“What is your secret sauce to win?” - gender performance at entrepreneurial pitching

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This study aims to explore gender performance in entrepreneurial pitching. Understanding the pitch as a social practice, we argue that the pitch content and body gestures contain gender-based norms and practices. We focus on early-stage ventures and the hegemonic masculinities and femininities that are performed in entrepreneurial pitches. The main research question is as follows: How is gender performed in entrepreneurial pitching?
We carried out the study with the post-structuralist feminist approach. We collected and analyzed nine online pitches with the reflexive thematic method to depict hegemonic masculinities and femininities performed at the pitch.
We found that heroic and breadwinner masculinities are dominant in pitching. Both male and female founders perform hegemonic masculinities. Entrepreneurs are expected to be assertive but empathetic people. Finally, there are connections between what entrepreneurs do and what investors ask, indicating the iteration of gender performance and expectations.
While the online setting helps us to collect data during the pandemic, it limits the observation of the place, space, and interactions between the judges/investors and the entrepreneurs. As a result, the linguistic and gesture communication of the investors in the pitch was not discussed in full-length in this paper.
Also, as we observed, people would come to the pitch knowing what they should perform and how they should interact. Therefore, the preparation of the pitch as a study context could provide rich details on how gender norms and stereotypes influence people’s interactions and their entrepreneurial identity.
Lastly, the study has a methodological limitation. We did not include aspects of space in our analysis. It is mainly due to the variety of settings that the pitching sessions in our data set had.
For social practices and policies, our results indicate barriers to finance for women entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs are rewarded when they perform entrepreneurial hegemonic masculinities with a touch of emphasized femininities. Eventually, if women entrepreneurs do not perform correctly as investors expect them to, they will face barriers to acquiring finance. It is important to acknowledge how certain gendered biases might be (re)constructed and (re)produced through entrepreneurial activities, in which pitching is one of them.
Practitioners could utilize research findings to understand how gender stereotypes exist not only on the pitch stage but also before and after the pitch, such as the choice of business idea and pitch training. In other words, it is necessary to create a more enabling environment for women entrepreneurs, such as customizing the accelerator program so that all business ideas receive relevant support from experts. On a macro level, our study has shown that seemingly gender-equal societies do not practically translate into higher participation of women in entrepreneurship.
For theoretical contributions, our study enhances the discussion that entrepreneurship is gendered; women and men entrepreneurs need to perform certain hegemonic traits to be legitimated as founders. We also address various pitching practices that shape pitch performance by including both textual and semiotic data in the study. This study provides social implications on the awareness of gendered norms and the design of entrepreneurial pitching.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • gender performance
  • hegemonic masculinities
  • hegemonic femininities
  • entrepreneurial pitching
  • video analysis
  • gestures


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