Definition of Homiphily: “Love of the same”
In the 1950’s, sociologists came up with the term “homiphily” to describe the tendency we have to associate with other people holding similar viewpoints. Does homiphily explain the success of women-led projects on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter? Perhaps crowdfunding is more demographically representative than venture capital financing where only 7% of VC funding goes to female-led tech start-ups and where even these companies raise 70% of the amount male founders raise. Homiphily could explain why women are opening their wallets to other women and it could also explain the research that concludes venture capitalists (who are predominantly men) prefer (attractive) men over women when it comes to evaluating identical investment pitches.
Causality in life is not that simple, however. I’ve already written about the strange evidence that women prefer male managers over female ones, so clearly homiphily doesn’t always dictate our preferences. This academic study concludes that women are more successful when they fundraise via crowdsourcing not only because other women are supporting them (although that is one factor). A larger reason for their success is actually a small subset of women whose motivations may be considered “activist”, according to the study’s authors. These women are particularly interested in seeing other women succeed in traditionally male-dominated areas (e.g. technology), even if it means giving more money to a woman leading an identical project to a man.
This raises an uncomfortable issue for those setting well-intentioned diversity targets. Say a company aims to have a certain number of female directors, or female employees and they actually achieve those goals. I believe there’s an unspoken assumption that a critical mass has been achieved and it will thereafter be self-sustaining. In other words, if there are “enough” female employees/CEOs/directors, those women will ensure there are enough subsequent female successors (i.e. homiphily). Unfortunately, the research here shows that numbers alone may not be enough to sustain diversity (though it certainly can’t hurt). Powerful champions, or “activists” in decision-making roles might be just as — if not, more — important for diversity.