The inventor: in search of blood in Silicon Valley, now airing in Australia on Binge, portrays Theranos founder and former CEO Elizabeth Holmes as a haunting sociopath.
Holmes wanted to revolutionize healthcare by providing a simple, inexpensive way to perform blood tests using only a finger prick. In 2003, she founded Theranos, with a vision of the company’s machines in every household in America.
But, like the Wall Street Journals John Carreyrou revealed in 2015, Holmes created a complex web of deception. Even when the machines found their way into chemists and were used by medical insurance companies, they never worked.
Holmes put the lives of patients at risk and cost investors millions of dollars.
The documentary is compelling, but since it fits into a very narrow field of films about women entrepreneurs, it’s worth pondering the impact of the stories we choose to tell.
Fall out of favor
Holmes’ journey from the young idol to spectacular failure is a story about systemic issues and the sometimes toxic culture of the start-up world.
Before the scandal broke, Holmes was celebrated in the media. She has been described as a Stanford University dropout with a vision to change the world. She has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from powerful men in a startup landscape known for its discriminatory financing practices.
She did the blanket of Forbes magazine in 2014 as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. Holmes represented an intoxicating mix of technology, science and commerce. She was the golden girl in the startup world.
This made him fall from grace even more spectacular.
But compare Holmes’ portrayal with another well-known example of a deceptive male entrepreneur: Jordan Belfort, the wolf of Wall Street.
Belfort led an elaborate criminal scheme related to the manipulation of the stock market and was jailed for 22 months for securities fraud. Nevertheless, his autobiography and Martin Scorseses 2013 film adaptation portray Belforts’ story as a celebration of wealth and power, rather than a critical examination of its fraudulent behavior.
Where are all the good stories?
Feature films about women entrepreneurs are rare.
Research one of the authors examined English-language films from 1986 to 2016 with female entrepreneurs as the central character. Over the 30-year period, only 11 films about women entrepreneurs were identified less than the number of films about Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple only.
Of Baby boom (1987), where Diane Keatons character starts a baby food business, to Melissa McCarthys brownie empire in The boss (2016), these films predominantly portrayed women entrepreneurs as heads of small kitchen table businesses in predominantly female industries.
Read more: Spoiler alert: Old man power trumps successful young woman in The Intern
The companies represented generally had a low number of paid employees. Entrepreneurs lacked resources, and more often than not, it was a supportive male figure who helped the female entrepreneur to be successful.
What’s more, the study found that a woman starting her own business was apparently not enough to capture the public’s attention: all of the films included a parallel romantic script.
The female entrepreneur as a model
Celebrating successful female role models encourages women dream big and succeed in arenas dominated by men.
Role models are a source of inspiration and contribute to self-confidence. As the amount of media related to entrepreneurship increases, the amount of entrepreneurial activity.
However, negative representations of careers can prevent people consider a profession.
The case of Holmes and Theranos is detrimental to the betrayed clients and investors, but also for the field of entrepreneurship, which has only seen its reputation rebuild in recent decades.
Read more: Elizabeth Holmes: Theranos scandal is not limited to mere toxic culture of Silicon Valley
Entrepreneurship was once the racketeer field. Over time, it has evolved into the realm of tech celebrities, socially conscious founders, and a vehicle for upward social mobility, but still, too often, a realm of men.
A study studied how women entrepreneurs appear on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. Women far outnumbered men on the cover and were often portrayed in a stereotypical feminine manner.
Words surrounding images of women tended to relate to education, health, beauty, and fashion. Wording accompanying the images of male entrepreneurs spoke of power, innovation and risk taking.
Women were glamified with full makeup and focus on their face, while men were more likely to be standing up and opposed to a corporate color scheme.
Read more: COVID-19 could turn back the clock on female entrepreneurship
The way we tell the stories of women entrepreneurs matters.
In order to achieve equity in entrepreneurship, we must recognize the role of media in filling the entrepreneurship pipeline.
Positive representations of innovative women act as a mirror, showing girls and women what they can accomplish. We need more and better stories about female entrepreneurs, so that female innovation stories aren’t just about failure and fraud.