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Beyonce famously sang that women should put their hands up, and if you want to keep them, you have to put a ring on it. But in the worlds of high tech or venture capital, the better move might be to put a ruler on it.
This isn't a magic trick -- we'll get to the underlying science in a bit -- but first consider that, in 2011, only a dozen companies in the Fortune 500 were headed by women. Economists Aldo Rustichini and Luigi Guiso are among those researchers who have been asking that question. As strange as it may sound, the ratio of index to ring finger correlates with traits such as spatial ability, risk-taking, and assertiveness. Sure enough, their analysis of the photos found that the more successful the entrepreneur, the longer the ring finger compared to the index finger. As you hold up your hand to examine your own two fingers, this finding probably sounds downright absurd. A couple months into gestation, fingers sprout and elongate, and, also during that time, the early limbic brain gets organized. All of which is a very technical way to explain that the length of the ring finger is a marker for fundamental -- but not entirely known -- brain system differences. Normally, men's ring fingers are a tad longer, and women's index fingers are a tiny bit longer. This suggests that entrepreneurs are special, wired that way from the fetal stages of development. In a study of University of Chicago MBA students, researchers had found a very large gap between male and female students' career ambitions. That's worth repeating: it was their testosterone, not gender, that seemed to be driving their careers. If you're wondering whether venture capital firms should just throw out the business plans and take photos of entrepreneurs' hands, that's the wrong idea.
Rustichini notes that some scientists believe that all the biological components of competitiveness, taken together, comprise 40% of the explanation.
According to Rustichini, if people's childhoods don't cultivate the competitive psyche, or if the society they live in isn't supportive of women's efforts, they're never going to succeed as entrepreneurs, no matter how long their ring fingers are.


The biggest mistake might be using gender in any way to count, sort, or even think about entrepreneurs. In January 1970, the feminist movement had already begun to drum up support for an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Behold, "Things To Do With Your Hands That Men Like." Published in the magazine's January 1970 issue, this is undoubtedly one of the greatest (and most hilarious) gifts the publication has bestowed upon the fairer sex. BRB, we'll just be awaiting nightfall so we can crawl through our man's window and plant a perfumed scarf under his pillow so he dreams nicely-scented dreams of our life together -- until he wakes up and "direct-dials" the police. Because new science has revealed that the size of a woman's ring finger can predict her entrepreneurship, career interests, and a host of other traits essential to success in a high stakes, high tech career. But focusing on those arguments -- as legitimate as they may be -- means we can forget to consider any other explanations.
They hired a small army of 200 assistants to go out and interview over two thousand Italian men and women small-business owners and founders.
The most successful entrepreneurs had ring fingers 10% to 20% longer than their index finger. Both of these are affected by the prevalence of the hormones testosterone and estrogen, which come both from the fetus's own sex glands and the mother's bloodstream. So far, the research has focused on how testosterone and estrogen alter cell migration in the hypothalamus -- the origin point for the entire, cascading hormone system. But in the Italian study, the female entrepreneurs actually had more of a male pattern: their ring fingers were longer. More men might be wired this way than women, but if you are wired this way, it transcends gender.
Fifty-seven percent of the men were looking forward to what the researchers considered a "risky" finance career -- such as becoming investment banking or trading. And it really doesn't help us understand an even more interesting version of the question: why do some women break through?
In the middle of the interviews, the entrepreneurs were asked to hold out their right hands, palm up, so a photograph could be taken. Rustichini's own work has connected it to real-life success, such as the profitability of London high-frequency financial traders. The fetal ring finger has many receptors for both hormones on it, and the index finger has fewer receptors.


What seems to happen is this: higher levels of prenatal testosterone wires you to be permanently more sensitive to testosterone, forever on. Apparently all you need to do is offer them free egg shampoos as you brush their faces with your face-blusher brush and, afterward, make a manwich out of them with two pillows. Women do create internet firms, but many of them are home-based, on a shoestring, financed with credit cards and personal loans. Specifically, the scholars capturing an image to measure the length of their ring fingers relative to their index fingers.
Testosterone lengthens the fetal fingers, while estrogen stops their growth, and thus the balance of the two hormones can affect the ring finger and index finger differently. It's not that you have more testosterone; it's that your body reacts stronger to daily, even moment-to-moment, fluctuations in bloodstream testosterone. And it wasn't just their ring fingers that were bigger: on average, they ran bigger companies, with higher growth rates.
However, these researchers compared the Chicago business students' hands as well, so they had the proxy measure for the prenatal testosterone (via the finger ratio). Brain differences, combined with psychological differences, interact to forge the entrepreneur who has enough fight, stamina, and risk-taking necessary for success. Then they also did saliva tests to measure the amount of testosterone that was circulating in their systems -- which as we said, seems to, effectively, be more potent for those who had that increased fetal testosterone exposure. Senate hearings parading male doctor after male doctor across the dais to explain risks of "the Pill" -- and infuriate women in the audience -- sparked government regulations to ensure informed consent.
It was an impressive list, but it's still only a fraction of tech startups and VC firms operating nationally. Once you statistically controlled for both testosterone levels, there was no difference in the men's and women's preferences for risk-driven careers. And Cosmopolitan magazine published a listicle on using our dainty lady digits in stupidly bizarre sultry and sexy ways.



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