Guest Post by Mary Civiello
FORTUNE -- If you're a woman entrepreneur looking to raise money, chances are high that you're pitching to men. Fewer than 10% of venture capitalists in the U.S. are female, and gender biases prevail. Academic and anecdotal evidence indicates:
- VCs won't think your pitch is as persuasive as a man's even if he reads the same script as you do.
- VCs will give a woman founder a tougher time, especially if her startup involves something other than fashion or food.
- VCs, regardless of gender, prefer male founders. According to a recent Harvard/MIT/Wharton study, investors found men to be more persuasive, logical and factual even when they're reading a woman's script. The same study found that being "attractive" helps men more than it helps women.
So, what is a woman entrepreneur to do?
Even star female founders feel challenged. Hearsay Social founder and CEO Clara Shih, who is also on the board of Starbucks (SBUX), said at a recent USA Today (GCI) roundtable of women in tech: "A lot of us have felt pressure to be everything the guys are and more because we know the sad truth that all things equal, they'll get selected because they're guys."
One thing that smart female founders do: choose the right financial backer. Jerry Neumann of Neu Venture Capital is one guy in the VC world who strives to avoid the classic gender bias. "I try to be self-aware so that my irrational prejudices don't affect my business judgment," he says.
But there are also communications tips that I've come to learn from coaching C-suite executives, male and female, over the past decade. I call them the 3 Vs of Style:
1. VISUAL. Women often get thrown off by the one person in the audience who looks like he isn't buying what you're selling. Why? Because women tend to be "pleasers." Women also tend to excel at multitasking, which can be a handicap during a pitch. Rx: Take the advice of VC Keegan Forte of Bowery Capital: "Stay inside your head. Leave others out," she says. "You know your business. Don't let them think you don't."
2. VOCAL. Women can get squeaky when nervous. That's because women have greater vocal range, and vocal chords constrict when stressed, resulting in a higher pitch. Lower voices, studies show, sound more confident and authoritative. And remember, since time began, men have held most of the positions of authority, so male qualities are the standard. Rx: Use the lower vocal range of what's natural for you. Practice and record your voice and practice again so that you sound, as well as look, like your best professional self.
3. VERBAL. Women tend to elaborate, using more words than the typical guy. And when under attack, women often get defensive or emotional. Rx: Be concise. When challenged, don't say the first thing that comes to mind. Pause. Invite your challenger to elaborate. ("Tell me more about…") Play it cool.
Confidence is key. Ultimately, women entrepreneurs leaning in, as Facebook's (FB) Sheryl Sandberg would say, and believing in themselves will help change the ratio – the reality that only 7% of VC-backed U.S. companies are women-led.
Mary Civiello is an executive communications coach. She works with leaders at companies including Blackstone (BX), Morgan Stanley (MS), Merck (MRK), American Express (AXP), AIG (AIG) and MetLife (MET).
The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Starbucks (SBUX) board member shares the leadership lessons she learned at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit.
By Clara Shih, founder and CEO of Hearsay Social
This October, I attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., and spoke on a panel with three other women under age 40: Warren Buffett's financial assistant Tracy Britt Cool, Cinnabon President Kat Cole, and SunRun founder and CEO MOREColleen Leahey, Reporter - Nov 7, 2013 12:42 PM ET
Do you know a woman who is building a game-changing startup? She could be a Fortune Most Powerful Women Entrepreneur.
The 2012 Fortune MPW Entrepreneur program is open for nominations and applications. Each year, Fortune recognizes 10 emerging female founders of innovative, groundbreaking companies. We're looking for emerging female entrepreneurs at thriving businesses, based anywhere in the world, with revenue between $1 million and $25 million. We'll invite the 2012 winners MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 2, 2012 10:54 AM ET
Clara Shih is an early achiever. At age five, she arrived in the U.S., from Hong Kong, with her parents. With no access to bilingual education, she was initially placed in special classes for kids with speech impediments and advanced so rapidly that she scored a 1420 on her SATs -- in eighth grade. She started her company, Hearsay Social, at age 27, made Fortune's list of Most Powerful Women MOREPatricia Sellers - Jan 11, 2012 10:22 AM ET
This past summer, when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg emailed me about Clara Shih, we at Fortune knew to keep a lookout.
"I think she is awesome," Sandberg wrote in her email.
Sure enough, Starbucks (SBUX) yesterday named 29-year-old Shih, a social-media entrepreneur, to replace Sandberg on its board of directors.
A 29-year-old on the Starbucks board?!
Starbucks is bulking up on social-media expertise at a time when boards of most Fortune 500 companies desperately MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 15, 2011 1:20 PM ET
There is no shortage of female entrepreneurs. But where are the women who think really, really big?
FORTUNE -- Ever wonder why there 's no female Mark Zuckerberg? It is, after all, the era of the social web. Women use social-networking sites more than men do. Women stay on social sites longer. Women provide the bulk of the revenue at Zuckerberg's Facebook and gaming company Zynga, and most other fast-growing startups in the consumer Internet MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 4, 2011 1:31 PM ET
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