Beastly Beauty

To get funding for a business idea, a combination of business plans and slides along with the five minute pitch has become the industry standard. That isn’t much time for entrepreneurs to get their ideas across so a lot depends on the presenter’s ability to influence and persuade the potential investor that they are THE ONE who should get the money.

There are more men entrepreneurs in the world than women and in the US there are almost double the number of male entrepreneurs. Only 11% of high growth potential businesses in the US with venture-capital backing have been founded or led by women, and ventures that are led by women have only received 7% of all venture funds. Given these numbers it’s hardly surprising that society views being an entrepreneur as a macho role with those business plans and investment pitches being fueled by testosterone.

Women can pitch too

Of course women are perfectly capable making entrepreneurial pitches but research shows that investors prefer to fund ventures that are pitched by attractive men. Initially that could seem surprising but let’s unpack it a bit. It could be because the majority of investors are men and they identify with that dishy guy making the pitch. But perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to blame this gender bias on the investors. Society in general favours attractive men who are considered more successful than those less endowed with looks so obviously a smart investor would want to put their money on the person who has the best odds of success.

It’s different for her

Decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not female candidates. Whether they are attractive or not, when making entrepreneurial pitches women are perceived as adopting male behaviour. This violates society’s gender norms and is known as the “beauty is beastly” effect where women are seen as cold and hostile. The more attractive the woman, the more harshly they are judged.

Studies have shown that women pay more attention to their appearance than men but ironically the beauty is beastly effect puts attractive women at the bottom of the ranking for successful investment pitches which is:

  • Attractive man
  • Less attractive man
  • Less attractive woman
  • Attractive woman

Women know what women want

Women entrepreneurs often target their businesses at other women which is hardly surprising as it is the world they know best. Society however, perceives these business ideas as of less value than the macho business models. This is a mistaken bias. In the US women make 93% of the consumer purchasing decisions including homes, cars, bank accounts, pharmaceuticals and, of course, food as well as 85% of all brand purchasing decisions. Environmental concerns are important to women with an average of 25% of items in the shopping cart being environmentally friendly.

Collaborate not compete

Women in general prefer to collaborate rather than compete. Many also have caring responsibilities which they have to dovetail with their business plans. This reality means that the usual cut and thrust of the five minute macho entrepreneurial pitch is incongruous with the reality of the women entrepreneur. What we need is more female investors who understand the world of women and how they do business. Such a panel would be less impressed with the “move fast and break things” approach and would favour a more considered approach.

We need to debunk the myth that entrepreneurs have to be macho to get their funding. Why should a budding female entrepreneur have to hide her collaborative and pragmatic approach to her business by adopting macho behaviour? Why can’t she be herself and pitch her business honestly — without running the risk of being ranked as a beastly beauty.


2015, Lee, Pitesa, Pillutla & Thau, When beauty helps and when it hurts: An organizational context model of attractiveness discrimination in selection decisions

2014, Johnson, Sitzmann & Nguyen, Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ‘‘beauty is beastly’’ effect

2014, Brooks, Huang, Kearney & Murray, Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men

She-conomy, Marketing to Women

Cordelia is a social business entrepreneur who has a background in technology, development and communication. She mentors and coaches women who are starting or scaling up small businesses. She is a mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Find out more on




Business mentor and coach for women entrepreneurs

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Cordelia Salter

Cordelia Salter

Business mentor and coach for women entrepreneurs

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