How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

How women can make the VC money flow

April 2, 2014: 8:30 AM ET

Masters of the venture capital universe tend to be male and biased toward funding guys with decent business plans and big dreams. How can women entrepreneurs compete?


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."

140402115836-mary-civiello-240xa2. 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).

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