Businesses trying to raise money by going public may have a tough time finding investors if a woman is at the helm, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Utah found that despite identical personal qualifications and firm financials, female founders and CEOs were perceived as less capable than their male counterparts. In turn, the initial public offerings for companies led by those women were considered less attractive investments.

"Bias against top-level female executives seems entrenched despite strides women have made in filling management positions within firms making their initial public offerings," said Lyda Bigelow, assistant professor at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business.

The study surveyed more than 200 second-year MBA students on their opinions of fictitious companies, some of which were led by men and some by women.  The results point out an apparent reluctance to invest in IPOs spearheaded by women even though nearly half of all privately held businesses in the United States today are owned, or led by, women.

The researchers said the lack of female-led IPOs suggests a potentially larger problem: a gender-based capital gap for new ventures.

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Similar to the glass ceiling of corporate America that limited the advancement of numerous female executives, women entrepreneurs face a "green ceiling" when it comes to financing, according to the study.

"If companies led by females are disadvantaged in their ability to raise cash through the stock market, it can impact the viability and financial health of their companies, their ability to expand and compete in an increasingly global and competitive environment, and, if they are unable to remain viable, their employees’ livelihoods," the researchers wrote.

The study, "Skirting the Issues: Evidence of Gender Bias in IPO Prospectus Evaluations," has been accepted for publication in a future edition of the Journal of Management. It was co-authored by Robert Wuebker, a postdoctoral fellow at the David Eccles School; Leif Lundmark, a doctoral candidate at the David Eccles School; and Judi McLean Parks, a professor of organizational behavior at Washington University’s Olin Business School.

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at chadgbrooks@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

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