Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1997 Edition


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1 Robert D. Hisrich
2Candida G. Brush
3Deborah Good
3Gita DeSouza

1Case Western Reserve University
Weatherhead School of Management
Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7235

2Boston University
595 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215

3National Education Center for Women in Business
Seton Hill College
Greensburg, PA 15601-1599

Telephone: 1216-368-5354
Fax: 1216-368-4785

Principal Topics

Women-owned entrepreneurial ventures are of increasing importance to the U.S. economy, as evidenced by their rate of business creation, their percent share of small firms, and their revenues and employees. Despite these impressive contributions, this population is comparatively under-studied in the entrepreneurial domain. Research on performance of women-owned businesses separately, or compared to men are few and current research is inconclusive. These studies have not examined the possible influence of internal owner/founder factors compared to external industry and environmental conditions on performance and any differences in performance.

This study offers a comprehensive investigation of factors influencing performance, and analyzes these for similarities and differences by gender. Two contrasting theoretical views provide the foundation for this research. "Social feminism" (Fisher, Reuber & Dyke, 1993; Carter, et al., 1995) argues that social structures (work, family, social life) limit experiences and socialization of women. This view argues that socialization experiences of men and women result in different self-perceptions, motivations, and belief structures. Alternatively, "liberal feminism," rooted in political philosophy, argues that given rationality, all beings are equal, presuming women to be equal to men. This view suggests differences in performance emerging due to gender would be due to overt discrimination and any performance differentials would be due to external structural factors.


A cross-sectional national survey of 3,000 male and female-owned businesses provides the data set for this investigation. These businesses were identified based on two major dimensions-function (service and manufacturing) and gender image (male and female). Trade associations were identified from the Directory of Organizations that met our sampling criteria. Contact was made with each organization to ascertain the possibility of purchasing or acquiring access to the mailing list. Questionnaires were mailed to 3,000 potential respondents, followed by a reminder notice. To further enhance response rates, follow-up phone calls were made, and if requested, an additional survey was sent.

The survey instrument was adapted from earlier research by Hisrich and Brush (1982, 1985). Performance, our dependent variable, was measured by multiple variables (Brush & VanderWerf, 1991) and included sales, return on sales, return on assets, employees, and changes in these over three years, as well as personal satisfaction and years to break even. Our dependent variables for resource access were measured by perceptions of access to external resources, view of industry favorability, and actual financial resource infusions to the business. Human capital was measured by level of education, years of experience and business skills (Cooper, et al., 1994). Personal goals followed measures employed by Hisrich & Brush (1982, 1985), strategy measures replicated Chandler and Hanks (1994), and values and family situation were measured by open questions. Statistical analysis includes descriptive statistics, t-tests, and correlation analysis.

Major Findings Initial analysis showed that demographics of male and female entrepreneurs were similar in terms of age, education, and marital status. Goals in business ownership were similar across achievement and independence, yet women rated economic necessity and recognition significantly more important than their male counterparts. Business skills were highly rated on marketing and idea generation, but women rated themselves higher on dealing with people. Self-rating of business competencies varies in that women rated themselves higher in oral presentation and motivation. Industry, resources, and environment reflected gender similarities and differences. Access to resources was similar by gender for technology, employees, and information, but women viewed their access to debt as being more unfavorable. Perceptions of industry environment were similar for both men and women, except that women viewed regulation to be more unfavorable than men. Performance in terms of personal satisfaction was high for the sample, 60% being satisfied with their jobs. However, more than 47% were dissatisfied with their income. A higher percentage of women were satisfied with the way they did their job compared to men. Sales levels were similar by gender, as was number of years to break even, although women-owned businesses broke even in a slightly shorter time than men-owned firms. Average number of employees was small for both male and female-owned firms. Future analysis will examine factors influencing performance.


This research indicates the degree to which gender explains performance difference in male and female-owned businesses. Independent variables, both internal to the venture and external, explaining differences or similarities are identified. This study contributes to theory development by providing insights on the extent to which liberal or social feminism views apply in the context of entrepreneurship. Implications suggest that a "model" of women's entrepreneurship should be developed separately from current entrepreneurial theory.

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