Women Entrepreneurs: An Empirical Approximation
The present investigation focuses on an overall review of women in business, specifically those who immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial world through their own initiative. From several approaches, the intent is to diagnose the common features found in contemporary cases where women are prominent leaders of their companies, regardless of their size and range. Identifying such features follows a set of priorities: first, the diagnosis of the psychosocial characteristics thought to be common within women in entrepreneurial activities, and second, the educational and overall environmental limitations that influence the success of said women. Finally, the investigation points towards a more human-like comprehension of the entrepreneurial phenomenon from a gendered perspective, trying to illustrate how women manage to balance their traditionally-imposed roles along with their professional objectives and desires. In that sense, we conclude that women with a set of psychosocial abilities compatible with business management and a powerful educational background able to be developed within a friendly environment to business as a whole tend to succeed in their entrepreneurial goals. Keywords: Entrepreneurs, Women in business, Women Entrepreneurs, MSME - Micro, Small and Medium-sized Entreprises.
Because of their impact on employment generation, the incorporation of new products and services, and the use of local resources, MSMEs have a cross-cutting influence on society as a whole, especially in regional economies that depend on that kind of investment.
Numerous definitions of the term "entrepreneurship" can be found in the literature, most of them focusing on the role of an entrepreneur as the promoter of business activity. And although it is characterized as a small business, it is emphasized that the management is carried out with a professional stamp.
However, reality shows that many entrepreneurship initiatives are born in crisis or job instability situations, without technical or management considerations. This issue becomes even more relevant when acknowledging the cultural difficulties women suffer in specific regions and countries, where differential elements like access to education and networking are severely limited.
Within this environment, this paper focuses on studying the phenomenon of women entrepreneurs. An exploratory analysis is carried out first, since these are new situations to which attention and recognition are only recently being given.
This research aims to identify the particular characteristics of the enterprises generated and managed by women and the barriers they face at entrepreneurship.
To get an accurate grasp of the selected theme, the methodological approach consisted of a literature review from a wide variety of academic perspectives. These reviews took as primary bodies of research two different fields, the ones that focused on conceptual descriptions of phenomena and those that experimented with analysis on the field to diagnose the subject’s current state.
In that sense, three general areas of knowledge from the mentioned bodies were prioritized when gathering the relevant information, data, and fact-based opinions during the literature review:
- Academic literature on Entrepreneurship
- Academic literature on gender perspectives
- Academic literature on enterprise management focused on gender-related issues
After selecting sources and recollecting the most important insights in each of the relevant subjects, a conclusion could be provided based on its argumentation on previously contrasted investigations by both experts, authors, and organizations.
With the new currents of new business gestation, the word entrepreneur takes prominence, and there is a tremendous international wave in this regard, detecting talents, encouraging and supporting the development of new ventures.
It is thought that the word entrepreneur comes from the French "entrepreneur,” which is taken as a pioneer, as someone willing to take the first step, also with a sense of adventure (Filion, 2021). Speaking of the economic world, it refers to people willing to take risks and, in this sense, it has an essential character because there is no business without taking risks.
The entrepreneur can also be explained as someone who, swimming in a sea of uncertainty, leads an apparent adverse situation to turn it into an appropriate and suitable one. This implies, beforehand, a certain leadership to overcome obstacles and overcome an unfavorable position and transform it. The entrepreneur has to possess as an "asset" certain conceptualizations and foundations, so that his actions prosper and come to fruition (Block et al., 2017).
Today, entrepreneurs are required to have other profiles: to be dynamic, open, flexible in their communication and mental structures, and, in addition, to have a lot of creativity to solve new and changing situations.
Joseph Schumpeter (1942) defined the entrepreneur as a restless person who generates "a dynamic imbalance" in the market, introducing changes. He observed that:
"The function of entrepreneurs is to reshape or revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention, or more commonly, an untried technical possibility, to produce a new product or an old one in a new way; or to provide a new source of inputs or new material, or to reorganize an industry, and so on. These kinds of activities are primarily responsible for the recurrent prosperity that revolutionizes the economic organism and the recurrent recessions that are due to the unbalanced impact of new products or methods" (p.116)
Much has been written about the promotion of entrepreneurial culture, analyzing the intrinsic factors of people, which are being developed since childhood. It is also interesting to analyze the behavior within organizations, observing the "space" provided to people to transmit new ideas, develop them and ultimately generate wealth.
It was Howard Stevenson who, in the 1980s, tried to understand and interpret the mindset of entrepreneurs to determine how they achieved results and good management, not so much by considering the resources available to them, but rather by anchoring on opportunities.
Undoubtedly, society needs to integrate, cohesion, synergy, and enjoy in this XXI century when a new company comes to light, generating value and providing labor. It is necessary to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem where everyone contributes to the construction of society.
This is where the educational process, at all levels, family education, institutions, business chambers, organizations in general, governments at all levels, united by a common goal, the implementation of new sustainable enterprises, becomes relevant (Stevenson, 1983).
Entrepreneurship: the gender perspective
Nowadays, it is possible to approach the issue of entrepreneurship from a gender perspective, as it is very likely to find differences in terms of employability issues or how women generate their entrepreneurship.
For years, women have had a determining role in distributing activities within the family environment. These have been related to the upbringing and education of children and the administration of domestic activities. These same activities that they were developing led them to think that they could take on the challenge of entering into entrepreneurship.
Another reason that works as a driving force for women to develop their entrepreneurship is the lack of public policies that put women on an equal footing in the labor market, both in income and the positions they can attain.
This is why the women got down to work and began to carry out ideas and projects that allowed them to have their enterprises. These are particular in their management since the women’s motivations and experiences make the difference.
When deciding to carry out a project, the motivation par excellence is the search for independence that allows them to solve the dilemma between personal and work life. Women, unlike men, do not have money as their main motivation.
As Manuel Bermejo (2016) states,
This phenomenon is of such magnitude that a new term has been coined in our entrepreneurial lexicon: "mumpreneur.” This term has emerged in France to define young mothers setting up their businesses. It encompasses a profile of entrepreneurs that includes women between 25 and 45 years old, mothers with higher education, and most of them with previous experience in the business world—intermediate positions. The action of these "mumpreneurs" or businesswomen enhances values such as personal dignity, freedom, individual and economical, or conciliation. These are undoubtedly basic principles in the construction of a more respectful, balanced, and just society. Without unjustified discrimination, on the one hand, but also without abuses of position, on the other.
The relevant point is that the enterprises managed by women should be analyzed from the economic and social environment in which they are developed. Fundamentally, it is necessary to consider certain social values that still weigh, such as the lack of valuation of women in management positions, stereotypes that different functions according to gender, difficulties in access to professional training in some disciplines. These are factors that influence the stages of creation, development, survival, and growth of women-led enterprises.
Today's societies have undergone a significant transformation process in relation to the social position of women. The magnitude of this change is reflected in such significant areas as education and access to the labor market and the public sphere. Thus, in recent decades there has been growing incorporation of women into all areas of society through their participation in the labor market, the economy, politics, science, etc., areas from which they were excluded for centuries; however, it is clear that, despite the recognition of equal rights in the law, the labor dimension continues to be a tough battlefield, whether we are talking about salary remuneration, promotion, recognition of professional value or the status of women workers.
On the one hand, the strong horizontal and vertical segregation of the labor market, reflecting discriminatory gender stereotypes and roles, and on the other hand, low self-esteem, undervaluation of skills or styles of attributing successes and failures, contribute to the slowdown in the equality of men and women in employment (Macarie & Moldovan 2015). The social order established until the end of the 19th century was based on dividing the two spheres: public and private. Each of the genders, men and women, belonged to one of these spheres; the world of women was private, and the world of men was public.
This order could not be transgressed except in exceptional situations, such as wars or extreme circumstances, in which women could go out into the public sphere. Still, once normality was restored, they were confined back to the private sphere. As a consequence of this division of spaces according to gender, the socialization and education of men and women were also different. At present, the various constitutions of most countries have enacted equality for women in all fields: education, work, positions of power, etc., which has allowed them access to roles traditionally occupied only by men.
Therefore, the massive incorporation of women into the world of education and work has resulted in a change in the social structure and the beliefs associated with one sex or the other. Stereotypes about men and women have been formed earlier and are transmitted through socialization (Powell, 2018). However, there have been hardly any changes in gender stereotypes despite the profound structural changes that have taken place. This gap between stereotype and social reality is aggravated by two properties of stereotypes: their strong resistance to change and their self-fulfilling effect. It also generates a large part of the internal and external barriers to women's access to the labor market (Latu et al., 2015)
Gender issues related to enterprise management
In analyzing the particular issues in the enterprises managed by women and analyzing them in their different stages of development, some aspects act as barriers or obstacles that they have to overcome. The most relevant, according to Brindley (2005), are:
- Barriers related to esteem: low confidence in managing finances and a negative self-image.
- Barriers related to their function: difficulties in meeting the required times.
- Social and cultural barriers: lack of confidence in doing business with a woman, preconceptions about women's roles related to the home.
- Educational barriers: these are being overcome, as women now have greater access to business-related professional training.
At present, changes are being perceived in terms of the importance of these barriers since the presence of women in different areas of society is noticeable. This change can be considered an achievement of years of struggle and demands for equal rights in the labor, social and political spheres.
A recent gender study found that education positively impacted the profitability of women-owned businesses (Coleman, 2007) since education is currently much better in women than in men. However, women must prepare themselves more in other areas to impact their businesses (Hisrich and Brush, 1984).
Following Coleman’s approach, human capital variables are fundamental when explaining the success of women-led businesses due to the fact that these organizations are better designed and have safety nets that allow them to innovate more freely. There are cases, especially in those countries where education was found to be a priority amongst social initiatives directed to women empowerment, where business management formation enhanced the overall participation of women in the foundation of companies.
This is true, at least in the case of Argentina, where public and private organizations have carried out these kinds of projects with an augment of the share of women participating in the economy from a management-related position. A study conducted by Carolina Ruiz et al. (2012) for the Multilateral Investment Fund, a member of the IDB Group, shows that the percentage of women entrepreneurs out of the total number of entrepreneurs during the period 2006- 2011 in Argentina is 42%, the highest being in Costa Rica with 51% and the lowest in Pakistan with 14%. This adds to the fact that countries improving formation for women tend to lead them towards larger participation in the economy.
On the other hand, Blannchflower (2004) argues that the relationship between education and creating a new business is uncertain, except for wealthier countries, where postgraduate training has been shown to affect entrepreneurial activity rates positively.
In this regard, Taylor (1999) notes that women entrepreneurs today are better prepared than men; however, he concludes that men are three times more likely to expand their businesses. Similar results were found by Shim and Eastlick (1998), where women and men reported a similar level of education in a sample was with Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Moreover, some have found that women's educational levels are still low and, for this reason, generate few possibilities of success (Lituchy et al., 2003). In addition, Gupta et al. (2009) found that women have fewer intentions to become entrepreneurs since they do not perceive themselves as entrepreneurs (Verheul et al. 2005).
Reynolds et al. (2003); Low et al. (2005); Wilson et al. (2007) have established a generalization in entrepreneurship studies regarding the age of individuals at the time of creating a new business, noting that entrepreneurial intentions occur at a relatively early age in both women and men. Therefore, the most active age for starting a business is integrated within 25 to 34 years and subsequently decreasing.
Other studies have argued that women cannot be so young due to the fact that the decision to start a new business implies a long process full of high amortization costs to achieve the entrepreneurial activity. Otherwise, the process is more difficult for them since women do not have as much experience in business; such is the case of Wagner (2007), who points out that creating a new business is more attractive at 45 years of age.
In another context, social capital has been addressed as a determining factor for consolidating entrepreneurial activity. For example, sociology has included it regarding the benefits that the actors (entrepreneurs) obtain through their social ties (Portes, 1998; Coleman, 2007). The theory of social capital refers to the capacity of agents to obtain benefits from their social structures and networks of belonging (Lin et al., 1981; Portes, 1998). The literature points to the importance of social capital and how the social membership network is leveraged in the pursuit of entrepreneurial goals (Kwon & Arenius, 2008).
It is said that social networks provide access to fundamental information both for future entrepreneurs and for those who are already involved in the activity; in this sense, the interaction with other experienced people, from whom on many occasions economic returns are obtained, can facilitate the entrepreneurial process.
In this sense, knowing another entrepreneur has been associated in the literature with issues of social capital, i.e., social networks (DeClerq & Arenius, 2006), which contribute to the consolidation of entrepreneurial activity in both men and women.
This variable has been positively correlated with entrepreneurship rates in studies by Minniti (2005) and Koellinger and Minniti (2006). In this context, Davidsson and Honig (2003), in their research with Swedish nascent entrepreneurs, found that social capital strongly predicts the initiation of entrepreneurial activity, since being a member of a network (e.g., a chamber, confederation or having parents, friends, or neighbors in business) had a positive and statistically significant effect.
Therefore, the larger the networks or social ties between individuals, the greater the probability of discovering entrepreneurial opportunities (Arenius and DeClercq, 2005). In an empirical study, Sorenson et al. (2008) used small business owners of both sexes for their sample, revealing that women show a greater preference for a network. In contrast, Know, and Arenius (2008) points out that women may have a lower level of social capital in many societies, generating little entrepreneurial activity in their contexts.
The same results were found by Manolova et al. (2007) in their gender study. They analyzed the effects of social capital on firm growth, concluding that there is no effect of belonging to a network on the growth of women their firms.
From another point of view, a pioneering study has argued that the role of personal networks increases an individual's entrepreneurial confidence through the provision of advice, examples, and support since social capital contributes to reducing the uncertainty inherent in the establishment of a new business (McGrath 2001). Therefore, it is a structure that influences the discovery of opportunities by potential entrepreneurs (Singh et al. 1999; Aldrich & Zimmer 1986).
From another point of view, a pioneering study has argued that the role of personal networks increases an individual's entrepreneurial confidence through the provision of advice, examples, and support since social capital contributes to reducing the uncertainty inherent in the establishment of a new business (McGrath 2001). Therefore, this is a structure that influences the discovery of opportunities by potential entrepreneurs (Singh et al. 1999; Aldrich and Zimmer 1986)
Some authors point out that a higher level of education may be only one of the sources of knowledge available for the discovery of new opportunities, so it does not necessarily have to be decisive; moreover, too much knowledge may lead to market myopia that reduces the possibilities of entrepreneurial behavior (Prahalad and Bettis 1986).
When it comes to the ideal psychosocial faculties that enhance women entrepreneurs' ability to succeed, studies point to creativity, independence, the ability to accept challenges or take moderate risks and responsibilities (Thomas & Mueller, 2000). The need for achievement, self-confidence, optimism, creativity, and autonomy are also psychosocial characteristics attributable to the entrepreneur, understanding them as elements that encourage the individual to succeed in their activity (Yániz & Villardón, 2006).
It is possible to enhance the skills of "know-how,” such as information seeking, planning, organization, decision making, creative solutions, and leadership, teamwork, communication, and negotiation skills (Flores Asenjo & Palao Barberá, 2013). The model of personal traits and propensity to create companies separates psychological and non-psychological factors of the individual, outstanding characteristics in the presence of entrepreneurial attitude and motivation (Baum & Locke, 2004).
Women are more associative, cooperative and seek direct and quality relationships with people. Women entrepreneurs conceive success as the power to control their destiny through relationships with their clients and fulfilling their obligations; men entrepreneurs see success in fulfilling goals. (Sánchez Almagro, 2003). Women entrepreneurs prefer information to circulate in their companies and allow their employees to undertake training to promote themselves professionally (Mercadé, 1998).
In this sense, women entrepreneurs can be categorized according to their approach to the business model, their original motivation, their expectations and aspirations, or their capacity to take professional initiatives:
Enterprising woman as an alternative to unemployment; as a success orientation (of the long-term professional career); as a strong success orientation, aspiring to an important professional achievement (generally when there are no children); as a dual way of life that from previous experience at work wants to reconcile family and professional life, obtaining the necessary flexibility; as a return to work, after having abandoned it to take care of the family, the return is motivated by economic considerations or by the desire for self-fulfillment. (Bruni, Gherardi, & Poggio, 2004).
Traditionally, the concept of development has been considered a mere improvement in the quality of life thanks to increased consumption. In general, it has been associated with structural changes that have turned a country from being traditional, agricultural, and backward to being industrial and modern.
Thus, the concepts of development and economic growth have been used interchangeably. The development concept is broadened and already in the United Nations Human Development Report (2001). It means: "creating an environment in which people can fully realize their potential and live productive and creative lives according to their needs and interests."
On the other hand, the entrepreneurial behavior existing in a region can be considered as revealing the degree to which the inhabitants of that territory have opportunities to observe and interact with entrepreneurs in full execution of their role. More specifically, and referring to entrepreneurial activity by gender, the progressive increase in the degree of involvement of women in entrepreneurial activity seems to be confirmed.
Thus, the entrepreneurial option may constitute an alternative for social mobility from the secondary labor market and from those activities that entail greater labor exploitation and gender inequality. They are "entrepreneurs of themselves" and develop competencies to manage their own life experiences. Through the entrepreneurial activity, they can be immersed in empowerment strategies.
Based on the experiences gathered, there has been an increase in women's participation in economic enterprises in recent years. In general, these projects have been applying management tools with gender-specific characteristics.
A first conclusion that can be pointed out is that, in general women are exposed to more difficulties at the moment of generating an enterprise. However, in the cases in which the projects exceeded three years of activity, with good growth rates, there is a notable majority of men in the commercial exchanges, without this having meant a difficulty at the time of negotiating.
It is also important to point out that, in general, when facing inconveniences, they analyze them as challenges to overcome. And so, they have solved complex situations that repeatedly arise, both in terms of finding suppliers and financing and the choice of marketing channels.
Regarding the motivations for undertaking a project, unlike men, who mainly seek to increase their income, it can be pointed out that, in general, women emphasize the need for independence and achievement.
Differences are also found in the style of leadership used in the enterprises, since women seek to work in teams, favoring network communication. At the same time, men rely more on a hierarchical structure.
When analyzing what moves women to start their own business, the following causes are found:
- To be able to generate a balance between work and personal life.
- Control your future.
- Strengthening their self-esteem.
In the short and medium-term, the main objectives were found to be:
- Expand your target audience.
- Develop a Business Plan.
- Apply for new funding sources.
We have observed how for many women families and the assumption of a maternal role exert a preponderant influence on their projects; however, for other women, the entrepreneurial experience has as a consequence personal and social empowerment that increases their value as persons and makes them perceive themselves and be perceived as something more than members of a group, that of women, discriminated against and marginalized in their communities of origin.
Finally, we conclude that the interrelation of psychosocial processes such as sexism, classism, and racism push these women into certain occupational niches and influence their entrepreneurial behavior, social interactions, and, in general, their family life and personal experience.
Another point to highlight in the development of enterprises managed by women is the advances in technology, as this allows them to contact customers and suppliers through social networks and different online marketing platforms. These digital tools enhance entrepreneurship and allow women to achieve the balance they are looking for between their work tasks and those they fulfill within the structure of their home.
Author: Adebukola Vicky Omifolaji
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