worked, and conveniently ignores those that failed, typically because of their lack of visibility. Risk-taking, therefore, may be considerably hyped.
Let us look at the other stereotype again and try to understand it better to smash it well. Are women really risk-averse as people would want us to believe? And does being risk-averse have anything to do with biology? Science, in this case, seems to be on our side. There is a growing body of evidence which shows that women’s caution (if any) is caused because of their relatively disempowered status and not exactly biology. This suggests that risk-taking behaviours are not as simple and straightforward as we have thought for so long.
risk-taking behaviours are defined in a traditional way which is biased toward men. The situations where women have taken risks are not as well-studied or even defined.
Already disadvantaged compared to the men, women who have entered the workforce think twice before risking what little they have achieved. However, as our incomes increase, our tolerance for risk rises too. Study shows, 54 per cent of women who earn more than $200,000 are willing to take “a significant investment risk” to earn higher returns, compared to 32 per cent of the broader population of investors.
The research in the fields of social psychology, physiology, and medicine present other facts that need to be considered. The hormone associated with risk-taking behaviour is testosterone, though it is not a pre-determinant. Nonetheless, both male and female bodies produce testosterone. Furthermore, risk-taking behaviours are defined in a traditional way which is biased toward men. The situations where women have taken risks are not as well-studied or even defined. There is no regard given to the possibility that women may exhibit a risk-taking profile that is different from men and not actually be risk-averse.
These findings are significant for women-led businesses like ours that are looking for funding. There needs to be more awareness about such cognitive biases that work against women, because only then can business ideas be evaluated in terms of uniqueness, potential, and competence, instead of a social construct like gender.
Riya Roy leads the Creative Communications at weunlearn. She has previously written for Arré, LiveWire, NewLoveTimes, and the United Nations.
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