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Here is a venture capitalist evaluating two entrepreneurs for support.

The first: "Young and promising."

The second: "Young and inexperienced."

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Recent research suggests the first entrepreneur would be male the second female. And the assessments constitute an unconscious bias against female innovators.

In Harvard Business Review, the researchers report: "Aside from a few exceptions, the financiers rhetorically produce stereotypical images of women as having qualities opposite to those considered important to being an entrepreneur, with VCs questioning their credibility, trustworthiness, experience, and knowledge. Conversely, when assessing male entrepreneurs, financiers leaned on stereotypical beliefs about men that reinforced their entrepreneurial potential. Male entrepreneurs were commonly described as being assertive, innovative, competent, experienced, knowledgeable, and having established networks."

Ironically, the research – by academics Malin Malmstrom, Jeaneth Johansson and Joakim Wincent – was of a Swedish government agency, which you would assume would be more open-minded to female entrepreneurs. They note that about one-third of businesses in that country are owned and run by women, although they only revive 13 to 18 per cent of government funding.

Beyond Dragon's Den, the discussions of venture capitalists remain behind closed doors, so the chance to observe and record the decision-making in 2009-2010 gives us an unusual glimpse at what happens. And what stood out for the researchers was the radically different language used to describe men and women in the 125 venture applications.

"Many of the young men and women were described as being young, though youth for men was viewed as promising, while young women were considered inexperienced. Men were praised for being viewed as aggressive or arrogant, while women's experience and excitement were tempered by discussions of their emotional shortcomings. Similarly, cautiousness was viewed very differently depending on the gender of the entrepreneur," they write.

The average male entrepreneur is described with phrases such as these:

  • “Arrogant, but very impressive competence.”
     
  • “Aggressive but a really good entrepreneur.”
     
  • “Experienced and knowledgeable.”
     
  • “Very competent innovator and already has money to play with.”
     
  • “Cautious, sensible and level-headed.”

For women, descriptors such as these were more common:

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  • “Lacks network contacts and in need of help to develop her business concept.”
     
  • “Enthusiastic but weak.”
     
  • “Experienced but weak.”
     
  • “Experienced but worries.”
     
  • “Good-looking and careless with money.”
     
  • “Too cautious and does not dare.”
     
  • “Visionary but with no knowledge of the market.”

At the core, they say, is language that repeatedly underpins the image of a man as a true entrepreneur while undermining the image of women as having those capabilities. Not only do women suffer, but it's potentially damaging for society as a whole as money fails to be invested in businesses that have potential.

Four decision-making styles and when to use them:

There are four different decision-making styles, according to consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner. But perhaps the biggest decision is when to employ each.

Those styles will be familiar:

  • Autocratic : You make the decision on your own, without input from your team.
     
  • Consultative: You ask your team for information that would be helpful and for their opinions – either individually or as a group – but you make the final decision.
     
  • Team: You bring the team together and facilitate reaching a consensus, in which everyone (including you) agrees to support the decision.
     
  • Delegating: You aren’t part of the decision and leave it to others. You might or might not ask to be informed of the decision but do not change it.

It's important, she stresses, to be clear about what decision-making approach will be used. People can feel misled if they assume they will have a say, for example, and find out they don't. "When people know ahead of time what their role is in the decision-making process, they are less likely to resent or undermine a decision that doesn't go the way they wanted," she writes on the Seapoint Center blog.

She suggests four questions to figure out which system to use :

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  • Is this your decision to make? If the decision belongs to one of your direct reports or someone on another team, apply a delegating style. But if you believe that person is not capable of making a proper decision without your involvement, discuss that with them and determine what approach to use. If the decision is required urgently and you don’t have time to contact them or they are unavailable, get to them as quickly as possible.
     
  • Do you have access to the relevant information and the expertise needed to make the decision by yourself? If you have that and support for the decision is not needed or guaranteed, use an autocratic style. After all, she says, you don’t need to call your team together to discuss where to hang a picture in your office. “The danger is that sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know,” she warns. “If this is a mission-critical decision, it’s worth using a consultative style to make sure you’re not missing any important information that would affect the quality of your decision.”
     
  • To what extent is acceptance necessary for successful implementation? If successful implementation depends on understanding and acceptance for others, it’s best to involve them early on through the team style, even if you think you know the best decision. You may save time on decision-making by opting for an autocratic style but will pay the price in implementation. You also would likely get a higher-quality decision through a good consensus process.
     
  • How great is the impact of the decision on accomplishing the team’s mission? As complexity increases, the likelihood you know everything needed to make a quality decision decreases, so a consultative style is preferred. As the scale of the decision’s impact increases, you are more likely to need acceptance of others for ultimate success. She recommends a high-involvement style, team if possible, and if not, consultative, giving broad and deep input.

Finally, she urges against letting urgency overcome this decision-making schema. You may regret not opting for the best approach and going for the quickest. Often, we choose a decision-making approach by instinct. Instead, think carefully before every significant decision, weighing the options she presents.

Understanding encouragement and empathy

Encouragement and empathy are both useful traits for managers. But encouragement beats empathy, says leadership trainer Dan Rockwell on his Leadership Freak blog. "Empathy feels good, but encouragement nudges people to reach higher next time. Empathy says, "I accept you." Encouragement says, "I believe in you," he writes.

That's important to understand: Encouragement, he stresses, isn't telling someone they did a good job when they fell short. That's just a lie, which encourages indifference and mediocrity. "Encouragement matters when people work hard but fall short," he says. So show a little empathy but give lots of encouragement.

Quick hits

  • A McKinsey & Co. study suggests that you get more business and career success by effectively managing your boss and your colleagues at similar levels in other parts of the organization than by managing subordinates. Taken together, these upward and horizontal actions were about 50-per-cent more important than managing subordinates for business success (45 per cent versus 30 per cent) – and well over twice as important for career success (47 per cent versus 19 per cent).
     
  • Here are two good questions recruiters told Fast Company’s Rich Bellis you should ask them in job interviews: What do you most like about working here and how has your role changed since joining the company? The second question gives insight into career advancement.
     
  • When a company’s website needs to work on several different devices, many designers simply resize each image from the large screen design to make it fit smaller screens. But images that work well on large screens do not always translate well to small screens. User specialist Amy Schade of the Nielsen Norman group recommends removing images for the smaller screen that don’t add information. Then, pay close attention to cropping, scaling and placement.
     
  • Your best ideas are unlikely to occur when you are rushing from meeting to meeting. Schedule time to do nothing but think, says Jesse Lear, CEO at V.I.P. Waste Services, LLC.
     
  • Kai Chan, a fellow at Insead business school, created a power language index based on what language would best serve an alien landing on Earth. English topped the list, with Mandarin growing in power but a distant second. French comes in third place, with strong results in geography and diplomacy, while Spanish, Arabic and Russian follow.
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