Gender Gaps in Equity Crowdfunding: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

While prior research shows a significant gender gap in traditional equity financing, with mostly male investors who prefer male founders, emerging evidence indicates that gender gaps in funding may not translate to rewards-based crowdfunding, where female entrepreneurs may have an advantage, particularly with female investors. We seek to examine founder gender preferences in the context of equity crowdfunding, which represents a direct counterpart to traditional equity financing and which is a “higher-stakes” context than rewards-based crowdfunding. More specifically, we explore whether founder gender preferences, if they exist, vary based on the gender and the experience of the investor. Through a randomized field experiment, we find that inexperienced female investors are significantly more interested (138%) in ventures with female founders than those with male founders; however, we do not observe founder gender preferences among experienced female investors. For male investors, we do not observe differences in interest in investing based on founder gender or investor experience. We thus confirm that the gender gaps observed in traditional equity funding do not apply to equity crowdfunding. Further, we theorize that the mechanisms proposed in previous research in low-stakes crowdfunding decision contexts, such as the use of founder gender as a heuristic and participation in activism homophily, that drive female investors to prefer female founders may not apply to experienced investors in higher-stakes equity crowdfunding. The results from a follow-up survey of the study participants provide support for our theoretical arguments.