Editor’s note: Today’s newsletter is written by Amy Muller, Chairman Mom’s digital community strategist. (You’ve probably seen her plugging away at CM threads!)
I’ve worked in tech for over 20 years and have been confronted with all kinds of gender bias. The worst is the implicit bias that you sense in your gut is happening to you but you can’t actually pinpoint in a way that convinces others that there’s a there there? So you’re left feeling like maybe it’s just you. Maybe it’s all in your head. Maybe you’re a little bit crazy.
While watching Dana Kanze’s TED Talk on the implicit bias inherent in the kinds of questions investors ask men versus women seeking their funding, I felt a soothing wave of “I’m not crazy” wash over me. I was also plenty angry at the behavior she’s uncovered.
She explains that there are “promotion-coded” questions—“How many new customers do you plan to acquire this year?”—and “prevention-coded” questions—“How do you plan to retain your existing customers?” The former tend to get asked of male funds-seekers and the latter of female.
And guess what else? Those who get asked promotion-coded questions are more likely to raise more money. In one study she did she found that despite the comparability of the startups in her sample, those who were asked promotion-coded questions went on to raise seven times that of those asked prevention-coded questions.
AND, no surprise: in this particular sample, 67% of the questions asked of the male founders were promotion-coded and 66% asked of the female founders were prevention-coded. Her talk, based on a research she co-authored with three colleagues, went on to give actionable advice to both the VC world as well as to the women seeking funding. Women: When you’re asked a prevention-coded question, reframe your answer in a promotion-focused direction.
It’s a dramatic talk. She uses her near-death experience as a child drowning under the surface of the pool where no one could see her flailing and struggling as a metaphor for being the victim of implicit bias. What struck me as I was listening to her is that this phenomenon of promotion-coded language versus prevention-coded language extends outside the realm of fundraising. It was an “a-ha!” moment for me as I was able to identify how this finding related to some of the implicit bias experiences of my past. And it, like so many things that have come to light in the past couple of years, made me feel just a little less crazy.