Gender Stereotypes and
In the present study, we conduct a discourse analysis on a set of longitudinal observa-
tions of government venture capitalists’ decisions to identify how gender stereotypes are
socially constructed and activated when assessing entrepreneurs’ potential in the ﬁnan-
cial distribution of venture support. The present study ﬁnds that female entrepreneurs
risk receiving signiﬁcantly less venture capital, which is caused by the language and rhe-
toric used that relates to gender differences when funding decisions are made. We con-
sider and discuss the implications of our results for related research about distributing
venture capital and the social constructions of female and male entrepreneurs.
Research in gender shows that a growing number of scholars are focusing on female
entrepreneurs’ access to debt ﬁnance and venture capital (e.g., Alsos, Isaksen, & Ljungg-
ren, 2006; Becker-Blease & Sohl, 2007; Carter & Rosa, 2005; Fay & Williams, 1993; Jen-
nings & Brush, 2013). Several studies have shown that female entrepreneurs face more
Please send correspondence to: Malin Malmstr€
om, tel.: 146 920 491087; e-mail: Malin.Malmstrom@ltu.
se, to Jeaneth Johansson at Jeaneth.Johansson@ltu.se, and to Joakim Wincent at email@example.com.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
February, 2017 1
C2017 The Authors. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice published
by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of SAGE Publications Inc.
difﬁculties in accessing ﬁnance from traditional debt and venture capital sources com-
pared to their male entrepreneur counterparts. Empirical studies disagree, however,
regarding the role gender plays in access to business ﬁnance. For example, are female
entrepreneurs denied ﬁnance or are they discouraged from applying for ﬁnance to a higher
extent than male entrepreneurs (Jennings & Brush; van Hulten, 2012)? Although merely
implied rather than explicitly studied or stated, scholars have suggested that different per-
ceptions of entrepreneurs’ potential exist in ﬁnancial decision making (Becker-Blease &
Sohl; Fielden, Davidson, Dawe, & Makin, 2003; Kwong, Jones-Evans, & Thompson,
2012; Wu & Chua, 2012). Such gender constructions may impact allocations of ﬁnancing
(Ahl, 2006; Alsos & Ljunggren, 2016; Marlow & Patton, 2005).
Although ideally objective, the argument is that perceptions of entrepreneurial potential
are shaped, transferred, and carried in ﬁnanciers’ social constructions. Such perceptions
develop among venture capitalists when making funding decisions (Johansson &
om, 2013). Regarding private venture capitalists, a stream of research has argued
that the gendered rhetoric of social constructions of entrepreneurial potential capture percep-
tions that likely characterize and differentiate female and male entrepreneurs (Bruni, Gher-
ardi, & Poggio, 2004; Brush, Carter, Greene, Hart, & Gatewood, 2002; Cliff, Langton, &
Aldrich, 2005; Smith, 2010). The underlying hypothesis for this reasoning is that gendered
characterization effects women’s access to ﬁnance. The consequence of such barriers to
ﬁnancing is that the business underperforms. The impact of hidden (unconscious) biases in
ﬁnance distribution such as gender stereotypes has been researched, but empirically, prior
studies have been limited to surveys and other methods, which restricts investigating how
closed-room discussions are executed and the role and character of stereotyping in decision
making (see Alsos & Ljunggren, 2016; De Bruin, Brush, & Welter, 2007; Hughes, Jennings,
Brush, Carter, & Welter, 2012; Jennings & Brush, 2013). Other studies have reported on the
propensity of individual decision makers or the general public to stereotype (Fay & Wil-
liams, 1993; Gupta, Goktan, & Gunay, 2014; Gupta, Turban, & Pareek, 2013), but no study
has investigated stereotyping among a group of decision makers that jointly make funding
decisions. This approach enables us to reveal how otherwise hidden social construction of
common knowledge emerges, is expressed, founded, and anchored and thus also to under-
stand how such shared knowledge evolves. Analyzing the use of language and terminology
in group discussions illuminates the social construction of reality that shapes perceptions of
entrepreneurs’ potential. As such, it conveys opportunities to bring new insights into how
constructions of gender emerge and are underpinned.
In the realm of governmental venture capital, the context of this study, such stereo-
types are especially problematic. Worldwide, governmental venture capitalists rank
among the most signiﬁcant ﬁnancial sources in many European economies (Gorman,
Rosa, & Faseruk, 2005). For example, the European Union allocated e3,621,000,000 to
ﬁnance competitiveness and growth in small- and medium-sized European ventures over
the years 2007 to 2013, illustrating the magnitude of governmental ﬁnance. Signiﬁcant
support is also provided globally in such programs, including Western countries such as
Australia and Canada and Eastern countries such as Japan. Governmental venture capital
is important to entrepreneurs for whom accessing other sources of ﬁnancing (e.g., bank
loans) and private venture capital is challenging. It can help close signiﬁcant ﬁnancial
gaps; indeed, it can be argued that women in particular would beneﬁt from such govern-
mental initiatives (Fielden et al., 2003). Women, who have been found to face additional
obstacles when accessing private ﬁnancing, should have better access to governmental
ﬁnance due to the legislated equality requirements embedded in these programs.
The present study investigates differences in funding distributions between female
and male entrepreneurs with speciﬁc emphasis on how governmental venture capitalists
2ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
socially construct gender stereotypes when assessing the potential of female and male
entrepreneurs applying for venture capital. We explore the hidden dimension of govern-
mental ﬁnanciers’ gendered rhetoric and how gender stereotypes are activated. As noted,
data indicating how social constructions about stereotypes manifest in groups is difﬁcult
to access. We address this in the present study using discourse analysis on a set of longitu-
dinal observations of decision meetings with a group of governmental venture capitalists.
We use verbal coding to examine how gender is socially constructed through social inter-
action when assessing entrepreneurs’ potential in decision-making group meetings. We
compare this qualitative data with secondary data of the amounts entrepreneurs were
awarded when applying for government venture capital.
The present study makes several contributions to the entrepreneurship literature.
First, we demonstrate how gender stereotypes inﬂuence ﬁnanciers’ assessment discourse
when evaluating entrepreneurial potential. This then forms a “group” mindset among the
ﬁnanciers’ decision making and ultimately casts light on the gender-biased distribution of
ﬁnance. Our unique data enable us to delineate how gender stereotypes are activated
through ﬁnanciers’ discourses, which may impede female entrepreneurs’ access to
ﬁnance. Our results suggest that the entrepreneurs’ attributes discussed when assessing
entrepreneurial potential vary based on gender stereotypes, with women’s potential
undermined, but men’s potential underpinned. Second, our research builds on and
expands gender role congruity theory and entrepreneurship research by revealing how
discourses of entrepreneurial attributes are not evaluated in a gender-neutral way (Bakan,
1966; Eagly, 1987). In particular, we show that one of the obstacles women face in gain-
ing credibility in traditionally masculine ﬁelds is that different standards are used to eval-
uate men’s versus women’s performance (Eagly & Karau, 2002). In extending previous
discussions that the masculine prescriptive of entrepreneurship causes credibility chal-
lenges for women entrepreneurs (Ahl, 2006; Bruni et al., 2004; Gupta, Turban, & Watsi,
2009), we count and categorize how the language and rhetoric used in decision making
develops into gender stereotypes that affect ﬁnanciers’ interpretations of potential when
entrepreneurs seek ﬁnancing. While centered on communal and agentic attributes that are
universal to men and women (Eagly), we identify aspects of stereotyping that go beyond
gender role congruity theory. Third, we contribute to research on female entrepreneurs by
showing that gender biases exist in governmental ﬁnancing even though the political
agenda speciﬁcally supports female entrepreneurs’ access to ﬁnance.
Gender Differences in Financial Decision Making
Recent studies have demonstrated that gender causes more difﬁculties when female
entrepreneurs seek ﬁnancing compared to male entrepreneurs (Brana, 2013; Burke, van
Stel, Hartog, & Ichou, 2014; Gicheva & Link, 2013; Saparito, Elam, & Brush, 2013).
This leads female entrepreneurs to raise smaller amounts of capital compared to men
(Coleman & Kariv, 2014; Kremel & Yazdanfar, 2015). Nevertheless, although Bardasi,
Sabarwal, and Terrell (2011) found that female entrepreneurs receive smaller loans than
their male counterparts, they found no evidence of gender discrimination in access to
ﬁnancing, nor did Fabowale, Orser, and Riding (1995) and Riding and Swift (1990) when
looking into denial rates of loans and lines of credit. Another group of studies found no
signiﬁcant relationship between gender and the probability of credit denial when control-
ling for ﬁrm, owner, and risk variables (Blanchﬂower, Levine, & Zimmerman, 2003;
February, 2017 3
Cavalluzzo & Cavalluzzo, 1998; Cavalluzzo & Wolken, 2005; Treichel & Scott, 2012).
In addition, recent studies have not been able to establish gender differences regarding
the amount of ﬁnancing received (Arenius & Autio, 2006; Eddleston, Ladge, Mitteness,
& Balachandra, 2016; Orser, Riding, & Manley, 2006; Wilson, Carter, Tagg, Shaw, &
Lam, 2007). Despite these varying results, no study has demonstrated a gender difference
to women’s advantage and men’s disadvantage.
The literature does outline, however, that women encounter credibility problems
when pitching to ﬁnanciers (Carter & Rosa, 1998; Hisrich & Brush, 1984; Reutzel & Bel-
sito, 2015); are treated differently than their male counterparts by ﬁnanciers; and are dis-
couraged by ﬁnanciers in the application process (Alsos & Ljunggren, 2016; Belcourt,
Burke, & Lee-Gosselin, 1991; Hisrich & Brush). Leaving routines and similar sources of
potential discrimination aside, scholars have suggested that gender differences when
seeking access to ﬁnance may be explained by ﬁnanciers’ individual perceptions and
practices, which unconsciously disadvantage and discriminate against female entrepre-
neurs (Carter, Shaw, Lam, & Wilson, 2007; Fraser, 2005; Verheul & Thurik, 2001).
Fay and Williams (1993) initially speculated about the impact of hidden bias such as
gender stereotype, which place women in an unfavorable position when seeking access to
ﬁnancing. More recently, empirical research has proposed that gendered construction
negatively impacts female entrepreneurs’ access to ﬁnance (Alsos & Ljunggren, 2016;
Boden & Nucci, 2000; Carter & McNulty, 2005; Greene, Brush, Hart, & Saparito, 2001;
Marlow, 2002). Furthermore, the literature has outlined that ﬁnanciers perceive female
entrepreneurs as being different than male entrepreneurs, different from an “ideal” entre-
preneur, and tend to relate entrepreneurial attributes more closely with men than women
(Ahl, 2006). In other empirical studies, Fay and Williams found bankers perceive men to
have more attributes associated with successful entrepreneurship than do women and per-
ceive women as less capable or trustworthy than men (Becker-Blease & Sohl, 2007).
Overall, the majority of anecdotal evidence in current entrepreneurship research sug-
gests gender differences exist in assessing entrepreneurial attributes and that many ﬁnan-
ciers perceive female entrepreneurs as lacking important entrepreneurial attributes such
as leadership, risk-taking propensity, experience, endurance, ﬁnancial savvy, and the abil-
ity to change (Brush, Carter, Gatewood, Greene, & Hart, 2004).
Another group of studies, however, does not support the notion that gendered charac-
terizations negatively impact women during this process (Aldrich, Elam, & Reese, 1997;
Brush, 1997; Carter & Rosa, 1998; Marlow, 2002). For example, Buttner and Rosen
(1988) studied whether women lacking entrepreneurial characteristics caused discrimina-
tion. They found no evidence that bank ofﬁcers’ funding decisions were affected by ster-
eotypes of the entrepreneur’s gender. Also, more recent studies have found that men and
women sometimes have equal access to debt ﬁnancing (Arenius & Autio, 2006; Becker-
Blease & Sohl, 2007; Carter et al., 2007; Orser et al., 2006; Wilson et al., 2007), and no
clear difference exists between the characteristics of male business owners and female
business owners who have received loans (Blake, 2006). In fact, Eddleston et al. (2016)
recently found that gender did not affect the amount of ﬁnancing received from banks.
Moreover, van Hulten (2012) found that gender does not inﬂuence the probability of
reporting denial, discouragement, or ﬁnancial constraint; indeed, women and men do not
differ signiﬁcantly in the types of ﬁnance that they use.
Despite these mixed ﬁndings, established evidence supports the notion that women
begin their ﬁrms with poorer levels of funding than their male counterparts (Brush, 1997;
Carter & Rosa, 1998) and that women-owned businesses start with both lower levels of over-
all capitalization and lower ratios of debt ﬁnance than men-owned businesses (Carter &
Allen, 1997; Coleman, 2000). As such, the aforementioned differences regarding the role of
4ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
perceptions and potential stereotyping are promising but debatable. Interestingly, the
topic of gender and ﬁnancing is a limited area of study in which few systematic studies exist
(e.g., Alsos et al., 2006; Carter et al., 2007), and stereotyping as a concept has often not been
studied systematically. Because the ﬁndings and explanations of prior studies are inconclu-
sive, and the empirical record provides a cloudy picture of gender’s role, researchers have
repeatedly stated the need to accumulate more knowledge in this area.
A Social Constructionist–Feminist View of Gender
A person’s sex refers to the biological, genetic distinction that categorizes a person as a
man or woman. A person’s gender, however, refers to psychological and behavioral charac-
teristics and is based on differences in social experience (Deaux, 1985). People may also be
classiﬁed based on their perceived degree of masculinity and femininity and the extent to
which they possess qualities that are typically identiﬁed with men or women (Bem, 1981).
Based on their biological sex, men and women are expected to follow their gender roles.
Gender stereotypes consist of shared beliefs about what attributes characterize each sex
(Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000). Because sex is a highly visible basis for venture capital-
ists’ decision making, they perceive personal traits that they attribute to members of the
same sex (Carter et al., 2007). The present study’s context is governmental venture capital-
ists’ assessments of both men and women’s venture capital applications. When they notice
the sex of the entrepreneur, they resort to ascribing socially constructed gender attributes in
their decision making.
As such, the basic tenet of the present study is that gender is a social construction. This
tenet builds on a social constructionist/poststructuralist feminist view of gender, in which
reality is constructed in social interactions between people where knowledge is made real or
objective. In keeping with this view, knowledge arises when people perceive the world and
act as a result of established habits (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). In line with Phillips and
Hardy (2002, p. 3), we argue that “social interactions cannot be fully understood without ref-
erence to the discourses that give them meaning.” Reality is expressed in discourses, where
common knowledge is created and kept alive (Phillips & Hardy). This implies that the lan-
guage and terminology used in discussing whether or not to support a venture with capital
may carry important insights into the underlying rationales for a yes or no decision. More-
over, what is understood as common knowledge about gender is also a social construction,
expressed in language patterns and reinforced through language use (Foucault, 1972; Ogbor,
2000). As such, different truths exist about what an entrepreneur is, as well as how an entre-
preneurial venture’s potential (or lack of potential) becomes associated with different con-
texts and experiences. Therefore, it is only possible to understand the context if one has
access to the language used, a preunderstanding of sorts, which orders categories in a com-
prehensible way, as well as an understanding of the particular context in which action takes
place (Cicourel, 1981; Foucault; Ogbor). In other words, common knowledge about gender,
based on language, will mould one’s perceptions and behavior in certain directions (Ahl,
2004; Alsos et al., 2006). Here, our interest focuses on language behavior and jargon regard-
ing how female and male entrepreneurs emerge within social groups, such as governmental
venture capitalists that regularly meet to decide on venture support.
Our point of departure is that discourses emerge when individuals interact within
social groups, which creates a coherent reality. This reality frames the group’s sense of
decision making related to the qualities entrepreneurs should have for a venture’s ﬁnan-
cial application (cf. Mumby & Clair, 1997) and is expressed through the language used in
making funding decisions (Cicourel, 1981; Gartner, Carter, & Hill, 2003). Each discourse
February, 2017 5
portrays an object/subject differently, and each discourse claims what the object/subject
really is and the consequences for a particular object/subject (Foucault, 1972). The dis-
courses thus make claims on social constructions and what is regarded as real knowledge.
Social order is therefore inherent in discourses. Making discursive practices and associat-
ed effects more explicit invites challenges to constructing gender (Ahl, 2006). Critical
inquiry of social discourses, therefore, enables us to be skeptical of beliefs concerning
universal truth and knowledge, including language that is taken for granted. In our case,
analyzing social discourses should highlight underlying beliefs about the social construc-
tions of gender and what could potentially inﬂuence a positive or negative decision to
fund a speciﬁc entrepreneur.
Although still an emergent ﬁeld of research, gender effects have been studied frequent-
ly from the role language plays in constructing gender (Ahl, 2006; Ashcroft-Wallin, 2001).
A recurring theme is that language is gendered. Collocation of words such as female doctor,
female lawyer,female president,andfemale entrepreneur are common examples of lan-
guage constructions that identify women as the marked gender that deviates from the male
norm. In a similar fashion, attributes ascribed to women and men cause people to see wom-
en and men accordingly. In entrepreneurship, analyzing the attributes ﬁnanciers use when
referring to and discussing female and male entrepreneurs is likely to yield valuable infor-
mation about the construction of gender in ﬁnancial decision making (Alsos & Ljunggren,
2016; Eddleston et al., 2016). Their language should show what is included in constructing
the concept of an entrepreneur and what is not. Studies to date have suggested people most
typically include notions of passivity, weakness, dependence, irrationality, and immaturity
in the concept of femininity, whereas the opposite concepts are frequently associated with
masculinity (Ahl; Bem, 1993; Lister, 2003). Studying the attributes ascribed to male and
female entrepreneurs among ﬁnanciers in relation to features ascribed to the “ideal” entre-
preneur in their mind is thus likely to show whether ﬁnanciers view men and women as
equally good examples of the category labelled “entrepreneur.”
From this perspective, people make sense of the world by matching attributes against
the features of stereotypical examples (Gupta et al., 2009, 2013, 2014). Stereotypical
images of women and men have been identiﬁed as contributing factors to women’s disad-
vantage in access to ﬁnance (Fielden et al., 2003; Godwin, Stevens, & Brenner, 2006).
Analyzing gendered rhetoric has become an approach to capture gender constructions
that underpin female and male entrepreneurs (Bruni et al., 2004; Cliff et al., 2005; Smith,
2010). Studies on gendered rhetoric have focused on literature (Smith & Anderson,
2003), newspaper articles (Achtenhagen & Welter, 2005), and the body of entrepreneur-
ship research itself (Ahl, 2006; Bruni et al.). Bird and Brush (2002), for example, ana-
lyzed concepts of masculinity and femininity in organizational creations and discovered
that new venture creations align to a great extent with the masculine character. The gener-
al takeaway is that perceptions of entrepreneurs associated masculine qualities as positive
attributes and feminine qualities as negative attributes. This, in turn, creates a value sys-
tem in which female entrepreneurs may be viewed as inferior to their male counterparts.
Gender Stereotypes and Role Congruency Theory
Although not signiﬁcantly addressed in the entrepreneurship literature, role congruency
theory proposes that women and men are expected to behave in ways that “match” their gen-
der roles, that is, they have role congruity (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Certain roles can be seen
as stereotypically masculine or feminine (Konrad, Ritchie, Lieb, & Corrigall, 2000; Nieva &
Gutek, 1980), leading perceivers to expect a particular role-congruent set of attitudes and
6ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
behaviors. When an individual’s attributes are perceived as not ﬁtting the role, that individu-
al is seen as less likely to succeed and meet performance expectations. Behavior that does
not conform to expectations may be negatively evaluated or not evaluated at all (e.g., Ely &
Meyerson, 2000). In encompassing this perspective, the entrepreneur role has been shown to
be stereotypically portrayed as masculine (Ahl, 2006; Gupta et al., 2009).
Role congruity theory, upon which we build in the present study of stereotyping, pro-
poses that perceiving incongruity between the female gender role and the entrepreneur
role implies that women are perceived less favorably than men as potential entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, commonly accepted positive entrepreneurship behaviors are evaluated as
less favorably when enacted by a woman in an entrepreneurial role (Eagly & Karau,
2002). As such, role congruity theory rationalizes why men may have a signiﬁcant advan-
tage over women: there is a natural ﬁt for men and masculine behaviors due to the congru-
ity of males, masculinity, and entrepreneurship. Because roles are socially constructed
expectations that apply to individuals who occupy a certain position or are members of a
particular group (Biddle, 1979; Sarbin & Allen, 1968), gender roles are consensual beliefs
about the attributes of women and men.
The role congruity theory in the ﬁeld of entrepreneurial ﬁnance thus suggests that when
a stereotyped group member (i.e., a woman) and an incongruent role (i.e., an entrepreneur)
are joined in a ﬁnancier’s mind, the inconsistency between the two role expectations will
lower the evaluation of the group member as the role’s occupant. The potential for bias thus
exists when ﬁnanciers hold a stereotype about a group (i.e., women) that is incongruent
with the attributes that are thought to be required for success in the role (i.e., being an entre-
preneur). According to the theory, perceivers such as ﬁnanciers assume a correspondence
between the types of actions in which people engage and their inner dispositions.
The key proposition of role congruity theory is that the majority of these beliefs about
the sexes pertain to communal and agentic attributes (Bakan, 1966; Eagly, 1987). Com-
munal characteristics, which are ascribed more strongly to women, primarily describe a
concern with the welfare of others; for example, affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic,
interpersonally sensitive, nurturing, and gentle. In contrast, agentic characteristics, which
are ascribed more strongly to men, primarily describe an assertive, controlling, and conﬁ-
dent tendency; for example, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, self-
sufﬁcient, self-conﬁdent, and prone to act as a leader. Activating beliefs about women
and men through gender-related attributes thus inﬂuences people to perceive women as
communal but not very agentic and men as agentic but not very communal.
The notion of role congruity theory offers a rationale for why men may have a signiﬁ-
cant advantage over women in accessing ﬁnance. The incongruence reduces the evaluation
of women as an occupant of the entrepreneur role. Nevertheless, role congruency theory
offers little guidance in understanding how role congruency and role incongruence emerge
through social construction. To this end, we build on existing role congruity theory, combin-
ing it with the social constructionism view and with notions of the stereotyping literature, to
offer more comprehensive insights regarding when and how gender stereotypes are activated
in entrepreneurial settings, speciﬁcally in governmental venture capitalists decision making.
Historically, research into women’s entrepreneurship has been fraught with methodo-
logical problems and limitations in theoretic development (De Bruin et al., 2007; Hughes
February, 2017 7
et al., 2012; Jennings & Brush, 2013; Marlow & Patton, 2005). The present study’s
research approach enables us to extend theorizing and overcome methodological limita-
tions. The present study, based on an exploratory case study research design (Eisenhardt,
1989), adopted a grounded, interpretive approach to generate rich analyses.
Drawing on our access and our ﬁeld experience in governmental capital distribution
and against the background of the above criticism, our research targeted Swedish govern-
mental venture capitalists. Since the 1970s, Sweden has had a comprehensive childcare
system that allows female to work, including starting and running businesses. For quite
some time, however, female entrepreneurs have remained at a level of around 30%, with
only a marginal annual increase. Although about one third of businesses are owned and
run by women, women-owned businesses are not granted governmental funding in a cor-
responding proportion. Indeed, women-owned businesses receive much less: only 13% to
18% of governmental funding goes to women-owned businesses. As such, the research
context is relevant for studying gender and the distribution of governmental venture
In fact, our context is ideal because the studied governmental venture capitalists were
required to consider equality criteria and multiple gender requirements in their ﬁnancial
decision making. This included national and European political equality directives,
because Sweden is a member of the European Union and ﬁnancing allocations are derived
from national and European sources. The total amount of the ﬁnancing distributed nation-
wide during the observed period was approximately e190,000,000. Through a research
project on governmental venture capitalists, we were allowed access to the “closed deci-
sion room” to study ﬁnancial decision making in general. This provided unique access to
data. The venture capitalists wanted help to improve their decision-making processes and
were eager to help us understand their work. Both the manager and the group’s members
invited us to take part in meetings. Initially, the purpose of our data collection was not to
study gendered rhetoric, but to study the conversations taking place when the government
venture capitalists decided how to distribute ﬁnancing. Our ﬁndings showing gendered
rhetoric are thus a result of our data collection, not a predisposition.
The group of government venture capitalists observed included seven individuals:
two women and ﬁve men, all with university degrees in social science with an average
occupational experience of 17 years. The average age of the ﬁnanciers was 53 years (see
Table 1 for details). The venture capitalists brought other work experiences to the deci-
sion making from work as other types of ﬁnanciers, being entrepreneurs, and from other
occupations (e.g., other types of government institutions such as tax authorities, education
industry, and from the audit industry). The average annual funds available to allocate was
Quantitative Data and Analysis of the Study Material
Our initial analysis is based on statistical reporting, which shows the distribution of
government venture capital decisions in relation to gender. In the present study, 306 ven-
ture applications were included in the statistical analyses of the material that constituted a
basis for government venture capitalist decisions. Of these, 77 were from female entrepre-
neurs and 229 were from men.
We analyzed differences in mean value regarding businesses approved for ﬁnancing
and businesses dismissed in terms of size, new or established business, and amount of
ﬁnance requested. We also report the portions of approval/dismissal rates for male and
8ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
female entrepreneurs and the average amount for which female and male entrepreneurs
applied and received during the period studied.
To obtain multiple perspectives, the present study uses multiple methods to capture
how social constructions of gender may inﬂuence the decision-making process of govern-
ment venture capitalists. The main analysis is derived from a discourse analysis of the
government ﬁnanciers’ group decision-making meetings, interviews with ﬁnanciers, and
documentation such as press releases. In line with the social constructivism, this approach
allowed us to capture different layers of the government ﬁnanciers’ distribution of ﬁnanc-
ing (Achtenhagen & Welter, 2005). In doing so, we respond to the call for adopting more
adventurous methodological approaches; indeed, we base our study on in situ observa-
tions. As aforementioned, research that illuminates hidden (unconscious) social construc-
tions of decision-making processes in ﬁnancial decision making is lacking (Carter et al.,
2007; Jennings & Brush, 2013).
The data from observing closed-room, face-to-face discussions in which a group of
government venture capitalists made ﬁnal decisions occurred over a two-year period. All
seven venture capitalists were involved in assessing venture applications and participated
actively in the decision meetings. Typically, one ﬁnancier prepared the decision-making
material by compiling written information (the application) and information from con-
tacting the entrepreneur (phone calls, emails, onsite visits, and meetings). The venture
capitalists visualized the venture business and the entrepreneurial potential through story-
telling, including detailed descriptions for the co-decision-makers to understand the situa-
tion. The entrepreneurs were not present at these meetings. We closely observed when
they decided on a total of 125 venture applications seeking government venture capital.
Of the 125 venture applications, 99 (79%) were from male entrepreneurs and 26 (21%)
were from female entrepreneurs. To collect data, we were present in the meetings,
recorded what was said, and took notes, but we never participated in the conversation.
The recordings resulted in a total of 210 transcribed pages. The recordings enabled us to
pay close attention to the situations and also remain a comprehensive focus when analyz-
ing the discussions taking place in meetings. The longitudinal approach helped the
Demographic Details of the Governmental Financiers
ﬁnancier Age Gender Education
Years of experience
1 58 Female Bachelor’s in Business Administration 11
2 56 Female Bachelor’s in Business Administration 25
3 29 Male Master’s in Business Administration 2
4 59 Male Bachelor’s in Business Administration 24
5 60 Male Bachelor’s in Business Administration 30
6 54 Male Master’s in Business Administration 12
7 58 Male Bachelor’s in Business Administration 20
February, 2017 9
venture capitalists become accustomed to our silent presence in the room, and they took
no notice of us, which was evident by their relaxed discussions. Although focus to a minor
extent was on us at the ﬁrst meetings, we rapidly became like group insiders. Observa-
tions amounted to a total of 36 hours of effective decision time.
Qualitative Analysis of Discourses and Theorization
We developed a data coding scheme and systematically coded all observations
throughout the data collection in line with a naturalistic inquiry approach (Guba & Lin-
coln, 1985). We followed a 24-hour rule in that the research team started writing down
individual notes and thoughts related to each meeting observed and then discussed poten-
tial interpretations in the research group within 24 hours after the meeting. During these
meetings, we looked closely at how the government venture capitalists described and
motivated their decisions. Therefore, we looked closely into how entrepreneurial poten-
tial was expressed and how the ﬁnanciers referred to male and female applicants during
decision meetings. In doing so, our goal was to discover possible socially constructed
images of male and female entrepreneurs. During the discourse analysis, we followed rec-
ommendations to pay speciﬁc attention to capturing the social constructions of language
and rhetorical practices that go beyond the taken-for-granted (Achtenhagen & Welter,
2005; Alvesson & K€
arreman, 2000; Phillips & Hardy, 2002, p. 2). We identiﬁed words
and sentences used to describe the entrepreneurs, rhetoric, comments on appearance and
dress, as well as the general dynamics in the decision dialogues. This approach provided a
base for delineating themes and aggregating dimensions throughout the study (cf. Isa-
We used an established three-step coding procedure to guide the work and topics pre-
sented in the present paper. Table 2 and Figure 1 present the coding, the coding structure,
and the resulting categories. We started by collapsing codes into ﬁrst-order categories,
employing language the participating government venture capitalists used that expressed
similar ideas. Our initial coding of the data was rather broad. First, we manually coded
the transcribed data, in which we scanned phrases stated during the meetings (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). To balance the richness and direction of the data
(Eisenhardt, 1989), we searched for expressions associated with a set of guiding questions
that helped us make sense of the data. Example questions included (1) what was the ratio-
nale for the decision? (2) what were the main arguments in the assessment work for the
decision? and (3) what were the descriptions of entrepreneurs’ potential? Second, we held
meetings to match individual researchers’ coding and focused on ﬁve to ten decisions at
each meeting. In doing so, we noticed very high consistency and started to identify a dis-
course related to gendered social constructions in the decision making.
In the second-order conceptualization, we identiﬁed overarching themes among the
ﬁrst-order categories identiﬁed. In doing so, we identiﬁed theoretically distinct groupings
based on researcher-induced concepts at an abstract level. We also noticed that some of
the previous literature on gender in entrepreneurship and role congruity theory indicated
suitable categories for coding (Ahl, 2004; Eagly & Karau, 2002). Furthermore, we con-
structed semantic categories to compare the attributes ascribed to women and men,
respectively, in which themes deﬁned socially constructed images.
Investigating the data revealed that the attributes ascribed to women and men differed
considerably. At this point, we clearly recognized the gendered nature of the rhetoric and
the potential contribution to the literature with insights into a social constructionist/post-
structuralist feminist perspective and the role congruity theory. This enabled us to ﬁnalize
10 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
Socially Constructed Images of Gender Stereotypes in Discourse
Second-order First-order Representative statement
Overwhelming communal attrib-
utes that undermine entrepre-
neurial potential (56% of
Lack attachment to social
“She has no network ties to use.”
“Who would she contact?”
In need of support “She needs help to develop her business concept.”
“She’s got a mentor, an experienced business man, he’s got
Attentive and cheerful “She’s got so much energy, and she always has a happy
“She is a good listener, and I believe that she can take
Overwhelming agentic attributes
that reinforce entrepreneurial
potential (28% of terms)
Sly and troublemaker “He is out to make trouble; I can feel it.”
“He is clever to involve powerful people. They put pressure
on us and will cause trouble if we don’t approve.”
Threatening and aggressive “I got scared when I met him, he appeared threatening.”
“He was angry and threatened to go to the media if he would
not get the money.”
Dishonest and ﬁshy “I don’t know if I trust him. He might have a different
agenda than what he is leading on.”
Contrasting known entrepreneur-
ship personality that under-
mine entrepreneurial potential
(14.5% of terms)
Counter balance positive
with negative attributes
“She is enthusiastic, but she does not know her market.”
“She is doing all right now but she has no control/clue.”
No titles assigned other than
“She is probably okay.”
“She is applying for...”
Pushed into entrepreneurship “She probably needs something to do.”
“She just wants to get out of her situation (unemployment);
there is no real drive for being an entrepreneur.”
Enforcing positive attributes
“He is extremely competent.”
“He is a really good entrepreneur”
Analogous with known entrepre-
neurship personality that rein-
potential (15% of terms)
Risk-taking and money “He is willing to take the chance, even though it is risky.”
“He’s got money to play with.”
“This entrepreneur is doing a bold investment.”
Entitled entrepreneur, inno-
“He is really an entrepreneur; he knows how to do business.”
“He is an amazing innovator. He’s got a million ideas in his
head and just [wants to] do it.”
Different vocabulary associations
potential (12.5% of terms)
Young and inexperienced “She is young and has probably no experience running a
High maintenance “She’s seems to have expensive habits; who knows what she
will do with the money if we approve her application.”
Different vocabulary associations
potential (17% of terms)
Cautious and don’t dare “She is cautions as women often, are and she does not dare...”
“She is very cautious in what she does and she does not have
the guts to...”
Young and promising “He is a young guy and he’s a promising future ahead of
“Young as he is, he may go far.”
Financially solid “Owning such an exclusive car tells me that his is ﬁnancially
Covering expertise with looks
that undermine entrepreneurial
potential (17% of terms)
Sensible and level-headed “He is cautious, and that is good. He makes level-headed
“He acts sensible.”
Using pet names instead of
“The sweeties contacted me today asking about their
“...Oh Doris my darling Doris...”
Physical appearance “They came in dressed like that...”
“You can see from the way she dresses that she is high
Detailing expertise that reinforce
entrepreneurial potential (40%
Pregnancy and health “Isn’t she pregnant?!”
“How is she? She did not look well.”
“Is she having a baby?”
February, 2017 11
Second-order First-order Representative statement
Educational characteristics “He has an engineering degree from [a high-ranked
“He has a master’s degree in entrepreneurship.”
“This entrepreneur has a business degree.”
Entrepreneurial experiences “This entrepreneur has started several businesses. For
example, [Name], and he has done well.”
“He has been running a business for a long time, and it’s
been doing really well.”
“...he has long management experience.”
Innovation track record “I believe in him, he has done this before and managed to
develop a unique service.”
“He is good at developing new front edge concepts.”
“He’s a true inventor; always has new ideas, and he knows
how to reﬁne them.”
Discursive Routes to Activate Gender Stereotypes to Undermine or Reinforce
12 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
a theoretical framework by linking the various phenomena that emerged from the data.
The coding scheme, which captured the main themes in the data, comprised things such
as: (1) overwhelming attributes that undermined or reinforced entrepreneurial potential
depending on whether the applicant was a woman or man, (2) contrasts to known entre-
preneurship personality traits that undermined or reinforced entrepreneurial potential, (3)
the role of expertise and appearance depending on the applicant, and (4) the use of differ-
ent vocabulary associations that undermined versus reinforced entrepreneurial potential
depending on whether the applicant was a woman or man. We used both a priori codes
from the entrepreneurship literature and emergent codes to categorize patterns in the data
on gender constructions. Entrepreneurial potential, for example, was coded into catego-
ries of positive or negative attributes based on both inductive patterns revealed by the con-
text in which the discourses took place and on deﬁnitions in the entrepreneurship
literature (cf. Ahl, 2006; Busenitz & Barney, 1997; Gupta et al., 2009). We calculated the
portion of attributes belonging to each of the second-order conceptualizations for women
and men entrepreneurs, respectively (see Table 2).
When reviewing the patterns from the second-order conceptualizations, we assem-
bled the second-order themes into overarching dimensions and looked for relationships
that lead to the third-order conceptualization. To secure construct validity, we compared
our emergent theoretical framework with the extant literature on female entrepreneurs
and gender to reﬁne our construct deﬁnitions, abstraction levels, and theoretical relation-
ships (Eisenhardt, 1989). In doing so, we concluded that the more abstract and overarch-
ing dimension—stereotyping—that emerged from the patterns and relationships
identiﬁed in the third-order conceptualization, explained the meaning of the diverse
socially constructed images. This implies that the ﬁnal themes were developed based on
the voices of the informants that the researchers interpreted and structured in close inter-
action with contextual factors and prior theorizing (Nag, Corley, & Gioia, 1980; Strauss
& Corbin, 1990).
Empirical Findings and Analysis
The documents and ofﬁcial material clearly suggest that the government venture capi-
talists studied are required to consider the entrepreneurial potential and the gender equali-
ty criterion in decision making. The statistical ﬁndings on the distribution of ﬁnance,
however, do not reﬂect an emphasis on the gender equality criterion. In fact, our empirical
ﬁndings indicate a gender-biased distribution favoring male entrepreneurs. The approval
and dismissal rate presented in Table 3 are evidence of this ﬁnding, which shows wom-
en’s venture applications are dismissed to a higher extent (close to 53%) compared to
men’s venture applications (38%). The biased distribution is revealed further in that
female entrepreneurs, on average, applied for smaller amounts of funds compared to men
entrepreneurs (cf. Becker-Blease & Sohl, 2007) and that women received smaller
amounts of ﬁnancing (Table 4). Furthermore, despite the fact that female entrepreneurs
applied for and received smaller amounts of ﬁnancing than men, female entrepreneurs are
only awarded, on average, 25% of the applied amount, whereas men received, on average,
52% of the applied amount (Table 4).
In parallel to the statistical ﬁndings, the interviews revealed that the venture capital-
ists did not experience any difference among applications turned in by women and men.
One venture capitalist said: “You cannot judge by the application if a man or a woman
has written it; it can be either or. Entrepreneurs are rational people, and we get a ton of
applications.” Another venture capitalist expressed: “No, I have not experienced any
February, 2017 13
gender difference regarding the applications. Maybe because some entrepreneurs (both
men and women) use consultants to help them in the application process, so sometimes
the applications have been quality proven before they reach us.” Yet another stated: “No
application is like the others, and I cannot see that there are any differences between
applications written by women and men.” Other statements made by the venture capital-
ists include: “In the end, there is no difference in applications written by women and
men” and “It has never happened that I have had two applications and chosen to approve
one of them because it is a woman or a man.” Indeed, such statements all express certainty
of the nonexisting difference in applications written by men and by women.
The interviews also reveal that the government venture capitalists are aware that few-
er women apply for funding and that women apply for less funding. In a press release,
they also stated: “It’s a myth that only men apply for and receive funding for their busi-
nesses. However, it’s a fact that women are more cautious in their investments.” There-
fore, it is notable that the venture capitalists’ explicit equality requirements and policy to
Gender of the Entrepreneur and Financial Funds, Applied and Approved
Male entrepreneurs Female entrepreneurs
No. Portion No. Portion
Financial funds approved 142 62.0% 37 48.0%
Financial funds dismissed 87 38.0% 40 52.6%
Financial applications total 229 100% 77 100%
Gender of the Entrepreneur and Financial Funds, Applied and Approved
Male entrepreneurs Female entrepreneurs
Mean (Skr) SD Mean (Skr) SD
Financial funds applied 456,047*** 1,067,360 313,389*** 1,075,450
Financial funds approved 237,086** 629,345 81,746** 352,482
*** p<.001; ** p<.01
Where there is a difference between the means, the bolded mean is the highest. The bolded mean is signiﬁcantly
higher than the mean printed in italics. All means that are neither in boldface nor in italics are not signiﬁcantly
(p<.05) different from the other means. All data were computed using LN for receiving a normal distribution.
Skr, Swedish crowns
14 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
support ventures owned/led by women is not reﬂected in the distribution of ﬁnancing
(Table 3 and 4). Quite the contrary, the ﬁndings show explicit dimensions of gender bias
in distributing ﬁnancing.
Our coding of the language used and rhetoric in the funding discussions indicated that
stereotypical gender perceptions signiﬁcantly inﬂuenced the decision making and funding
decisions the governmental venture capitalists made. This means that ideas of gender
came to underpin habitual ways of thinking and behaving in the social interactions for
In the following sections, we further report on our discourse analysis, which reveals
how ﬁnanciers activate gender stereotypes through four rhetoric routes to socially con-
struct images of female and male entrepreneurs’ potential. These four discursive routes
demonstrate that the ﬁnanciers rhetorically produce stereotypical images of female entre-
preneurs as having communal qualities (e.g., needing support), qualities opposite to those
considered important to being an entrepreneur, with questionable credibility and trustwor-
thiness in general (i.e., when having a positive quality, they also possess a negative quali-
ty). Furthermore, the ﬁnanciers’ stereotypes indicate women lack competence and have
questionable experience and knowledge. When ﬁnanciers activate such stereotypes when
assessing female entrepreneurs, they produce images that align with a decision of
The way the ﬁnanciers discussed the male entrepreneurs during meetings are distinct-
ly different from assessing the female entrepreneurs. When assessing male entrepreneurs,
ﬁnanciers used four discursive routes to activate stereotypical beliefs about men that rein-
forced their entrepreneurial potential. The ﬁnanciers produce stereotypical images of
male entrepreneurs as having agentic qualities (e.g., assertive); having important entre-
preneurial qualities (e.g., innovative); being credible and trustworthy (e.g., having estab-
lished networks); and having impressive competence, experience, and knowledge.
Activating such stereotypes when assessing male entrepreneurs produced images that
align with a decision of approval. Detailed representative statements for each rhetoric
route are depicted in Table 2 and illustrated in Figure 1.
Overwhelming Attributes to Undermine or Reinforce
The different ways the venture capitalists ascribed attributes to women and men in
discussions added to undermining the women’s entrepreneurial potential while reinforc-
ing men’s entrepreneurial potential. We noticed that the ﬁnanciers socially constructed
female entrepreneurs as needing support, lacking established networks, and detailing
women’s dependency, which links to characteristic feminine attributes (according to our
data up to 56% of the attributes used in the discussions). In cases in which female entre-
preneurs were viewed as lacking established networks, the entrepreneurs’ own merits
were not discussed; instead, the discussion focused on the social context. In cases where
women and men ran a business together, the woman was viewed as a complement to the
man. This was evident in the discussions on repeated occasions and underscored when
women who held stronger positions than their male partners were marginalized or dis-
cussed as co-applicants or support to the men. Women were further discussed as needing
help and support, for example to develop their business concept, and were portrayed as
being worried individuals who were anxious as to whether they would make it. The ven-
ture capitalists also questioned the women’s knowledge of the market and raised the issue
if women actually trust their own abilities when it comes to making money. Such
February, 2017 15
emphasis on certain feminine attributes depicts an absence of entrepreneurial potential
Although the majority of attributes ascribed to female entrepreneurs were pejorative,
examples exist where the ﬁnanciers referred to female entrepreneurs in more positive
ways. Attributes such as alert, visionary, enthusiastic, and experienced were used, for
example, when referring to women in the discussions. One female entrepreneur was
referred to as generating good vibes and another as having done a lot. Women’s language
skills were mentioned twice. Although such attributes relate to achievement, a masculine
attribute commonly used to describe an entrepreneur, these achievements are articulated
in the sense of a general and versatile character. This reﬂects the ﬁnanciers’ social con-
struction of a record of versatile achievements and not speciﬁcally outlining entrepreneur-
ial potential. Through this they focus on women’s communal attributes such as being
cheerful, attentive, and sympathetic.
We also found that not all the attributes described men positively; the ﬁnanciers made
jokes about men as well. Some men were understood as troublemakers, threatening, and
even referred to as wicked individuals (according to our data up to 28% of the attributes in
the discussions). There were also comments that the men cried to show how desperate
they were. But, unlike the jokes made about women, the discussion was seldom conde-
scending or belittling when discussing men. Almost a third of the attributes ascribed to
men were negative. Some of the adjectives could have been found in contexts describing
people involved in illegal activities: threatening, dishonest, ﬁshy, and sly. Other attrib-
utes, although not equally negative, were arrogant, troublesome, and aggressive. Notice-
ably, most of the negative attributes were used in quite neutral contexts, however, and
were made without further commentary. This seemed to suggest that a certain degree of
aggression, slyness, and arrogance passed as normal male behavior.
The only men who were perceived as questionable individuals were those who were
referred to as burned-out and weak or whose competence was questioned. Such attributes
converge with the semantically identiﬁed femininity attributes of questionable trustwor-
thiness in general, questionable experience and knowledge, and in need of support. As
such, many of the attributes the ﬁnanciers used for women and men coincide with attrib-
utes traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity.
Contrasts With Known Entrepreneurship Personality Traits to Undermine
or Reinforce Entrepreneurial Potential
The different attributes used in discussions added to undermining women’s entrepre-
neurial potential while reinforcing men’s entrepreneurial potential (according to our data
up to 14.5% of the attributes in the discussion for women and 15% for men, respectively).
Among the few positive attributes assigned to female entrepreneurs in the discussions
(30%) were expressed in sentences in which the ﬁnanciers ﬁrst acknowledged a positive
attribute but undermined its value by using a negative comment in the same sentence.
One woman, for example, was described as “enthusiastic, but weak,” another as
“visionary, but with no knowledge of the market.” Other examples are “she’s got no clue,
but she is doing all right at the time” and “she is good at talking and marketing herself but
she needs to be clearer and come back again later.” In contrast, the majority of the attrib-
utes used to describe male entrepreneurs clearly highlight typical entrepreneurial charac-
teristics. These characteristics were reinforced by superlatives such as extremely capable,
very driven, very impressive competence, very impressed with what he has done, and an
16 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
exceptional person to mention a few. All of these underscored the presence of men’s
The fact that only men were viewed as entrepreneurs was further highlighted with the
actual use of the term entrepreneur; indeed, the ﬁnanciers only referred to men as entre-
preneurs and often reinforced the attribute with, for example, the adjective good and real-
ly good. Besides being referenced as entrepreneurs, men were also given titles such as
business owners, innovators, and inventors in the discussions. However, when female
entrepreneurs were discussed, they were generally not referred to via speciﬁc roles or
titles but simply referred to as “she.” Only on a rare occasion was a woman referred to as
a business owner, but never as an entrepreneur, innovator, or inventor. This practice of
titling men in the entrepreneurship profession but not women further underscores the con-
struction of men having entrepreneurial potential whereas women do not.
The social construction of male entrepreneurs also underpins their image as possess-
ing positive attributes for venturing and growth and produces an image of men as analo-
gous with known entrepreneurship personality attributes. The attribute of risk-taking, for
example, has been found to be important for possessing entrepreneurial potential. In fact,
the entrepreneurs’ propensity to take risks was only mentioned with reference to a man.
To illustrate such a situation, on one occasion the ﬁnanciers mentioned that a male entre-
preneur had money to play with. Men were also discussed as having exceptional credibili-
ty and being very skilled, also supporting the image of men as entrepreneurs.
In contrast, women were referenced as avoiding risks, and their passion for starting
and running businesses was questioned. The fact that women were viewed as being
pushed into entrepreneurship was highlighted on an occasion when the ﬁnanciers joked
about a woman applicant, saying that she was probably trying to start a business to have
something to do. The ﬁnanciers mentioned that her family was wealthy and thus referred
to her social context. In other examples, women’s entry into entrepreneurship was dis-
cussed as a route out of unemployment; the venture capitalists linked this motive to ques-
tioning women’s passion for starting and running their own businesses. In one example,
they reasoned that the woman’s idea to start a business was probably a hasty decision and
that she was not that driven. Such discourse produces an image of women as contrasting
the known entrepreneurship personality.
Different Vocabulary Associations Undermining vs. Reinforcing
The ways the venture capitalists phrased the same attributes in discussions added to
undermining women’s entrepreneurial potential while reinforcing men’s entrepreneurial
potential (according to our data up to 12.5% of the attributes in the discussion for women
and 17% for men, respectively). What was regarded as a positive or a negative term
appeared to differ depending on if the entrepreneur discussed was a woman or a man. Dif-
ferent values attached to the same attribute either undermined or reinforced the view of
the applicant’s entrepreneurial potential. For example, young with reference to a woman
was categorized as a negative term because the context made it appear as if young
equalled inexperienced.Young in reference to male entrepreneurs, on the other hand, was
associated with young and promising and was understood as a positive description of
male entrepreneurs. Another example of differences in meanings that the ﬁnanciers
attached to the same attribute included discussions about the entrepreneurs’ car. For male
entrepreneurs, expensive cars where associated with success and ﬁnancial solidity, where-
as for female entrepreneurs, expensive cars were associated with being a big spender,
February, 2017 17
high maintenance, and careless with money. A third example is the term cautious. When
women were described as cautious, they were considered to be too cautious and did not
dare aim for venture growth, expanding the business, and making larger investments in
the venture. This was thus considered negative and undermined the image of women as
having entrepreneurial potential. Male entrepreneurs who were described as cautious, in
contrast, were associated with being sensible and level-headed, which were considered
positive traits and thus reinforced the image of men as having entrepreneurial potential.
Covering Expertise With Looks vs. Detailing Expertise to Undermine or
Reinforce Entrepreneurial Potential
In the discussions, we observed that the women’s experience and education were typ-
ically questioned or not mentioned at all, and discussions of female entrepreneurs and
their venture applications was frequently jocular (according to our data up to 17% of the
attributes in the discussions). For example, we observed several jokes about good-looking
women. Comments about the entrepreneurs’ appearance with no direct association with
the entrepreneurs’ potential, such as the entrepreneurs’ clothing and physical stature were
also made. Commonly, the ﬁnanciers made these comments with a tinge of irony and in
the sense of being high maintenance or careless with money. The attributes on physical
appearance are predominantly ascribed to women.
The condescending attitude toward women was particularly evident when the
ﬁnancers jokingly discussed a female entrepreneur’s relation to a man accompanying her
to a meeting. For example, they joked about her and referred to her as his lover. Yet
another example of disrespect toward a female entrepreneur occurred when one of the
men ﬁnanciers enthusiastically referred to the entrepreneur using a term of endearment
formed from her ﬁrst name. In addition, we noted that the competence and education of
two female auditors applying for ﬁnancing were not mentioned in the discussion. Instead,
the two women were referred to as sweeties, which constituted an additional example of
the condescending attitude this group of government ﬁnanciers had toward female entre-
preneurs. Such jokes were occasionally noted as inappropriate within the group. Another
“joke” was that the approval of a woman’s venture application improved the statistics as
far as gender equality was concerned. Additional comments were made that indirectly
questioned the entrepreneur’s future productivity, such as comments on pregnancy and
health. When the ﬁnanciers discussed these women’s venture applications, they did not
talk about their academic background or their previous work experiences, but instead
mentioned things such as their clothing when questioning their ﬁnancial soundness. All of
these comments contributed to the ﬁnanciers’ being sceptical of the female entrepreneurs’
Interestingly, the ﬁnanciers seemed to socially construct and subconsciously repro-
duce female entrepreneurs as lacking the ability for venturing and growth due to their
questionable knowledge and trustworthiness, despite their conscious view that women
were cautious to the extent that it impeded their venturing. To illustrate such a situation,
on one occasion, the venture capitalists concluded that a female entrepreneur had applied
for too much funding. No such comments were made explicitly about any of the applica-
tions submitted by men.
Notable was that some women occasionally received ﬁnancing despite being per-
ceived through stereotyping. Although a limited number of such applications were
approved, we found on such occasions ﬁnanciers often used smoothing arguments to
enable them to approve an application. In such cases, governmental venture capitalists
18 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
typically used statements such as “Let’s give her a chance anyway, it might work; It’s so
little money anyway, so we can let her have a shot at her dream” and “It’s good for our
statistics to approve. We need to approve more applications from women to meet the leg-
In contrast, the ﬁnanciers socially constructed male entrepreneurs as being experi-
enced, knowledgeable, and innovative (according to our data up to 40% of the attributes
in the discussions). They talked about the male entrepreneurs’ education in detail, such as
what kind of education they had, from what institution they graduated, and their previous
entrepreneurial experiences. Furthermore, male entrepreneurs’ intellectual capacity was
frequently discussed, which highlights the focus on the entrepreneurs’ own merits. For
example, male entrepreneurs’ experiences and capacities were commonly highlighted by
references to impressive CVs and innovation track records. No such attributes were
ascribed to female entrepreneurs’ intelligence. The attributes highlighting the association
between men and entrepreneurship were innovative and good inventor. Men were also
described as idea generators, capable innovators, and reﬁner of ideas. Men’s experiences
were also described in detail, such as which ventures they had run before and how those
ventures developed. All these details underscored the entrepreneurial potential of men.
We present a detailed and comprehensive framework of stereotyping activated among
a group of government venture capitalists that covers and goes beyond previous research
in entrepreneurship (Ahl, 2006; Becker-Blease & Sohl, 2007; Brush et al., 2004). Overall,
the observations demonstrate that the attributes the ﬁnanciers assigned to male entrepre-
neurs to a large extent converge with attributes considered important in successful entre-
preneurship (Begley & Boyd, 1987; Ginsberg & Buchholtz, 1989; Gupta et al., 2009;
McGarth, MacMillan, & Scheinberg, 1992), and associate with those of masculinity and
entrepreneurial characteristics (Ahl; Bem, 1993; Smith, 2010). In contrast, the attributes
we found in our analysis that the ﬁnanciers ascribed to women entrepreneurs align quite
well with Bem’s femininity attributes and with Ahl’s attributes of being opposite of an
entrepreneur. Importantly, this revealed that in the venture capitalists’ view, the ideal
entrepreneur is a man, not a woman. While recognizing that our initial ﬁndings converge
with previous research in gender and entrepreneurship, our work extends previous
research by conceptualizing gender stereotyping, which casts new light on how rhetorical
routes shape perceptions of entrepreneurial potential. We believe that the time is ripe to
reﬂect on how rhetoric and language inﬂuence entrepreneurship. The literature is emerg-
ing and the insights that emerged from the data presented here are novel to the ﬁeld.
Notably, the way the ﬁnanciers shape, transfer, and carry socially constructed stereo-
typical representations of women and men in rhetoric will inﬂuence how they perceive
and experience reality. Consistent with this statement, our ﬁndings show how stereotyp-
ing may bias images of entrepreneurs toward high entrepreneurial potential if the entre-
preneur was a man and of low entrepreneurial potential if it was a woman. Furthermore,
these stereotypes link to expectations of future performance and business growth. The
perceived lack of entrepreneurial potential among female entrepreneurs, however, does
not correspond with an actual lack of entrepreneurial potential. For example, prior
research ﬁndings have noted no difference exists between men’s and women’s ability to
run a business, nor do the traits they possess distinguish male and female entrepreneurs
(e.g., Ahl, 2004; Cliff et al., 2005; Watson, 2002). Moreover, the venture capitalists stud-
ied here testiﬁed in line with previous observations in the entrepreneurship ﬁeld (Carter
February, 2017 19
et al., 2007; Fay & Williams, 1993) suggesting that there are no differences between
applications turned in by women and men. Instead, our results support the view that ﬁnan-
ciers employ different evaluative criteria for female and male applicants, much to wom-
In light of the biased distribution of venture capital favoring male entrepreneurs, our
ﬁndings could be seen as revealing hidden dimensions of the venture capitalists’ decision
making. The perceived violation against the gender role of women who are active as
entrepreneurs is expressed though the discourse and helps explain why women face more
difﬁculties accessing ﬁnancing compared to men. As such, our ﬁndings reveal how gender
stereotyping is activated, which is bound to inﬂuence the actual decision taken and how
social order is embedded, preserved, and reproduced through discourses in which female
entrepreneurs are viewed as inferior to their male counterparts. Previous studies have
indicated such suspicions (Crannie-Francis, Waring, Stavropoulos, & Kirky, 2003; Mar-
low & Patton, 1992; West & Zimmerman, 1987). Indeed, the biased distribution of gov-
ernmental ﬁnance is reﬂected in Tables 3 and 4. Such hidden gender dimensions often go
unquestioned (Ahl, 2006; Bem, 1993; Bird & Brush, 2002). The present research is
important, therefore, in that it outlines how gender stereotypes are socially constructed
when assessing entrepreneurs’ potential in the ﬁnancial distribution of venture support.
Consistent with the ﬁndings presented here, biological sex has been identiﬁed as one
of the strongest categorization mechanisms that people use; indeed, at a ﬁrst encounter
people typically begin by identifying the person’s sex for categorization and orientation.
This mirrors the social order in how government ﬁnanciers construct their reality when
assessing entrepreneurial abilities and how they ﬁnally distribute ﬁnancing according to
these constructions (Ahl, 2004, 2006; Ogbor, 2000). In the larger picture, our ﬁndings
communicate insights suggesting that individuals are not only categorized by their sex
but also ascribed gendered attributes that spill over into all societal activities in a way that
is invisible and inevitable (Ahl, 2007). This suggests that our ﬁndings are not solely
delimited to the speciﬁc context, but also reﬂect that norms and notions about gender
imprinted in society at large spill over into ﬁnancial decision making.
We used a grounded approach to conceptualize a framework that explains how per-
ceivers, in our case venture capitalists, resort to gender stereotyping in decision-making
discourse based on the sex of the entrepreneurs. We drew upon Eagly and Karau’s (2002)
work to expand the basic notion of gender role congruity theory by illuminating the
dynamics of gender stereotyping. As an extension, we emphasized the social construction
of reality that shapes perceptions of entrepreneurs’ potential. In doing so, we developed a
framework for how male entrepreneurs have a signiﬁcant advantage over women in
accessing ﬁnance and thus offer guidance in understanding how role congruency and role
incongruence emerge through social interaction among venture capitalists in group deci-
sion making. We propose that gender stereotyping in evaluation work consists of four dis-
tinct discursive routes that affect ﬁnanciers’ interpretations of the potential of
entrepreneurs seeking ﬁnancing.
By emphasizing the social construction of reality, we identify aspects of stereotyping
that go beyond role congruity theory. As the present research indicates, gender stereo-
types in entrepreneurship seem to be more complex in terms of distinct discourses. This is
quite well-grounded and visualized in Figure 1. In addition to stereotyping through the
overwhelming use of communal versus agentic attributes that negatively inﬂuenced the
assessment of entrepreneurial potential, we conceptualized contrasting with known entre-
preneurial personality versus analogous with known entrepreneurship personality that
undermine versus reinforce entrepreneurial potential through rhetoric-activating beliefs
about women. We achieve this by showing how attributes ascribed to women are opposite
20 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
of traditional “entrepreneurial characteristics” and thus encompass women’s perceived as
lacking entrepreneurial qualities. Meanwhile, men are portrayed as possessing entrepre-
neurial attributes. We also conceptualized stereotyping in different vocabulary associa-
tions undermining versus reinforcing entrepreneurial potential through rhetoric-
activated beliefs about women that diminish the value of an attribute by adding doubts via
another attribute. This leads to the image of women as having questionable credibility
and trustworthiness, while activating beliefs about men that underscore one attribute with
another that depict men as credible and trustworthy. Finally, we conceptualized stereotyp-
ing with covering expertise with looks versus detailing expertise that undermines versus
reinforces entrepreneurial potential. This rhetoric activates beliefs about women having
questionable experience and knowledge by overlooking competence and instead turning
to women’s appearance. Paired with this stereotype is specifying men’s competences and
thus portraying them as having impressive competence, experience, and knowledge. Our
conceptualization, then, illustrates how the sex of an entrepreneur activates gender stereo-
types within the perceiver and how they inﬂuence what is noticed about the individual
entrepreneur applying for venture capital. The stereotyping also encompasses what is
excluded, that is, attributes that are concealed in assessing male and female entrepre-
Overall, the present study is a response to the call for research in gender in entrepre-
neurship to place more emphasis on the social processes behind how stereotypes are creat-
ed and maintained. In focusing on group discussions involving government venture
capitalists, in which we explored how gender is constructed and valued, we addressed a
shortcoming. Hughes et al. (2012) pinpointed explanations beyond individual female
entrepreneurs that would encompass social arrangements. Importantly, although stereo-
typical ideas about women and men are difﬁcult to detect in individual cases or in inter-
views, we observed they clearly emerge in collective material based on longitudinal, real-
life observations. Where previous studies have identiﬁed gender stereotyping through
anecdotal evidence, our systematic attempt shows how gender stereotyping is constructed
in a group discourse. We also show how such stereotyping inevitably inﬂuences how
entrepreneurial potential is posited that resorts in images of women as having low poten-
tial and men as having high potential.
The present study is unique in that we address stereotyping in ﬁnanciers’ social
arrangements; indeed, previous work on stereotyping has predominantly examined either
the individual level or the macro level. Our unique approach extends previous research
that examines gender differences and provides unique insights into gender stereotyping
(Bigelow, Lundmark, Parks, & Wuebker, 2014; Carter et al., 2007; Fay & Williams,
1993; Tinkler, Whittington, Ku, & Davies, 2015). We also moved beyond common statis-
tical methods and other alternative approaches (e.g., verbal protocol and conjoint analy-
ses) used in research on gender in entrepreneurship with our analyses of in situ
observation data as Ahl (2006) recommended.
Limitations and Future Research
All empirical studies have limitations, and our effort to understand and conceptualize
social constructions of gender in governmental venture capitalists’ assessment work is no
exception. We identify some limitations that can serve both as qualiﬁers for the emergent
theory and warrants for further research. First, we realize the focus on one type of ﬁnan-
cier—in this case, a group of Swedish governmental venture capitalists—might limit the
generalization of our ﬁndings. However, we believe that the speciﬁc ﬁndings acquired
February, 2017 21
and especially the grounded theory are applicable to venture capitalists in different coun-
tries that are assessing ventures amidst high uncertainties and trying to pick those with the
highest future potential, while simultaneously remaining gender neutral. We also feel that
the major concepts of socially constructed images of gender stereotypes in discourse are
relevant to all types of ﬁnanciers. We believe that the social context of gender role con-
gruity matters. In this sense, it is not as important to understand the “deep structures” of
gender as much as it is important to understand the “deep processes” contributing to the
stereotypes in ﬁnanciers’ decision making when assessing entrepreneurial potential and
bias in distributing ﬁnance (cf. Jennings & Brush, 2013).
Second, we suggest future research can enrich the context of the present study
through a broader design by including a larger number of governmental venture capitalist
in Sweden and elsewhere, including different types of ﬁnanciers. Although access may be
difﬁcult, we think an increased focus on these types of studies could lead to interesting
theoretical knowledge about entrepreneurship and gender biases in many areas beyond
venture capital and ﬁnance. It is our hope that research continues to observe the use of lan-
guage in closed rooms and analyzes discourses about entrepreneurs. As such, we encour-
age future research to enrich our understanding of group dynamism in stereotyping, to
explore the social inﬂuence of gender constructions in group discourse, and to dwell on if
and how the inﬂuence exerted in ﬁnancial decision making is gendered.
By this we mean examining how the gender mix in group decisions inﬂuence decision
processes, who receives more attention and who is ignored, and who affects the decision
outcome. Another interesting avenue is to explore if and how male and female venture
capitalists’ rhetoric in group decision making is inﬂuenced by their own role congruity, as
well as the nature of male and female venture capitalists’ own rhetorical approaches in
group decision making. We also encourage future studies to explore different rhetoric
contexts in which female entrepreneurs are embedded (Brush, De Bruin, & Welter, 2009;
Hughes et al., 2012).
Third, the present study attempts to add to the conceptualization of gendered social
constructions and role congruity in governmental venture capitalists’ ﬁnancial decision
making, and we encourage further studies to continue on this path of theory development.
We recommend strengthening the conceptual basis in the ﬁeld of women’s entrepreneur-
ship and moving beyond the conclusion that gender is an issue. We also recommend mov-
ing toward notations on gender characterization and how gender shapes the decision-
making processes and distribution of ﬁnance within particular contexts. More knowledge
is needed on how, why, and in what manner gender constructions are parts of ﬁnanciers’
decision processes (cf. Jennings & Brush, 2013; Marlow & Patton, 2005). Although we
suggest a link among stereotypes, the uneven distribution of funding, and the neglect of
female entrepreneurs, we suggest that further studies should investigate how the stereo-
typical representations in decision making cause ﬁnanciers to turn to simpliﬁed assump-
tions, that is, heuristics that reduce the individual entrepreneur to norms of gender. We
suggest that the stereotypes result in simpliﬁed assumptions that cause systematic biases
and lead to serious mistakes in ﬁnancial decisions. Further studies regarding how the
group stereotyping manifests in individual biases and mental maps could lead to interest-
ing insights. We urge future studies to analyze how stereotyping can be prevented, some-
thing our material did not allow.
Interesting, too, is that stereotyping occurs in the social interaction in a group where
both female and male ﬁnanciers participated in the social construction of gender and dis-
crimination of female entrepreneurs. Hence, both women and men used stereotyping to
portray women as lacking entrepreneurial potential that is associated with discriminating
against female entrepreneurs in distributing ﬁnancing. In closing, we encourage future
22 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE
research into how gender stereotyping develops in groups. The suggested approaches
would enable further understanding of speciﬁc contexts and thus contribute more knowl-
edge on the complexity and heterogeneity in women’s entrepreneurship and the ﬁnancial
decision making to support their endeavors.
The present study extends knowledge about how gender stereotypes are socially con-
structed by language and rhetoric among venture capitalists engaged in distributing ﬁnan-
cial venture support. We report that the perceived lack of female entrepreneurs’ potential
occurs based on socially constructed stereotypical images applied to both men and wom-
en. Arguably then, the empirical evidence offers implications on the association between
gendered rhetoric and the distribution of government ﬁnancing, where gendered attributes
most likely negatively inﬂuence women’s access to ﬁnance. Such covert gender biases
create additional barriers for women to access the ﬁnancing required to reach their busi-
ness potential. The evidence of a gendered rhetoric and group-level stereotyping reported
in the present study constitutes such a barrier for female entrepreneurs to access ﬁnancial
means. Given the relevance of this barrier for ﬁnancial distribution to female entrepre-
neurs, our study suggests more attention to language, rhetoric, and stereotyping.
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om is professor in entrepreneurship and innovation, Department of Economics and
Technology and Society at Lulea
˚University of Technology, Lulea
Jeaneth Johansson is associate professor in accounting and control, Department of Economics and
Technology and Society at Lulea
˚University of Technology, and is a professor in the School of Busi-
ness, Engineering and Science, Halmstad University, Halmstad, Sweden.
Joakim Wincent is a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Department of Economics
and Technology and Society at Lulea
˚University of Technology, Lulea
˚, Sweden, and is a professor of
Department of Management and Organisation in the Hanken School of Economics, Entrepreneurship
28 ENTREPRENEURSHIP THEORY and PRACTICE