Blessing or curse? Good-looking businessmen like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will climb the ladder easily but their female equivalent such as Ultimo’s Michelle Mone will not have found it so simple, the study says.
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggest there is a glass ceiling for women in the corporate world because backers prefer presentations from men.
In Britain, just four FTSE 100 companies have female chief executives, and 90 per cent of growing venture capital firms in the US are founded or led by men.
Researchers at Harvard Business School recruited 60 experienced and affluent backers to view video recordings of 90 randomly-selected verbal business pitches made by entrepreneurs from various business sectors at three contests in the US.
The investors – who were unaware of each contest’s outcome – were asked to rate the looks of the entrepreneurs.
Among the women, those who were deemed attractive were not necessarily the most effective speakers. Conversely, attractive men were thought to give the best presentations.
The panel also found male voices were much better at securing deals than female ones.
Dr Alison Brooks, of Harvard Business School, said: ‘We identifiy a profound and consistent sex gap in entrepreneurship – a central path to job creation, economic growth and prosperity.
‘Across a field setting and two controlled experiments we find investors prefer entrepreneurial pitches presented by males compared with picthes presented by females – even when the content of the pitch is the same.
‘Attractive males are particularly persuasive whereas physical attractiveness does not matter among female entrepreneurs.
‘These findings fundamentally advance the science related to sex, physical attractiveness, psychological persuasion, bias, role expectations and entrepreneurship.
‘To the extent female entrepreneurs are disadvantaged in entrepreneurial pitching simply by virtue of their sex then women may remain under-represented in the entrepreneurial economy.
‘Moreover the power of male attractiveness to persuade evaluators to select one pitch over another suggests entrepreneurial opportunities may also be unevenly distributed even within the male population.’