You are here

Does Shark Tank have a woman problem?

Shark Tank, a popular ABC show, will be premiered its seventh season on September 25. In honor of their 7th season, we at NWBC have run an analysis on Shark Tank and women. ABC used to publish detailed synopses of each episode, summarizing the contestants, pitches, sharks’ reactions and comments, and any ensuing bids or negotiations. After Season 4, they stopped doing so (thanks, ABC), which has made data collection particularly arduous. As a result, I stopped after Season 5, Episode 10. In total, I analyzed 74 episodes, 303 unique pitches, and 439 contestants. This blog post summarizes some major trends I’ve pulled out and the implications thereof. Check out our infographics for a more detailed numbers breakdown and visual representation! Note that although these numbers paint an interesting picture, some of the breakdown, especially by race, is not statistically significant due to a lack of overall diversity on the show.

So how are women on the show actually doing? Women made up 153 of the total contestants, or 34.85%. As women make up 36% of business owners overall in the United States, this is actually pretty good representation.[1] However, since women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national rate, Shark Tank definitely has some room for improvement.[2] Of the women on the show, 63% pitched as part of a team and 37% appeared alone. The three most popular industries for women were Food and Beverage (21% of female contestants), Fashion, Clothing, and Accessories (20%), and Education, Child Development, and Children’s Products (15%).

Women received offers from sharks at roughly the same rate as men (58.8% versus 62.6%, respectively). However, because men were more likely than women to turn the deal down, they actually made deals with the sharks at exactly the same rate (49.7%). Men were also much more likely than women to negotiate with the sharks. 48.0% of men made counter-offers, while only 34.4% of women did the same. Only 24.2% of women competing alone negotiated, while that number actually increased for men competing alone to 52.9%.

Of the 31 women who did negotiate, 25 did so successfully, meaning they ultimately walked away with a deal that was more amenable to them. Of the 86 men who negotiated, 69 did so successfully. This indicates that women are generally just as successful as men at negotiating. Their reluctance to do so despite perhaps having a strong basis for negotiation is indicative of a society-wide trend. Studies have shown that women are much more reticent than men to negotiate for things like higher pay because they face a significantly higher social cost to negotiating.[3] However, although more studies would have to be conducted to make any significant conclusions, it seems that at least in the world of venture capitalism that women who do negotiate are as successful as their male counterparts and do not face this higher social cost. Possible reasons for this include the fact that they’re negotiating for their businesses rather than themselves, which tends to be viewed more favorably.[4] In addition, the sharks are evaluating not only the pitches but also the entrepreneurs themselves. They are trying to decide whether they want to make the investment in the person as well as the idea. Refusing to take a bad deal is a sign of business savvy on behalf of the entrepreneur, and can be viewed more favorably by venture capitalists than, say, by someone’s boss.

In general, teams did better than individual entrepreneurs. Overall, men in groups did significantly better than men alone (69.8% received offers versus 53.5%), while women did roughly the same whether they were in groups or not. All-men groups actually did better than both all-women and mixed groups (73.2% vs. 57.7% and 56.8% respectively). Team vs. individual status had unexpected effects on negotiation trends. Women in groups were significantly more likely to negotiate than women alone (40.4% vs. 24.2%). Some of this can likely be attributed to women who are in mixed-gender groups, which tend to be husband-wife pairs. However, men alone were much more likely to negotiate than men in teams (52.9% vs. 45.1%). Within groups, mixed-gender teams, usually husband and wife, were actually more likely to negotiate than both all-male and all-female groups (47.6%, 46.3%, and 33.3% respectively). Further analysis on how team dynamic affects negotiations would be quite interesting, especially in terms of its impacts on female entrepreneurs’ behaviors and comfort level.

One of the major barriers to women entrepreneurs is access to capital, both in starting and scaling a business. Women are particularly absent from the world of venture capital – a study conducted at Stanford suggests women-run businesses receive only 4.2% of venture capital funding.[5] One common explanation for this discrepancy is that because the vast majority of venture capitalists are men, VC is thus more accessible to men. Many have suggested that if there were more women in VC, those women would invest more in women entrepreneurs. This is suggestive of a well-established social behavior called homophily, in which people are more likely to trust people similar to themselves. In this analysis of Shark Tank, I looked to see if the female sharks (Lori Greiner and Barbara Corcoran) were more likely than their male counterparts to invest in women. Although this certainly wouldn’t prove homophily in VC as a whole, it certainly would make the case for the value in having more women in VC. Additionally, sharks like Kevin O’Leary and Barbara Corcoran have commented publicly about their efforts to support women entrepreneurs. In analyzing the data, I was looking to see if they put their money where their mouths are.

Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a. Mr. Wonderful, made offers to 27.8% of the women entrepreneurs he saw, while he made offers to 33.3% of the men. Despite his claims to support and invest a majority with women entrepreneurs, he actually makes his offers to them at lower rates than he does to men. Interestingly, women seem as averse to him as he is to women. Kevin O’Leary has by far the lowest acceptance rates of his offers, averaging 28.9% while every other shark is 50% or higher. Only 23.1% of women who receive offers from Kevin O’Leary actually accept them, while that same number for men is 31.5%. This is probably because O’Leary tends to make the harshest offers, often requesting royalties in perpetuity as opposed to equity in exchange for his funding. This business model heavily calls into question his commitment to mentorship and making sure that the entrepreneurs actually succeed. His royalties, while they may recoup him his investment as quickly as possible, can easily cripple a cash-strapped business in its early years.

Barbara Corcoran, who was the only woman shark for the first two seasons, made an offer to 30.8% of the women entrepreneurs she saw. She only made offers on 22.4% of the men she saw. It seems that Barbara Corcoran really is making a concerted effort to support women. Women and men accept her offers at rates of 75.8% and 75.6% respectively. Perhaps one of the reasons she’s so popular is because Corcoran is known to be a hands-on mentor. Since she sold the Corcoran Group in 2001, she has been able to really invest time and energy into the entrepreneurs she makes deals with. Corcoran is most likely to invest in all-women teams (37.5%) and least likely to invest in men competing solo (15.1%). Corcoran also has the highest rates of investment in industries that tend to be woman-dominated, including Pet Products (57.1%), Beauty (46.2%), Education, Child Development, and Children’s Products (38.2%), Fashion, Clothing, and Accessories (32.56%), and Food and Beverage (31.0%) as her top five industries. However, given Corcoran’s background is in real estate and not in any of these industries, then it’s more likely her interest in supporting women is driving her industry breakdown rather than vice versa.

Lori Greiner, who joined the cast Season 3 and has alternated with Barbara Corcoran as the sole woman on the panel of sharks, is generally nicer to the women contestants on the show in terms of her questioning and comments. However, this doesn’t really translate to the rates of offers she makes. Greiner made offers to 32.2% of the women she saw on the show and 30.1% of the men. This is not a particularly significant difference. She invested most often in mixed-gender groups (usually husband-wife teams) at a rate of 35.7% and invested the least in single men at a rate of 26.32%. Greiner was easily the most popular shark, with an overall acceptance rate of her offers of 82.0%. This is most likely because Greiner is known for her QVC Show, and many Shark Tank contestants go on the show with the express goal of making a deal with Greiner and getting on QVC. Generally her niche is quite clear, and her fellow sharks will often defer to her expertise and industry connections as the better fit for a particular company. She also tends to make quite generous deals, putting up the capital for relatively less equity than her peers. The most popular industries for Greiner included Home Goods (53.85%), Beauty (50%), and Fashion, Clothing, and Accessories (32.3%). These sectors make a lot of sense for Greiner to invest in, given her QVC empire. The show actually capitalizes quite a bit on the differences between Corcoran and Greiner (Greiner originally was cast for Season 1, but was bumped at Corcoran’s insistence) and pits the two “Lady Sharks” against each other, even while both are purportedly attempting to support women.

When it comes to investing in women, Robert Herjavec is without a doubt the most egregious offender. He has made offers to only 20.9% of the women entrepreneurs on the show, while he has done so for 32.7% of the men. He makes offers most often to all male groups at 41.5% and least often to women alone at 12.3%. Herjavec seems to really prefer teams that embody “bro culture,” which explains his preference for all male teams. It’s interesting that Herjavec invests heavily in fields that generally feature more women, such as Education, Child Development, and Children’s Products (39.0%) and Home Goods (36.0%), but does not invest in women. Herjavec himself was a stay-at-home father for three years while his children were young, and so understands these products. He doesn’t really care about supporting women, and will occasionally make sexist side comments about female contestants.

Mark Cuban makes offers to women at slightly higher rates than he does to men (29.4% vs. 25.6%). He generally makes offers to everyone at similar rates, with everything in the 25% to 30% range. Even his breakdown by sector all lies within this range. Mark Cuban has been startlingly inconsistent in his stance on women entrepreneurs and “women’s products.” He’ll often claim that he doesn’t know anything about, for example, women’s fashion and won’t be able to add any value, and will use that as an excuse not to invest in a group. Then, two episodes later, he’ll make a bid on a different women’s fashion group and claim to be able to really help that business grow and scale. Cuban is extremely popular with women entrepreneurs, garnering an acceptance rate of 78.1% of offers made to women and 68.5% of men.

Daymond John, who got his start in retail, made offers to 25.0% of the women entrepreneurs. The same number for men was 20.6%. Given his retail background, it makes sense that John makes offers to slightly more women than men. John invested most frequently in mixed gender teams (39.1%) and least often in all-men groups (16.3%). Daymond John is a rather more sentimental investor than perhaps some of the other sharks, and is often moved by inspiring stories or charismatic people. This is in direct contrast with Kevin O’Leary, who usually cares primarily about numbers, figures, projections, and money. John is the only person of color on Shark Tank, and has made offers at higher rates to contestants of color than any of the other sharks. However, it is difficult to come up with significant trends for people of color because there were so few of them on the show.

That brings up one of my final points of consideration. Of the 439 contestants on Shark Tank that I analyzed, 390 were White. There were only 13 Asian contestants, 26 Black contestants, and 10 Hispanic contestants. For perspective, there were 16 contestants under 20. There were more entrepreneurs who literally have not graduated college yet than there were either Asian or Hispanic contestants. This makes it impossible to analyze data about contestants of color in any truly meaningful way. I also analyzed data on age, but there were not any particularly surprising or interesting patterns emerging from that information.

So, overall synopsis? Shark Tank offers a valuable window into the world of venture capital for the general public. Thus far, it seems that having more women and more diversity in VC is pretty important for providing more equal access to funding and to capital. Despite the real money and real careers that are being tossed around on Shark Tank, this is still a reality TV show – something that it would be prudent to remember. It should be interesting to watch as TV producers continue to use gender as a selling point and to capitalize on the Greiner/Corcoran disagreements as women’s or gender issues. Of further note is definitely continuing to track women’s negotiation willingness and success throughout the series. There are significant differences between negotiating for a salary and negotiating for funding for a business, and it would be interesting to see how these differences manifest. Overall, Shark Tank is doing a good job of having women on the show, an okay job of presenting women as serious entrepreneurs, and a not great job of treating its female sharks the same as it does its male sharks. As Shark Tank moves into its 7th season, here’s hoping that we see more diversity, both in the sharks and in the entrepreneurs. Make sure to take a look at our interactive infographics and charts for more information and more trends!