A PROBLEM OF PERCEPTION
Securing funding is often affected by our perception of likely success. I see two issues when it comes to accessing finance for women.
Thirty nine per cent of the women exporters who spoke to WIGB said they felt gender makes a difference when borrowing money. Over half of domestic women entrepreneurs agreed. These views are formed from a combination of preconceived impressions prior to any interaction and reacting to dealings with financial institutions.
These are of course perceptions but in my experience they ring true.
It is a matter of representation: when men dominate the business pages and TV interviews, compose the majority of speaker panels and dominate as decision makers in financing, women are given a strong message their faces don’t fit. Women naturally share negative experiences with financial institutions and as we know, bad news travels faster than good news.
The faces of women and especially mature women are underrepresented in business and business profiles. This underrepresentation reinforces the perception they are playing in the wrong league or, worse yet, don’t even belong in the sport.
At their worst, these perceptions fuel self-doubt and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
When these women meet with potential financiers, they are already convinced their businesses are at the right level and have the right basics. They have marshalled their reserves of courage but the ‘starting-from-behind’ mind-set works as a drag on this confidence. It may affect their presentation, pitch and confidence.
That’s not to say men don’t have the same issues about confidence and presentation but they do have positive role models with a track record of success which can build confidence.
The second issue is about decision makers. In the majority of instances, the people who actually make financing decisions are male.
So in your standard scenario – nine times out of 10 - a businesswoman turns up and makes her case across a desk to a male financier who will be making an important decision on the future of her business. The potential for pre-conceived expectations and even biases are clear.
A woman may portray her business differently. If she communicates and behaves differently and uses different terms and gestures, then that could possibly influence the manager’s decision because she behaves outside of the norm and possibly his comfort zone. This is unconscious bias at work, writ large in our financial system.