A theoretical overview and extension of research on sex, gender, and entrepreneurship
With the rising number of women-owned businesses has come a considerable amount of research, and even more speculation, on differences between male and female entrepreneurs and their businesses. To date, these findings and speculations have been largely atheoretical, and little progress has been made in understanding whether such differences are pervasive, let alone why they might exist. Thus public policy-makers have had little guidance on such difficult issues as whether or not unique training and support programs should be designed for women versus men. Moreover, lenders who finance new and growing firms have little to go on but their own "gut instinct" in assessing whether women's and men's businesses are likely to run in similar ways, or whether they might be run in different but equally effective ways. The lack of integrative frameworks for understanding the nature and implications of issues related to sex, gender, and entrepreneurship has been a major obstacle. Two perspectives that help to organize and interpret past research, and highlight avenues for future research, are liberal feminism and social feminism. Liberal feminist theory suggests that women are disadvantaged relative to men due to overt discrimination and/or to systemic factors that deprive them of vital resources like business education and experience. Previous studies that have investigated whether or not women are discriminated against by lenders and consultants, and whether or not women actually do have less relevant education and experience, are consistent with a liberal feminist perspective. Those empirical studies that have been conducted provide modest evidence that overt discrimination, or any systematic lack of access to resources that women may experience, impedes their ability to succeed in business. Social feminist theory suggests that, due to differences in early and ongoing socialization, women and men do differ inherently. However, it also suggests that this does not mean women are inferior to men, as women and men may develop different but equally effective traits. Previous entrepreneurship studies that have compared men and women on socialized traits and values are consistent with a social feminist perspective. These studies have documented few consistent gender differences, and have suggested that those differences that do exist may have little impact on business performance. While this interpretation of past findings is relevant to the question of if and how female and male entrepreneurs differ, there are still large gaps in our knowledge. In particular, only one study (Kalleberg and Leicht 1991) has systematically explored whether or not potential differences related to discrimination or socialization affect business performance; the study used limited measures of business performance, and assessed only a restricted range of male I female differences. This article reports on a study that explored other potential differences related to discrimination and to socialization (which are hypothesized based on liberal and social feminism) and looked at their relationship to a more comprehensive set of business performance measures. The study indicates that for a large, randomly selected sample of entrepreneurs in the manufacturing, retail, and service sectors, there were few differences in the education obtained by males and females, or in their business motivations. Women entrepreneurs were, however, found to have less experience in managing employees, in working in similar firms, or in helping to start-up new businesses. Women's firms also were found to be smaller than men's, to have lower growth in income over two years, and to have lower sales per employee. Regressions undertaken to examine predictors of a range of business performance indicators suggest that women's lesser experience in working in similar firms and in helping to start-up businesses may help to explain the smaller size, slower income growth, and lesser sales per employee of their firms. For policy-makers, this article suggests that systemic factors that afford women less access to experience must be addressed. Support for classroom training or related advisory activities may not be warranted; there is little evidence that women lack access to relevant classroom education. However, programs that help increase women's access to hands-on experience in starting firms or in working in the industry in which they hope to set up business does seem advisable. In-class education or counseling would not seem to compensate for lack of real-world experience, which suggests that any available funds should be directed more toward initiatives centered on apprenticeship programs than toward those centered on classroom teaching. Implications for lenders and investors are less clear cut, but suggest that whatever innate differences may exist between men and women are irrelevant to entrepreneurship. While women's businesses do not perform as well as men's on measures of size, they show fewer differences on other, arguably more critical business effectiveness measures-growth and productivity-and no differences on returns. Discrimination against women-owned businesses based on these findings would clearly be both unethical and unwarranted. The fact that women appear to obtain similar growth, productivity, and returns, in fact, suggests that they may be compensating for experience deficits in ways that current research does not illuminate. While more systematic inquiry is required to assist in understanding why men's and women's firms may differ in some predictable ways, this study would suggest that lenders and investors wishing to assist small businesses should focus on evaluating the amount and quality of the business and non-business experience of entrepreneurs, and consider sex an irrelevant variable. For entrepreneurs, this research reinforces the notion that acquiring relevant industry and entrepreneurial experience is of considerable importance if they seek to establish large firms and/or to achieve substantial firm productivity and returns. In particular, helping in the start-up of firms and spending extended periods of time in the industry of choice appear to yield subsequent rewards in the performance of any individual's firm. Future research is needed to investigate whether or not other types of business experience or non-business experience might bring additional benefits in terms of positive impact on future business performance, but the indication of the current work is that one's sex per se is neither a liability nor an asset.
|Journal||Journal of Business Venturing|
Fischer, E.M. (Eileen M.), Reuber, A.R. (A.Rebecca), & Dyke, L. (1993). A theoretical overview and extension of research on sex, gender, and entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 8(2), 151–168. doi:10.1016/0883-9026(93)90017-Y