Gender Bias in Idea Generation and the Evaluation of Creative Ideas: An Online Behavioural Experiment
Keywords:social entrepreneurship, gender bias, design-led innovation, decision-making, sex-role attributes
Generating and selecting profitable ideas to solve complex problems, is essential to entrepreneurship. However, such choices are heavily influenced by personal bias. Entrepreneurship is framed as a “masculine world” (Bird and Brush, 2002). Entrepreneurs rely heavily on creativity, risk-taking and divergent thinking which are deemed to be predominantly masculine traits (Cropley, 2006). The majority of investment decision-makers are also male (Brush et al., 2018). Investors are critical in determining whether an idea will be further developed. The compounding effect is the inequitable distribution of funding and low rates of success for female founders. A significant factor in the divergence of treatment between men and women entrepreneurs is gender bias. However, we believe that innovative ideas are also gendered and that this is what influences selection. We conducted experiments to understand the impact of gender bias in creative group processes when using the divergent-convergent (diamond) approach for ideation. Our aim was to explore whether individuals selected ideas due to the creator’s identity or whether ideas perceived as “feminine” or “masculine” influences choice. Furthermore, we examined whether males were more creative and produced more divergent ideas than females. Using an electronic brainstorming system (EBS) we engaged 230 innovation and entrepreneurship university students in vignette-style ideation and evaluation challenges. Results showed no significant differences between genders in creativity, novelty, or usefulness
ratings. However, “feminine” ideas were rated higher by females on all (but one) criteria and males rated “masculine” ideas higher on all criteria. Our results demonstrate a sex-based preference for gendered ideas in both sexes. Females were rated higher on divergent ideas and males higher on convergent ideas, which conflicts with the established view of male dominance. The experiment showed that the EBS system mitigated social cues around identity and reduced the impact of gender bias on creative evaluation. This research raises concern about investment in innovation and whether “masculine” preferred solutions are inevitable in a male-dominated funding environment. This research contributes to an understanding of the influence of finance on the success of economic or profit-focused innovations (masculine) as opposed to those that address social outcomes or community good (feminine).