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“Venture bearding,” a term that we coin in this Article, describes processes of obscuring and covering socially stigmatized identities in business environments. This Article introduces distinctive identity performance strategies from the technology, startup, and venture capital context into the legal literature and discusses what their existence explains about business environments and capital formation. Venture bearding, as we use the term, describes behaviors that persons with contextually stigmatized identities adopt to access social status and capital. In some instances, women, who are stigmatized in this context, may employ men as front persons to conceal that the venture is an exclusively women-owned business. Venture bearding is a common, complex, and problematic strategy and is driven by stigma and bias in the business environment.

The Article focuses on how the current startup, technology, and venture capital landscape causes persons with stigmatized identities to strategically conceal facets of their female identities in favor of presenting masculinized identities to conduct business and raise capital. The Article charts a continuum of venture bearding practices ranging from techniques to downplay a founder’s identity to the actual employment of men for the purpose of deriving economic value from their identities.

The existence of venture bearding raises critical capital allocation concerns. While venture bearding strategies may mitigate some capital allocation biases and benefit some entrepreneurs, employing these strategies risks reifying discriminatory norms. These norms increase the cost of capital and inhibit economic growth.

Publication Citation

52 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1873 (2019).