Women outpace men when it comes to raising money for technology projects through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, according to a new study by researchers at New York University and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jason Greenberg (NYC) and Ethan Mollick (Wharton/UPenn) chose 1,250 Kickstarter projects in five categories: games and technology, where founders were predominantly male; film, with an even gender distribution; and fashion and children’s books, both populated with more female founders and backers. They analyzed additional factors such as “industry typing” (a theory in which people “often hold conscious or unconscious biases about what gender is the archetype employee in a particular occupation or industry”) and restricted the data set by geography and how much money each Kickstarter project wanted (a project aiming for less than $5,000 may attract an inordinate percentage of family and friends as funders, skewing results).
After crunching the data, they found that female founders of technology projects were more likely than males to achieve their Kickstarter goals, a finding that didn’t extend to the other four categories. “It appears female backers are responsible for helping female founders succeed in specific industry categories that women backers generally disfavor,” they theorized, adding a little later: “The value of crowdfunding is that it enables access to a pool of potential female backers particularly inclined to support women in industry categories in which they believe women to be underrepresented.”
Having run data in the wild, the researchers moved to the laboratory phase, designing an experiment that they ran at “an elite private school in the Northeastern region of the US” in March 2014. In the experiment, subjects viewed two Kickstarter projects (one in technology and the other in fashion) that had their founders disguised, after which they were asked various questions related to both the project and their individual gender activism (“I would prefer to support a project by someone who is under-represented in an industry,” is an example of one query). The results supported the earlier findings: Women tended to back projects by female founders, particularly in technology.
“Journalists, entrepreneurs, and policy makers have noted the underrepresentation of women in technology as founders, employees, or investors, as well as consistent evidence that female founders seek and receive less venture capital,” the study concluded. “Prescriptions have thus focused on representation alone, but our findings suggest that activism, as well as representation, is required to change the constraints facing women raising capital.” By eliminating “structural constraints” and increasing access to a potential pool of backers, crowdfunding sites can encourage this activism.
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