For entrepreneurs, it pays to be a handsome man

A recent study from researchers at MIT Sloan School, Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School says investors who prime the capital pump for entrepreneurs are biased toward pitches from attractive men. According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investors favor men even if the content of the entrepreneurial pitches given by men and women are the same.

"We identify a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneurship, a central path to job creation, economic growth, and prosperity," the researchers wrote.

The business proposition and the entrepreneur's previous experience are supposed to be the main criteria for making an investment decision. However, the study found a gender bias toward male entrepreneurs. More attractive males had an additional advantage over women as well as other males, while "physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs."

The researchers created three studies. In the first, they looked at entrepreneurial pitch competitions in the U.S., analyzing video recordings "to test the relationship between entrepreneur gender, physical attractiveness, and pitch success." Male participants were "60% more likely to achieve pitch competition success than were female entrepreneurs," according to the report.

Still, it's possible that the males' pitches had some factor, whether content or delivery, that was more persuasive. So, in the second study, researchers had people watch entrepreneurial pitch videos in which the people did not appear and which used a dubbed male or female voice. Although everything but the gender of the voice was the same, male voices were chosen over female by more than two to one.

Study subjects rated male-narrated pitches "as more persuasive, logical, and fact-based" than when a woman read the same pitch.

The third study worked similarly to the second, but it presented "a gender-matched high- or low-attractiveness photo along with the video." People were significantly more likely to invest money with an attractive male than an unattractive one. But there was no significant difference for female entrepreneurs based on their attractiveness.

The researchers did say it was unclear whether the bias was "irrational," or if there's "rational statistical discrimination" based on male entrepreneurs being either "inherently more talented or more likely to be at an advantage throughout their ventures or throughout their careers." According to the researchers, however, it's unclear whether male entrepreneurs do outperform the females.

Entrepreneurship is a generator of jobs and innovation in business. Venture capital is an important element, as VC money has helped launch the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter. Investor bias could be a factor in why more successful companies are led by men than women, because without adequate resources, female-run ventures would have a more difficult road to success.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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