Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research, 1995

Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1995 Edition

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    Mary Barrett
    Queensland University of Technology


    A study of Australian women business owners examined six factors that recur in research about entrepreneurial learning. The findings for each of these factors, especially when considered in conjunction with each other, suggest that there are many areas in common for men and women business owners. They also suggest, however, that women business owners have less access to some of forms of experience that business owners most value, but value those they do have access to correspondingly more. Despite this, women business owners in this study actually claimed to experience less difficulty with certain business problems than men do. Implications of the findings for public policy, and also for the notion of entrepreneurship itself, are discussed.


    A major impetus to research into women in business in the last decade or so, has been the recognition of the increasing contribution of women to business ownership, and hence to society and the economy as a whole. This, in turn, has led to an interest in "feminising" research into entrepreneurship and business ownership generally (Moore, 1990; Hurley, 1991; Stevenson, 1990; Fischer et al., 1993).

    However, beyond the initial common view that more needs to known and done to make it easier for women to own and run their own businesses successfully, there has been considerable variation in suggestions for ways to pursue such research. As suggested by Barrett (1994), the implicit view of what underlies the differences between men's and women's approach to entrepreneurship is influenced - knowingly or otherwise - by different feminist philosophies. Specifically, liberal feminist writers have been persuaded that lifting the barriers to women's participation - "raising women to men's estate" - in all spheres of activity, including business ownership, ought to be the main direction of research and practice. Social feminists, by contrast, have argued that women's ways of doing things, and specifically female approaches to business ownership, need to be celebrated in their own right (Jaggar, 1983; Tong, 1989).

    The matter is complicated further, of course, by the problematic nature of entrepreneurship itself. Economics has provided many models of entrepreneurship which have varied in their emphases on, for example, risk-bearing and innovation. Other disciplines such as sociology and psychology have continued to modify these frameworks, each bringing their particular strengths and limitations to the discussion. The frequent conclusion of such theoretical reflections on entrepreneurship research is that the phenomenon is an elusive one indeed. Several authors (e.g. Chell, 1991) have compared it to the elusive mythical creature, the heffalump, which presents different aspects of itself in different lights and at different times of day. To pursue the analogy, feminist revisions of entrepreneurship research suggest even more strongly that it will only be partially revealed by any one research approach. Research that uses a variety of disciplines and research techniques would enable a better judgment as to whether the entrepreneurship "heffalump" really exists and what its habits are.

    The present paper presents some reflections about the nature of entrepreneurship - and, specifically, women's entrepreneurship - which arise from a current Australian state-government sponsored study of the information and assistance needs of women business owners in established industries. Specifically, this study aims to assist the development of public policy regarding assistance to women business owners. In Australia, a number of schemes exist at both state and federal level to assist those starting businesses and expanding them. However, there are no government schemes specifically aimed at women business owners. Therefore, the research specifically investigates whether men and women differ in the extent and nature of business problems they experience. It also examines the means women and men business owners use to seek advice about their businesses, in both the start-up and growth stages.

    At first glance, the public policy focus of the study makes the academic - perhaps even philosophical - aspects of the debates outlined above appear to be of secondary concern. Yet there are actually some advantages to be gained from a study in which the debates about the nature of entrepreneurship are - as it were - incidental to more "practical" issues. For a start, this approach avoids the difficulties which arise from a rigidly pre-determined definition of entrepreneurship so that issues related to business owners generally can be explored. In particular, it avoids the distinction between "mere" business ownership, especially small business ownership, and the more exciting and glamorous term of entrepreneurship, with its attendant notions of business innovation and firm expansion. These notions have recurred in definitions of entrepreneurship, yet have resisted easy operationalising in theoretical discussion or research. In the area of women's business ownership, some have argued that this is a false distinction anyway, since business ownership is still relatively unusual for women (Stevenson, 1986; Moore, 1990).

    Further, since the study aims to compare the learning experiences and needs of women and men in business, men as well as women are represented in the sample. Accordingly, there is an in-built rejection of predetermined notions of women's essential "otherness", whether as business owners, or more generally. In other words, it allows for the possibility that many problems might emerge as affecting women and men business owners equally. Where their experiences are different, however, or where women do in fact appear to speak "with a different voice" (to borrow Gilligan's well-known phrase to characterise the differences in women's psychological and moral development), the differences will be heard more clearly. Overall then, the notion of entrepreneurship, what it means, and how it might work differently for men and women, are left as indeterminate as possible at the outset.

    Despite this absence of a pre-determined theoretical framework, or perhaps because of it, a range of issues which recur in the literature on the nature of entrepreneurship - and men and women's approaches to it - emerge from the study. Many studies of entrepreneurship suggest that people's previous experience of firm ownership - whether through a family role model or because they actually ran mini-businesses in their early lives - tends to mark them out as future entrepreneurs. Controversy has continued over whether such previous experience is evidence of inherent tendencies or traits in the entrepreneur, or arises from other, external factors.

    The discussion has spilled over into debates about women business owners. Findings that women have less previous experience both of entrepreneurial role models and direct entrepreneurship experience have fueled debate over whether women are inherently "less entrepreneurial" than men, or whether their lesser access to entrepreneurial experience can be remedied by "lifting the barriers" which prevent their participation. Still a third alternative has been suggested: that peculiarly feminine approaches to entrepreneurship have tended to be obscured by male models of entrepreneurship which have dominated research, and that women's approaches to establishing and running businesses need to be celebrated in their own right.

    A further common conceptualisation of the typical entrepreneur is as someone who refuses to acknowledge failure or defeat, and who regards all business problems as learning experiences - or even disguised opportunities rather than obstacles (Timmons, 1990, among many others). Implicit in this view is an assumption that while all entrepreneurs face and overcome problems, men and women do not face essentially different problems in business. Feminist writers on entrepreneurship on the other hand have often argued that business problems affect women and men in different ways, and that systemic discrimination factors in society as a whole account for women's lesser representation in the ranks of business owners. Studies exploring whether or not women experience more difficulty than men in securing start-up finance have been prompted by this view (e.g. Brush, 1992).

    All these issues have found further expression and comment in the discussions of business problems and sources of advice for small business owners which were the immediate focus of the study. Specific research hypotheses relating to each of these three broad headings are discussed individually in the remainder of the paper.


    The Research Sample

    The present analysis is based on responses from 812 owners of firms in six established industries located throughout Queensland, Australia. The firms were drawn from state government registers of small businesses, and the sample was thus compiled on a "total population" basis rather than via any type of random or non-random sampling. It is known that the databases were not completely up to date, and that they lean somewhat in the direction of the manufacturing industries. In fact, manufacturing accounts for 59% of the sample, leaving the service sector to account for the remainder. However whether any other systematic biases underlie the omissions and might therefore have influenced the sample and its results is not known. The six industries were:

    • Clothing manufacturing
    • Hairdressing
    • Small engineering
    • Food processing
    • Plumbing
    • Motor vehicle servicing

    These are grouped into a matrix of four on the basis of a two-way classification: Sector (Manufacturing vs Service) and Industry "image" ("Female" vs "Male"), as shown in Table 1. This research design has several advantages. First, it allows a variety of industries to be investigated so that conclusions can be drawn for business owners both male and female on a basis broad enough to reach some reasonably general conclusions, i.e. that are not merely specific to particular industries. Further, it allows for two major types of comparison, by gender "image" and by industry sector (i.e. service or manufacturing), as well as the particular effects that might be associated with the "interaction" of these two factors, i.e. "female-image" industries and "male-image" industries. The decision to include a comparison based on the male or female "image" of a particular industry, i.e. on the extent to which business owners within a particular industry would be working according to traditional or non-traditional views of men and women's work, was prompted by studies elsewhere. For example, the issue of whether women business owners' personal value systems and business strategies might be influenced by whether their industry was a male dominated one was raised in Olsen and Currie (1992). In the present case, the distinction between industries with a male and female "image" is used to examine whether men's and women's representation among business owners or entrepreneurs is related to whether the industry in which their firms are operating is seen as basically "male" or "female".

    Development of the Questionnaire

    A questionnaire instrument was developed which sought extensive demographic information about firms and their owners in the industries mentioned above. In addition, various items were developed from an extensive review of the literature on business owners' approaches to business learning, especially the extent of the owners' general business experience in previous and current firms, and their regular sources of business advice. Both closed-ended and open-ended questions were included, but the questionnaire emphasised closed-ended questions which would yield quantifiable information appropriate for statistical analysis.

    Focus Groups

    In addition to this, however, and in line with the advice of many feminist-oriented researchers, a series of focus groups were held in which both women and men business owners could offer comment which was not constrained by a pre-constructed questionnaire format. In the present case, focus groups also gave an opportunity to business owners to comment on potential public policy schemes on a non-committal basis, and on issues not raised in the questionnaire. As will become apparent, this part of the study yielded some unexpected and interesting findings on differences between men and women in business.

    Distribution of the Questionnaire

    The questionnaire was administered together with a postage paid envelope. A cover letter addressed to the business owner personally, and explaining the purpose of the study, accompanied the questionnaire form. In view of the difficulty frequently encountered in producing an adequate response rate from business people to studies of this kind, a small incentive in the form of a prize draw was offered to encourage replies. A response rate of 32.7 % was achieved, which is considered adequate for this type of research. No significant differences appeared in response rates for each industry.


    Industry Participation of Men and Women

    As noted above, the study sought to examine factors which might affect men and women differently as business owners, including the extent to which business ownership is related to the male or female "image" of particular industries. It was expected that the participation of women and men business owners would echo the representation of "female" versus "male" image industries in the sample. Of course, especially with established industries, it will frequently be the case that there will be spouse teams running the business or other forms of management team, rather than single owners. To deal with this, as well as the gender issue as a whole, the gender participation variable was operationalised by requesting "the person who makes the most decisions regarding the overall strategic management of the business" to answer the questionnaire. This was specifically included in the letter to business people requesting their participation in the study. Table 2 sets out respondents' gender distribution according to the male/female image, manufacturing/service sector matrix.

    From Table 2 it is clear that in "female-image" industries, there is still a considerable proportion of men running businesses. This is particularly marked in the case of the "female-image" manufacturing sector, which was represented by the clothing and food processing industries, where male business owners actually predominated. However, the reverse is not the case. That is, very few women are the strategic managers/owners of firms in "male-image" industries. Men seem to be comfortable operating in both female and male image industries; that is, gender is not an obstacle to men in establishing and running businesses, at least across the six industries investigated here. However, this "crossover" capacity appears to be rare when it comes to women venturing into male image industries. The implication for differences in the experience levels of men and women business owners, is that a potentially far broader field of experience awaits men intending to start their own businesses than exists for women.

    A number of explanations can be offered for the results. For instance, as pointed out by Brush (1990), women's educational background is more likely than men's to be in the liberal arts. Therefore, women may often lack the skills needed in certain industries such as motor vehicle servicing, plumbing or small engineering. There may also be physiological or psychological barriers which deter women from starting businesses in certain sectors. Accordingly, while a later finding in the part of the analysis dealing with particular problems experienced by business owners shows that technical skills - those related to the particular product or service being delivered - are generally not considered a problem (either by either women or men), it may be that women business owners in established industries may tend not to think beyond the skills they already have toward the technical skills they would need to cross industry barriers. Economic entry barriers may also contribute to the pattern. For example, capital requirements may be greater in "male-image" industries such as motor vehicle servicing, small engineering and plumbing industries than "female-image" industries such as hairdressing, clothing manufacturing and food processing. Consequently, as noted by many "liberal feminist" studies, historical obstacles experienced by women in getting finance for their businesses would accentuate these patterns.

    Starting Previous Businesses

    It is often asserted, particularly in the American research literature (cf Stevenson, 1986; Moore, 1990) that one of the major differences separating the learning experiences of men and women in business is that men are likely to have had greater experience with the problems of starting up a business, including the experience gained through having started more businesses previously. The validity of this finding both in general, and for the Australian small business scene in particular, depends on this finding being replicated.

    Approximately a quarter (27.5 %) of respondents said that they had started previous businesses. The vast majority of those who had started previous businesses had started one previous business; all but two had not started more than five previous businesses. However, by contrast to the American findings, the present study showed no significant differences by gender in the extent to which respondents had started previous businesses. Specifically, 29.1% of men and 24.6 % of women in the sample as a whole had started previous businesses. In terms of the general experience of previous business ownership then, men and women do not appear to have a different experience base. It needs to be remembered however, that the present sample covers a range of only six different industries rather than a full spectrum.

    Continuing Operation of Previous Businesses

    A related "business experience" issue is the extent to which any previously started businesses are still operating, since it might be hypothesised that such continuity of previous business operations would yield an overall richer quality of business learning experience.

    Overall, 16.6 % of respondents who had started previous businesses had one or more of these businesses still operating. However, while this number is relatively small, it is associated with a significant difference between men and women business owners. 78.9 % of men but only 21.1 % of women who had started one or more previous businesses, had at least one of these businesses still operating.

    Thus on the basis of the present sample it seems that, while men are not more likely than women to have started previous firms, they are more likely to have their previously started firms continue in operation. Combining this finding with that from the previous item, it would appear that men do not necessarily have a greater experience level at the time of starting their businesses, but may gain greater experience over time, on the basis of the richer experience yielded by having two or more enterprises running simultaneously.

    The finding that men's previously started businesses are more likely to continue in operation suggests that it is the type and quality and not only merely the greater quantity of previous business learning which differentiates the learning experience of women and men in business. Male business owners may have more experience at continuing their businesses through the expansion and growth stages, or at least at simply staying in business. From a public policy standpoint, women may well appreciate information about the later, expansion stages of business ownership rather than the early start-up phases, where many public policy programs are directed. This finding is borne out by the findings about specific business problems, especially hiring issues, as is discussed later.

    Sources of Learning About Managing a Business

    In order to be able to compare men's and women's general sources of knowledge of running a business - as distinct from their preferred sources of advice about particular business problems - respondents were asked to indicate which of a number of sources of general business learning experience they had had access to. In addition, using a three-point Likert type scale, they indicated how helpful each source had been to them in learning how to manage their businesses.

    It is also a contentious issue in the literature whether the knowledge gained in current or previous firms is of most significance in business owners' learning about business management. It is often the case, for example, that experience with previous firms is taken as valuable by those lending money, or otherwise assisting the firm at start-up. Business owners themselves, however, have been found in some studies to largely discount that experience, at least when its value is compared to the experience they have gained as the owner of their current firm (Reuber and Fischer, 1993). To examine these issues, and also to compare whether men and women business owners had differing access to or opinions about past and present experience with business learning, this section of the questionnaire not only invited specific business experiences to be rated by men and women as to their usefulness for business learning, but distinguished between these experiences according to whether they had been gained in previous or current firm(s). In addition, the list included sources of formal business training, such as business seminars or tertiary level business education and sources of advice, including management team or partners, customers, professional acquaintances, family or personal friends, etc.

    As with previous studies, it was found that both men and women business owners tended to rank the experience gained in their current firms more highly than that gained in previous firms, whether as owner or employee. In many areas of business learning experience men and women did not appear to have had significantly different amounts of access. Specifically, there were no significant differences by gender in men's and women's access to the following:

    • Advice from suppliers,
    • Advice from professional acquaintances,
    • Advice from family, friends etc.,
    • Formal technical education,
    • Business seminars,
    • Being in a similar industry,
    • Having had major successes (when in previous firm),
    • Supervising managers (when in previous firm),
    • Supervising workers (when in previous firm),
    • Owning or managing the previous firm,
    • Working with a similar product or service (in the previous firm),
    • Having similar customers (in the previous firm),
    • Having similar suppliers (in the previous firm),
    • Having similar competitors (in the previous firm),
    • Starting a previous firm,
    • Facing major successes in the current firm,
    • Supervising workers in the current firm,
    • Owning or managing the current firm,
    • Forming strategic alliances in the current firm,
    • Other forms of experience (whether in the current or the previous firm).

    So it seems that at least in some areas of business learning experience, men and women appear to have had more or less equal access. There is a catch, however. It is that the areas where women and men appeared to have had more or less equal access, are also the forms of experience less likely to be valued by business owners, that is, experiences in previous firms. In addition, men appeared to have had better access to a considerable number of forms of experience, especially those gained through managing the present firm, the most highly valued form of experience in the view of business owners generally. For example, men were more likely to have had the following learning experiences:

    • Advice from customers,
    • Advice from investors,
    • Advice from lenders,
    • Advice from strategic partners,
    • Advice from management team,
    • Advice from paid professionals (e.g. lawyer),
    • Formal business education,
    • Facing major setbacks in both current and previous firms,
    • Forming strategic alliances,
    • Supervising managers in the current firm,
    • Starting the current firm.

    The sole area in which women managers are likely to have an advantage in terms of access to a particular learning experience is that they are more likely to have used similar technology in their previous firms.

    Value of Particular Sources of Learning about Business Management

    The findings in the previous section relate to access to particular sources of experience and the perceived value by all business owners of these experiences particularly in the light of whether the experience was gained in a current or a previous firm. An analysis of men's and women's responses to individual items was also conducted, to see how the degree of access to particular learning experiences related to the value men and women business owners placed on them.

    It was noteworthy that, so far as gender differences were concerned, there was actually an inversion of the results for access when the perceived value of any specific business learning experience was considered. That is, overall, and despite their comparative lack of access to many sources of learning about business managers generally consider valuable, women actually rated many of the sources of advice more useful than did men, including:

    • Advice from investors,
    • Advice from suppliers,
    • Advice from management team or partners,
    • Advice from business acquaintances,
    • Business seminars,
    • Being in same industry (as previous firm),
    • Having similar product or service,
    • Having similar customers,
    • Having similar competitors,
    • Having similar technology.

    Men and women were similar in how they rated the usefulness of the following experiences:

    • Owning or managing the firm,
    • Facing major successes,
    • The process of starting the firm (whether the current firm or a previous one),
    • Supervising managers (in previous and in current firm),
    • Supervising workers (in previous and current firm),
    • Facing major successes (in previous and current firm),
    • Technical formal education,
    • Advice from customers,
    • Forming strategic alliances (in previous and current firm),
    • Having similar suppliers,
    • Business related formal education,
    • Advice from family and personal friends,
    • Being in a firm of similar size,
    • Advice from paid professionals (e.g. lawyer),
    • Advice from lenders.
    > The only aspect of learning which men found significantly more useful than women did was facing major setbacks in the current firm. In general then, women appear to have less access to sources of learning about managing a business, but also to place a higher value than men do on experiences to which they do have access. This finding reinforces the earlier conclusions about the differing qualities of men and women's previous business learning experiences. That is, access to high quality learning experiences - experiences that are current and ongoing -is what differentiates the business learning of men and women. This appears more important than men's and women's supposedly inherently differing predispositions to business ownership.

    > In addition, the finding can be linked to the earlier one concerning the greater likelihood that male business owners' previous businesses will continue in operation, and that those run by women will have discontinued operations. It has been argued that some major learning experiences arise out of having firms fail. Now, not all business closures are associated with the failure of a business. In fact, what precisely constitutes business failure is an area of ongoing debate. Nevertheless, if at least some of the firms that women business owners previously operated represent learning that comes from business failure, it may even be true that women may have the edge over men in this type of experience, so long as it is valued. But as the results earlier have shown, this appears not to be the case. "Facing major setbacks" is not an area which women value highly in terms of the experience they gained for managing their current firm. In fact women value this significantly less than men, despite their tendency to value most other types of learning experience more than men.

    Perceptions about Specific Business Problems

    Up to this point, the findings considered in this paper have mainly related to fairly generalised sources of learning, rather than the specific issues such learning might deal with. But, as previously noted, while business owners typically face many similar types of problems, the extent to which they regard them as problems or obstacles rather than learning experiences in disguise is often taken as an indicator of how "entrepreneurial" an individual is. This is not an uncontroversial view, however, and it has been argued that specific business problems - rather like access to general business experience - may not be encountered by men and women in comparable ways.

    In order to examine these issues, the questionnaire included thirteen specific problems that are regularly cited in the literature as common to business owners. It included both problems that mostly occur around start-up and also those that may occur at a subsequent stage in the life of the business. The problems were chosen to represent both issues likely to receive public policy attention, and those that are commonly thought to affect women business owners in particular, such as looking for outside financing and achieving a balance between work and family. As for "Sources of Learning," respondents were asked to use a three-point Likert-type scale to rate the extent to which they considered that each issue had been a problem for them. The following is the total list of issues:

    • How to start your business,
    • A particular business skill you lacked,
    • Adequacy of your technical experience or training,
    • How to look for outside financing,
    • Government or legal paperwork (e.g. zoning, registration),
    • Taxation matters,
    • How to market your product or service,
    • Where to locate your business,
    • Finding suitable employees,
    • Further training for employees,
    • Industrial relations matters,
    • Balancing work and family,
    • Getting information about import replacement or export opportunities.

    Table 3 summarises the results.

    Table 3 shows that, overall, men were somewhat more likely than women to indicate that the issues listed were problems for them. Apart from this rather unexpected indication that women business owners are actually less frustrated by certain business problems than their male counterparts, there are several indications of commonality in women and men's experiences of business problems.

    The three top problems for male business owners were: taxation issues, (almost 50% of respondents cited this as a problem); closely followed by business skills they felt they lacked, and achieving a balance between work and family. For female business owners, the three top problems were, in order: tax, work/personal life balance, and business skills. Thus the top problems are similar for men and women. In fact one of the difficulties felt to be a particular hazard for women business owners - achieving a balance between work and family - is also considered an important problem by men. Interestingly, neither women nor men considered the obtaining of outside sources of finance to be a major problem.

    Moreover, when each individual problem is considered, a higher percentage of men than women cited the issue as a problem, with the exception of one. The sole exception was "finding suitable employees", which women cited significantly more often than men as presenting a problem for them. This corresponds to findings elsewhere in the study that firms in which women have the greater responsibility for the strategic management of the firm are, in general, smaller than firms where men have this responsibility. This finding is consistent along a number of measures of firm size, including number of employees, and gross sales and revenue in the preceding financial year. That men's firms tended to be larger was found to be true both overall, and when men and women's firms are compared within particular industry groups.

    Of course, the problem is not merely to define factors related to the smaller size of women's firms, but to distinguish them in terms of cause and effect. Are women's firms smaller because women find hiring more difficult, or is it more difficult for women to hire because potential employees are less willing to take a job in a smaller firm or one owned by a woman?

    The ensuing focus group discussion provided a new perspective on this issue. The focus group participants suggested that the "finding suitable employees" problem originates later in the employment relationship than the recruitment period. Specifically, women business owners who were interviewed as part of the study argued that the industry sector in which they tend to establish their firms, the service sector, is by its nature, one in which errors made by employees were more likely to happen publicly. As one hairdressing salon owner put it:

    "... when one of my employees makes a mistake with a customer's hair, everyone sees it: the other girls, the clients who are waiting - and me. There are yards of mirrors around - reflecting the problem all around the salon, for heaven's sake.... So we just fire them, I guess, we just can't stand it."

    >Male business owners from the service sector who attended the focus groups concurred with this. They pointed out that in their industries, personal disagreements between employer and employees, as well as errors in the service offered, such as mistakes on a client's car, were more able to be sorted out away from the customer's gaze. Both men and women argued that the smaller size of women's firms, and the fact that their previous firms were less likely than men's to have continued in operation, might also indicate that women have less experience with "letting go" a little in the interests of growing their firms. Women might find it more difficult than men to delegate, since the "public" nature of the service many of them offer and the considerable level of customer involvement it entails means that there is more visibility in employees' inevitable errors. The result is - in the view of the business owner - a commensurately poorer perception of them and their firm in the eyes of the customer. Their "reflex reaction" is to tighten their personal supervision of employees, despite the fact that the expansion stage of the business demands that they relinquish some of their traditional involvement. As another salon owner put it:

    "I haven't had any kids, but I sure as hell have had this business. So I want it to be just like me, and for things to be done just the way I would do them. That was the hardest thing to deal with when I was deciding to take on more staff, to look at doing things the way someone else might think of doing them...." It seems that the linkage between the "public," customer-involvement features of the service sector, and women's lesser experience with firm growth is a potent mixture, so far as employee and hiring issues are concerned. However again the issue of women's different approach to the management of their business seems to be better understood in terms of the sectoral environment in which women business owners find themselves rather than solely in notions of inherent differences between men and women.


    Considered from the point of view of small business firms in established industries, entrepreneurship - if this is considered in the broadest sense of business ownership - seems to present many common problems for men and women as well as problems which distinguish them. The three top problems: tax, business skills, and balancing work and family are similar. In addition, men and women business owners both value the kinds of business learning they achieve by running their own firms more than forms of experience they obtained in previous firms. It appears that it is tough for members of both genders to be "out there" in the jungle of the business world. But it is also the source of both men's and women's best learning about being in business.

    The issues that do appear to affect men and women differently, such as the amount and some specific types of business learning experience, appear to derive as much from the nature of the industries and sectors in which men and women business owners are located as in "gender issues" if these are conventionally defined in terms of inherent differences between women and men. Examples include the fact that men and women actually appear to have different degrees of access to particular industries. That is, men are able to "cross over" to industries which are stereotypically associated with female activities, but the reverse does not appear to be the case. In addition, "finding suitable employees", the only issue which seemed to appear more of a problem for women than for men - appears to arise at least in part from the pressures associated with delivering a particular kind of highly visible, customer-involving service which typifies the kind of service that women offer.

    None of this is intended to suggest that a gender approach to studies of entrepreneurship or business ownership is unimportant. On the contrary, the different participation rates of men and women in particular industries and sectors suggest that determining the factors underlying this will be of ongoing interest. However it does suggest that one of the traditional emphases of entrepreneurship research may be misguided. This is the notion that entrepreneurship is examinable as a phenomenon in its own right - a property of individuals which is divorced from industry and sectoral factors differentiated according to traditional notions of men and women's work. Hence, looking for specific entrepreneurial characteristics in men and women likely to be even more misguided. To pursue the earlier analogy, the heffalump of entrepreneurship in the end may not be able to be investigated and understood except as part of its surroundings. Understanding the paths into the jungle, and, even more, how what hinders and helps women and men to build viable businesses, ought to engage more of our interest than the mythical beast itself.


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    Stevenson, L. (1986): "Against All Odds: The Entrepreneurship of Women," in Journal of Small Business Management, 24, (4) (October), 30-36.

    Stevenson, L. (1990): "Some Methodological Problems Associated with Researching Women Entrepreneurs," in Journal of Business Ethics, 9, 439-446.

    Timmons, J. A. (1989): The Entrepreneurial Mind. Andover, Massachusetts, Brick House Publishing. Tong, R. (1989): Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press.

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