Angel Investing: Full Interview with Dawn Barber

As we were preparing the release of our latest study on the world of angel investing and access to finance, we shared our results with entrepreneurs, angel investors and consultants based in the United States, France and Australia, asking them for comments. Below you’ll find the interview we conducted with Dawn Barber – reposted here in its entirety.

Dawn Barber | Gender Gap Grader

Dawn Barber is the co-founder of NY Tech Meetup, an influential platform for tech start-ups that has more than 40,000 members and that hosts a monthly event (invariably sold out) where members demo their ideas.

Are you surprised by these numbers?

I’m not really surprised by them, so much as I am saddened by them. It’s shocking that from when I started working in this industry, more than 15 years ago, funding stats are not too different today. We all have to do better here!

What has been your experience as an entrepreneur while approaching angel investors? Do you think gender plays a role in decisions to invest in a company?

Not as an entrepreneur, but I’ve been involved with the New York tech community for over 15 years now, having close ties to both our NYC entrepreneurs as well as our VCs and angels, and while I don’t believe that most of the male investors, whom I know, consciously discriminate against investing in women founders (in fact many go out of their way to try to find more women to invest in) I do believe that it’s easier for them to invest in people they’re comfortable with, that they have experience with, they work with and socialize with – the majority of those people are white men. So this is more of a structural problem than a conscious one – it’s harder for women to break through this cycle. We must keep trying, though! That’s why I became one of the first Pipeline Fellowship angels – I wanted to support this effort to attract more women to angel investing and teach them the ins & outs of becoming angel investors.

Do you think that the gender pay gap has an influence in the gender gap in angel investing? If so, how?

Not sure really… I could see that it might have a direct effect on the number of women angels that there are in the world because many angels are former or current entrepreneurs themselves who have had one or more successful exits – if you look at how they became successful entrepreneurs, getting better and higher level jobs with higher level compensation can only be an advantage.

What can be done to improve these numbers, leading to more gender balance?

If we had more women partners on the investor side of the table it would help. It seems that currently, in general, women are not controlling the investment decisions at many of the investment firms, and this needs to change.

With all the recent awareness regarding sexism in Silicon Valley, have you noticed any improvements for women in the world of technology and angel investing?

Well, I do believe that studies like yours that shed light of these very unbalanced stats should make us all feel embarrassed and that at least the NYC investor men that I know well want to help balance those stats, as much as many of the women I know. As a New Yorker I can’t speak for the valley but I will make a pitch for NYC here and say that NYC has a different culture. They, out west, have an engineering culture, which happens to be dominated by white men; here in NYC we have a mix of backgrounds, industries and talents – it’s not about what kind of engineer you are, like it is in the valley – this makes for a more diverse culture, a better environment for creativity and entrepreneurship, and cannot help but have a positive influence on our investors as well.

Additional Remarks:

Men and women have to work together at changing this and perhaps men have to, not just be conscious of the imbalance and have the desire to change it with us, but have to start getting outside of their comfort zones in investing.

Perhaps a contribution to this structural problem is that there are not as many women becoming repeat entrepreneurs – the other side of the coin. If investors have experience with them, then they’ll have an easier time getting funded the next time.