Women Entrepreneurs Research Paper

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The topic of women entrepreneurs has attracted a considerable amount of academic attention in recent years. Indeed, it is fast becoming a primary focus for scholars, practitioners, and policy makers worldwide who work in the field of small business management and entrepreneurship. Generally speaking, women entrepreneurs have been in the minority in comparison to their male counterparts and are still the largest underrepresented group in entrepreneurship. For example, despite the fact that women make up half of the European population, less than one third of all businesses in Europe are female-led. However, it is now widely accepted that women as entrepreneurs make a valuable contribution to national economies around the world in terms of job creation, economic growth, and wealth generation. Contrary to traditional perceptions about women entrepreneurs starting mainly small and home-based enterprises, it has also been reported that women are now leading the so-called “new economy companies,” with success in high technology, life sciences, and professional services. Thus, the need to increase their participation in the enterprise arena is becoming more important to future economic growth.

Research on women’s entrepreneurship has developed significantly in recent years. According to S. Carter and Shaw (2006), the field of women’s entrepreneurship has moved away from purely exploratory and descriptive studies, characterized by the earlier literature, toward developing stronger evidence bases that report the actual experiences of women’s enterprise in international contexts along with a more sophisticated understanding of complex issues (see, e.g., Carter, Henry, Ö Cinnéide, & Johnston, 2006). This research-paper discusses the main themes on women’s entrepreneurship, as characterized by the extant literature in this field. It begins with a consideration of the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship globally and makes the economic case for encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. The research-paper then discusses the definitional issues associated with the topic, illustrating how these can restrict the scope for robust comparative studies and impact on research findings. Some trends in women’s entrepreneurship internationally are then considered, drawing mainly on the work of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and the Diana Project.1 Some of the key characteristics of women entrepreneurs are then discussed, including their motivations for becoming entrepreneurs, their education and work experience, and their levels of confidence and their risk orientation. A major theme in the literature on women’s entrepreneurship has been the barriers and challenges they face in their efforts to engage in entrepreneurship. Under this heading, the discussion covers the traditional role of women and their networking practices, access to finance, the tendency to undercapitalize their business, and growth perceptions.

The latter part of the research-paper deals with policy and support for women’s entrepreneurship and indicates the future direction of the field, with some suggestions for further research. The research-paper closes with a summary. A bibliography, including some suggestions for further reading, and some cross-referencing to other research-papers on this site, are also provided.

The Case For Women’s Entrepreneurship

The importance of women as an untapped source of real entrepreneurial talent is now widely accepted. According to reports by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), increasing the number of women entrepreneurs involved in starting new businesses is critical to a country’s long-term economic growth. Indeed, international comparisons highlight that the world’s most entrepreneurial economies have a high representation of female entrepreneurs. However, most firms are still started and operated by men, with men being twice as likely as women to be involved in entrepreneurial activity worldwide and fewer self-employed women than self-employed men across all business sectors. Women are also more likely to run smaller businesses in comparison to their male counterparts.

According to J. Watkins and D. Watkins (1984), the contribution that women make to the business sector was not actually recognized until the mid 1980s. This was when a number of studies relating to gender-specific barriers in entrepreneurship, motivation for starting a business, and comparisons with male entrepreneurs started to appear in the literature. Since then, studies on women’s entrepreneurship have dealt with a wide range of topics, including those pertaining to characteristics and management style, entrepreneurial background, confidence and risk orientation, growth and financing strategies, policy and support, and the range of challenges facing both aspiring and established women entrepreneurs. The overriding message from all these studies is that while entrepreneurs share a number of core characteristics and challenges, women and men are different in their approach to entrepreneurship and, generally speaking, this is reflected in the type and size of businesses that women set up and in their growth aspirations. Such differences, while not always accounted for in policy and support initiatives, need to be recognized and accommodated if a steady supply of entrepreneurs is to be maintained and the growth of the economy is to be fully exploited.

Definitional Issues

A woman entrepreneur has been defined in the literature as “a woman who has initiated a business, is actively involved in managing it, owns at least 50% of the firm, and has been in operation one year or longer” (Moore & Buttner, 1998, p. 13). However, not all researchers adopt the same definition. In the United States, for example, the Census Bureau defines women entrepreneurs as leading firms in which they “own 51% or more of the interest or stock of the business.” Sometimes, due to data restrictions, it is difficult to determine the exact ownership split of a firm, or indeed, which of the owners is deemed to be the lead entrepreneur or managing director. Thus, the definition of women entrepreneurs may also include women who own less than 50%, are visibly involved in the management of the business but do not necessarily hold the most senior role in the firm, or have not actually started a business but are now running one as a managing director.

Carter and Shaw (2006) point out that self-employment data are often used to measure business ownership, but that such data do not fully account for all enterprise-related activities. This is because not all business owners are self-employed, and not all self-employed are business owners.

In their study of Danish women entrepreneurs, Neergaard Nielsen, and Kjeldsen (2006) suggest that the broad definition of women entrepreneurs can cover the following categories:

  • Self-employed entrepreneur: a woman who establishes a new venture as her primary occupation, typically in a traditional sector.
  • Traditional, self-employed worker: a woman who takes over and runs an existing company.
  • Growth-oriented entrepreneur: a woman who sets up a limited company and may be viewed as a salaried employee of that company.
  • Leisure or hobby entrepreneur: a woman who starts a business to generate a second income.
  • Family-owned business: a woman who inherits a company from her parents.
  • Networked entrepreneur: a woman who is a free agent and works from project to project. Sometimes this category of entrepreneur is referred to as portfolio working.

In a similar vein, Bruni, Gherardi, and Poggio (2004) describe broad patterns of women’s entrepreneurship and suggest that women entrepreneurs can be profiled as follows:

  • Aimless young women: those who set up a business as an alternative to career advancement in their current workplace. Such women do not typically have children.
  • Dualists: those who have substantial work experience and need to reconcile work and family responsibilities.
  • Return workers: women who have quit their previous jobs to look after their families and are motivated by economic considerations.
  • Traditionalists: women with family backgrounds in which owning and running a business is a long-established tradition.
  • Radicals: women who are motivated by a culture antagonist to conventional entrepreneurial values and who set up initiatives intended to promote the interests of women in society.

Given that there are several different ways in which women entrepreneurs can be defined and categorized, it must be recognized that such differences will have an impact on research studies and their findings. The lack of gender-disaggregated statistical data in some countries also serves to compound such definitional issues.

International Comparisons

A survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2005 showed that there were higher levels of self-employment in southern

Europe than in the north during 2003. Women’s level of self-employment2 was found to be highest in Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Turkey, and lowest in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Ireland. Interestingly, the equivalent level was lower in the United States during this period (see S. Carter & Shaw, 2006). Despite this, the level of women’s business ownership in the United States has been consistently and significantly higher than in most other developed countries. While this discrepancy may seem surprising, it highlights key differences in the ways in which figures relating to female entrepreneurship are reported. Difficulties in finding robust statistical sources, accessing gender-disaggregated data, and the fundamental issue of defining the female entrepreneur all serve to compound the task of measuring the level of female entrepreneurship and drawing international comparisons.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Reports record the Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) rates in a range of countries. The GEM research teams use adult population surveys, conducted by telephone or face to face, to yield a representative sample of the population in each country. Two categories of entrepreneur are used: early stage and established. The early-stage category includes nascent entrepreneurs, that is, those individuals who are preparing to set up a business as well as those individuals who have already set up a business within the last 42 months. The second category includes individuals who own or manage a business that has been in operation for more than 42 months. While these reports measure trends in both men’s and women’s participation in entrepreneurship, the GEM team has recently started producing a dedicated Women’s Entrepreneurship Report. The most recent of these (Allen, Langowitz, & Minniti, 2007) draws on data from 40 countries to provide a cross-national assessment of women’s entrepreneurship. Based on figures from 2006, the report shows that the highest level of women’s entrepreneurial activity occurs in the low- and middle-income countries, such as the Philippines and Russia, while the high-income countries, such as Belgium and Sweden, exhibit the lowest levels of women’s entrepreneurship. According to GEM (2007), the overall entrepreneurial activity rates (combined early stage and established) for women range from the lowest levels of 1.91% in Belgium (compared to 7.74% for men); 3.88% in Germany (compared to 7.57% for men) and 3.18% in Singapore (compared to 9.16% for men) to 49.90% in the Philippines (compared to 55.12% for men), 35.8% in Russia (compared to 44.55% for men), and 33.34% in India (compared to 40.47% for men).

One of the largest qualitative studies of women’s entrepreneurship was conducted by the U.S.-based Diana research team in 2006. The Diana team has been studying women’s entrepreneurship in the United States since 1999, and their work has adopted an international comparative perspective since 2003. Their 2006 study considered the phenomenon of women’s entrepreneurship across 14 countries: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While the study found a number of similarities in the nature of women’s entrepreneurship across the various countries, it also found a number of differences. For example, a comparatively high level of women entrepreneurs—around 33%—was found in Australia; however, women were less likely to be employers of other people even though their businesses were contributing nearly 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to the economy. In Denmark, relatively few women chose to become entrepreneurs despite being actively engaged in work outside the home. Indeed, only 25% of the self-employed in Denmark are women. German businesswomen cluster in the services sector and, similar to the Australian experience, are less likely to have employees. In Norway, women entrepreneurs tend to be in the 30-to 40-year-old age bracket, and represent around 27% of business owners. Similar to the women’s businesses in most other countries in the study, their businesses were smaller, with lower growth aspirations. Finland reported a decline in the number of women-owned businesses over the past decade, despite the country’s strong tradition of gender equality. In Canada, while women account for a sizeable proportion of entrepreneurial activity, they do not participate in entrepreneurship at the same rate as men. It is also suggested that Canadian women entrepreneurs make deliberate choices about restricting the size and pace of growth of their businesses. In Ireland, women entrepreneurs are also in the minority when compared to their male counterparts, and their participation in entrepreneurship compares poorly with levels in other countries. The low level of entrepreneurial activity may be attributed in part to the lack of a dedicated policy on women’s entrepreneurship and the absence of government-led support initiatives. In contrast to these trends, women’s entrepreneurship in the United States is strong and the gender gap between men and women’s participation in new-venture creation and management has narrowed considerably. For example, in the United States, women lead 10.6 million private firms, which contribute in excess of $2.6 trillion to the U.S. economy.

Characteristics Of Women Entrepreneurs

While it is now widely accepted that entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, share a number of common characteristics such as drive, enthusiasm, commitment, creativity, problem-solving ability, and innovative flair, among others, the literature reports that women entrepreneurs also display some unique characteristics that distinguish them from their male counterparts. Women are often described as being more customer oriented in their enterprise dealings, applying “softer” management styles, valuing the human capital and cultural aspects of their business, and placing more importance on the quality of the product or service they provide.


The literature reports a range of reasons why women choose a career in entrepreneurship. Indeed, some of these reasons were alluded to in an earlier section of this research-paper. It has been suggested that women enter the entrepreneurial arena because of a complex mix of constraints and opportunities, of external coercions and subjective aspirations (Bruni et al., 2004). Regardless of the specific motivation, it would appear that, when it comes to setting up a business, women entrepreneurs are less motivated by profit than their male counterparts. For example, it has been reported that most women who engage in new-venture creation are driven by their pursuit of independence as well as a sense of self-fulfillment and are in search of a work-life balance that suits their particular personal and family situation. Self-employment is often viewed by women as a more flexible working option when compared to traditional employment, providing more free time and facilitating childcare responsibilities. However, this is not always the case, as most entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, tend to spend considerably more time getting their business off the ground than they had originally anticipated. Furthermore, it has also been suggested that women start a business because of restricted progression opportunities in the workplace—the so-called “glass-ceiling” effect.

Education and Work Experience

When compared to men, it would appear that most women enter self-employment with less management experience and fewer financial assets and are relatively under-resourced in terms of human capital. However, according to the literature, today’s women entrepreneurs are now more highly educated than in previous years, with many attaining degree-level qualifications in discipline areas that are directly relevant to their chosen business sector. Despite this, women tend to lack management experience—often considered to be critical to business success—and do not appear to have reached the same level of seniority in their careers as men. Given the relative lack of women pursuing further study in the science and technological disciplines, it is not entirely surprising that there are fewer women starting businesses in these areas. It has been noted that, in terms of new-venture creation, women tend to be more attracted to the services sector, starting businesses in training and consultancy, beauty, design, and a range of professional and therapeutic services. Others start businesses in retail, fashion and clothing, arts and crafts, and the provision of crèche facilities. Furthermore, women-led businesses have a tendency to be small-scale ventures that are nongrowth oriented, risk adverse, and undercapitalized. Indeed, they have often been negatively categorized as “lifestyle” or “typical women’s businesses.” However, research in the United States by Langowitz (2001), among others, has provided evidence that women are also setting up and running the so-called “new economy” companies with highly successful ventures in nontraditional sectors such as high tech and construction.


It has been suggested for some time that women entrepreneurs have less confidence in their entrepreneurial abilities than men. This is often evident from the outset in the way in which they present their business proposals, their attitudes to sourcing finance, their dealings with finance providers, and their attitude to risk. Such lack of confidence has been attributed to women often having fewer resources at the start-up stage, their lack of management experience, particularly senior management experience where decisions on resources are made, their unfamiliarity with business language, and the traditional view of women as mothers and carers rather than as entrepreneurs and risk takers. Thus, the literature often links lack of confidence to risk orientation and access to finance.

Risk Orientation

The small-business literature suggests that risk and entrepreneurship are inextricably linked, with risk-taking propensity being identified as a key entrepreneurial characteristic. However, it must be remembered that in new-venture creation, risk is not purely restricted to finance. In the earlier literature, Liles (1974) identified three other types of entrepreneurial risk in addition to finance: career, family/social, and psychological. Having said this, not surprisingly, discussions on risk tend to focus on the financial aspect, as this is the most tangible type of risk. In this regard, successful entrepreneurs are deemed to be calculated risk takers, and in some cases, due to the limited liability of the company, do not even have to bear the financial risk themselves.

It has also been suggested that women tend to manage risk differently than men, with women appearing to be more concerned about the associated dangers and consequences. Some evidence suggests that women are reluctant to take on the burden of business debt (Marlow & Carter, 2006). In general, the literature reports male entrepreneurs making more risky judgements than their female counterparts, leading to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that women entrepreneurs tend to be more risk averse. However, as summarized by Brindley (2005), there are a number of different factors, apart from gender, that could account for the differences in attitudes toward risk by male and female entrepreneurs. The particular background and education of entrepreneurs, their social class and ethnicity, the type and stage of business in which they are involved, the amount of social and intellectual capital they bring to the business at the start-up stage, their particular aspirations and motivations, and the ways in which they have been exposed to and educated about risk in the past. In addition, the family dimension is also viewed as particularly important in the context of women’s entrepreneurship, as most women with children will, for obvious reasons, take a more serious view of risk. Thus, the conclusion that women are more risk averse than men must be viewed with caution, given the range of influencing factors involved.

Barriers And Challenges Facing Women Entrepreneurs

According to Bruni et al. (2004), women entrepreneurs face three main types of barriers. Firstly, there is the sociocultural set of barriers, which suggest that women’s primary role is embedded within the family. In this regard, women are viewed in the traditional sense as wives, mothers, and caregivers, with mainly childcare and domestic responsibilities. This perception, in many ways, prevents society from credibly viewing women as having a business or commercial role. Secondly, there are barriers relating to networks of information and access to assistance. Such networks and information are critical to the success of any business but are sometimes more easily accessible to men than they are to women. Thirdly, access to finance and investment funds is a particularly significant barrier, as it impacts the potential growth and sustainability of women-led businesses.

Other constraints, which are not entirely unrelated to those just described, include issues surrounding work-life balance, women’s restricted access to career advancement opportunities, and the gender pay gap in the workforce, where there are still, alarmingly, significant differences reported between male and female rates of pay. Some of these different types of barriers are discussed next.

The Traditional Role of Women

In many countries around the world, women have typically been viewed in the most traditional sense. Historically, women have always been homemakers with often the sole responsibility for children and other family dependents. Although women started to become an active part of the workforce in the 1940s, in some countries, laws establishing equality only became an issue in the 1970s. In particular, in some countries, notably Ireland, the “Marriage Bar”—a law requiring women to retire from employment in the civil service upon marriage—was not abolished until 1973; however, its negative impact lasted much longer than that (see, e.g., Henry & Kennedy, 2003). This traditional perception of women is important in the context of entrepreneurship. It is widely accepted that work experience is critical to entrepreneurial success; thus, women’s potential lack of a career history has a direct impact on their entrepreneurial abilities, perceived or otherwise.

Maternity leave and family responsibilities also have their own particular impact on entrepreneurial endeavors. Evidence suggests that women’s careers suffer significantly as a result of taking maternity leave, parental leave, or career breaks for family purposes. Such breaks not only reduce women’s experience levels and track record in the workplace, but may also impact negatively upon potential incremental pay increases. A study conducted by Williams (2004) estimated the effects of time spent caring for children on the duration of self-employment across eight countries. The study found that caring for children had a negative impact on entrepreneurship endeavours, significantly reducing the duration of self-employment ventures in most of the countries studied. The results were found to have an even greater negative impact in countries where childcare provision was poor. This is an important consideration in the context of women’s entrepreneurship, since many women engage in new-venture creation as a means of balancing childcare and work responsibilities. Furthermore, even where start-your-own-business programs are widely available, they rarely incorporate provision for childcare.

Networking Practices

In recent literature, one of the key differences identified between male and female entrepreneurs is the way in which they network with others. Indeed, it has been acknowledged that women simply do not do business in the same way as men, and this is particularly evident in the way in which they build and manage their personal business networks.

Women’s networks, in the informal sense, tend to consist mainly of family and friends and are driven by a need to maintain a strong social affiliation and develop supportive relationships with other women. While these sorts of networks often provide emotional support and encouragement for women entrepreneurs, they may not have the potential to build the types of connections that are typically needed to succeed in the business world. To some degree, this same approach is carried through to women’s formal business networks, which also tend to be characterized by an all-female participation. While single-gender networks have proven extremely beneficial for women entrepreneurs in helping them build their networking competencies, particularly at the very early stages of their business development, such networks need to evolve and expand as the business grows. Ensuring a sufficient range and quality of contacts, and including male entrepreneurs in the network, are critical to the long-term success of women-owned businesses.

McGowan and Hampton (2006) suggest that women entrepreneurs adopt different approaches to business networking, depending on the length of time they have been in business. These can be categorized as follows:

  • Early learner: includes women who are reliant on all-female networks; have a low confidence level and are typically at the very early stages of their business development.
  • Wannabe: includes women who have been running their businesses for 2 or 3 years; are working toward establishing their firms and are actively seeking to expand their networks beyond women-only membership.
  • Myopic: includes women who have already established businesses but have a lower confidence level and have failed

to explore other networking opportunities and remain reliant on contacts from their all-female network. • High-flyer: includes women from more established businesses who utilize networking for the benefit of growing their businesses, and their network membership is based on quality and expertise rather than gender.

While networking is critical to the success of any business, it can be particularly important for women entrepreneurs in helping them make valuable business contacts and grow their businesses. A network that provides women with appropriate business connections from both male and female entrepreneurs will be of most value in the long-term.

Access to Finance

The issue of finance remains one of the most significant barriers for women entrepreneurs, with reports of underlying discrimination on the part of finance providers. While research suggests that women have become more successful in recent years in accessing funding (N. M. Carter, Brush, Gatewood, Greene, & Hart, 2003), they still face problems, particularly when accessing equity finance, which is often needed to facilitate rapid growth. Women entrepreneurs face a number of problems in raising funding at key stages in developing and growing their businesses, and some evidence indicates that accessing bank loans is somewhat more problematic for women business owners than it is for men. Studies have shown that women have a tendency to rely on personal savings at the start-up phase of their businesses, only seeking bank or other sources of funding as the business develops.

For many women attempting to finance their businesses, the main issue they face is their need to borrow only small amounts of money. Often, women set up businesses in sectors requiring little start-up capital, which can pose problems for women entrepreneurs as most small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) finance tends to have a minimum capital requirement. For any business wishing to grow and expand, external sources of finance are typically required, such as equity investments, which can come from multiple sources, including venture capital, business angels, and direct investments from financial institutions. However, as Brush (1997) has pointed out, women tend to face greater difficulties than their male counterparts when trying to raise capital to fund the growth of their business. This may often be due to women’s difficulty in penetrating informal financial networks, which underlines the importance of building appropriate business networks from an early stage.

Establishing credibility and a credit track record with financial providers is a particular difficulty for women entrepreneurs. This is often because many women have family responsibilities and, because of maternity leave or career break, may not have a continuous work history and associated income stream. Even if they have been in employment, this may not have been full time, and their earnings will typically have been less than men’s. Thus, the asset ownership of many women entrepreneurs may well be significantly lower than that of their male counterparts.

Some evidence suggests that the credit scoring mechanisms adopted by financial providers are inherently designed to discriminate against women. However, additional factors such as a lack of understanding of the business proposal on the part of the lender, and the absence of female lenders in decision-making positions in banks also have an impact. In particular, decisions made by funding agencies and policy makers have typically only been informed by the analysis of male-oriented experiences, which ultimately fail to take into account the experiences of women.

It has been noted that women can also encounter difficulties in financing their ventures because of the widely held perception that they only start hobby or part-time businesses in retail and service sectors, primarily for lifestyle reasons. In a study by Buttner and Rosen (1992) that compared the expectations of men and women in seeking finance, it was found that women were less prone to use institutional finance; when compared to men, they tended to relate the rejection of their loan application more to gender bias, and lenders attributed the refusal of capital to sector and education related factors for men, and to business track record and domestic circumstances for women.

The Undercapitalization Of Women-Owned Businesses

Difficulties in accessing start-up capital often lead many women to start businesses that are underresourced, and this initial undercapitalization affects long-term growth. In contrast to their male counterparts, women tend to be more cautious and exercise greater restraint in the amount of finance they need to start their business. Typically, they apply for smaller loans, and these are often perceived by lenders as personal rather than business loans. Marlow and Carter (2005) explain women’s preference for starting smaller businesses with smaller amounts of money as a gendered version of Bhide’s (2003) “heads I win, tails I don’t lose very much” approach.

While male business owners tend to use a combination of bank and investment finance as well as personal assets, women tend to only use personal assets, savings, and personal loans. A study by S. Carter and Rosa (1998) investigated the sources and uses of finance by male and female business owners and showed that men use significantly larger amounts of start-up capital than women. Indeed, the undercapitalization of women-owned firms has often been attributed to the underperformance of their businesses in terms of growth in turnover and number of employees.

Growth Perceptions

Research into the growth of women-owned/led businesses is significantly limited. To date, little is known about women’s attitudes to growth and the extent to which the growth aspirations of women are different from that of their male counterparts. Several theories have been outlined consistent with the notion that women are, typically, much more conservative (risk averse) when it comes to business growth and appear to measure success in terms of goals, such as “self-fulfillment.” It has even been suggested that women owner-managers deliberately choose low (or no) growth options, as evidenced by the following quotation:

Female entrepreneurs are more likely to establish maximum business size thresholds beyond which they would prefer not to expand, and that these thresholds are smaller than those set by their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs also seem to be more concerned than male entrepreneurs about the risks of fast-paced growth and tend to deliberately adopt a slow and steady rate of expansion. (Cliff 1998, p. 523)

In light of this quotation, women may have self-employment as their initial entrepreneurship goal and may spend longer in this phase (i.e., where they do not employ anyone other than themselves) than their male counterparts.

There is no doubt that understanding how small firms grow is an important issue. In the European Union (EU), for example, SMEs account for over 98% of all businesses and approximately 70% of employment. However, comparatively little is known about firm growth or its determinants. A review of the literature on firm growth reveals that access to finance is a key factor in successfully growing a business. The link between access to finance and firm growth was first identified by Bruno and Tyebjee (1985). Subsequent studies, for example, N. M. Carter and Allen (1997), Berger and Udell (1998), Becchetti and Trovato (2002), and, more recently, N. M. Carter et al. (2003) appear to confirm this link. Such studies also suggest that, in general, SMEs are unable to access the same kinds of growth funding as larger businesses. It has also been suggested that access to finance is heavily dependent on firm-specific factors, such as firm size, location, sector, and the profile of the founding entrepreneur. Furthermore, while finance may be an obvious barrier to firm growth, it has also been suggested that entrepreneurs may conscientiously limit firm growth because of the risk involved or the potential loss of control that is associated with accessing such funding.

Policy And Support

In terms of policy and support for women’s entrepreneur-ship, the United States has been a recognized leader and has encouraged women’s engagement in new-venture creation since the establishment of its Office of Women’s Business Ownership in 1979, as part of the services provided by the Small Business Administration (SBA). This has no doubt resulted in the United States having the highest level of women’s entrepreneurship across all developed economies.

However, until recently, most EU countries had no specific policy pertaining to the promotion of female entrepreneurship. It was not until 2000 that the European Union’s Multi-Annual Programme for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 2001-2005 (European Union Commission [EUC], 2000) highlighted the promotion of entrepreneur-ship among women as one of its key actions within the broader objective of making the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustaining economic growth, with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.” In the United Kingdom, policy initiatives such as the Small Business Service’s (SBS) Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise (2003), the more recent Women’s Enterprise Task Force (2006), and organizations such as Prowess are helping to keep women’s enterprise at the forefront of the economic agenda. While some countries such as Ireland do not yet have a specific policy on women’s entrepreneur-ship, because of an increased understanding of women’s enterprise and recognition of women’s current and potential contribution to the economy, the effort to increase women’s participation in enterprise is now being addressed by economic development agencies worldwide.

Future Directions

While a considerable proportion of the academic literature to date has focused on the barriers to women’s entrepreneurship and the differences between male and female entrepreneurs, attention is now beginning to turn to the particular opportunities open to women in the new-venture creation process. While on the one hand, it is accepted that women can and do start businesses in nontraditional industries such as construction and high technology, on the other, there is still a tendency for women to engage in non-manufacturing sectors with small-scale business ventures in retail, consultancy, information technology (IT), craft, and professional services. However, recently, there has been some evidence in the literature that there is a disproportionate share of women entrepreneurs in the creative industries. Such industries have been highlighted as one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy and are defined as “those activities that have their origin in individual creativity, skill, and talent, and which have a potential for wealth and job creation” (Creative Clusters Ltd., 2002). While not exclusively, they include designer fashion, film, theatre and the performing arts, advertising, architecture, publishing, broadcast media, recorded music, and arts and crafts. In particular, women are operating, and indeed flourishing, in the film and media and fashion and design sectors, now heralded as the new glamour industries of the 21st century. To date, the extent of women’s participation in these particular industries, which also include broadcast media, publishing, and literature, has not been the subject of concerted academic research; however, their potential for growth is now widely recognized.

Women would also appear to be particularly well suited to the services sector in general, which, given the decline in some economies of the manufacturing industry, opens up huge potential for development. Furthermore, the valuable role that women play in managing family businesses, either solely or in partnership with their spouses, has also been noted in the literature. Anecdotal evidence exists showing that women can successfully take over existing firms, turn around floundering businesses, and start seemingly small-scale ventures, which they successfully build up for onward sale in a relatively short time. Such opportunities for women entrepreneurs require further study as they offer considerable potential for economic development.

According to de Bruin, Brush, and Welter (2007), future research into women’s entrepreneurship needs to include a review of the most appropriate unit of analysis (i.e., the entrepreneur, coentrepreneur, or the firm), consideration of women entrepreneurs in different contexts across different countries, a better understanding of the barriers to women’s entrepreneurship, and due consideration of the different interest groups involved in the field (i.e., policymakers, entrepreneurs, academia, etc.).

In research terms, many questions still need to be investigated if we are to advance knowledge in the field of women’s entrepreneurship. For example, according to Brush et al. (2006), there is a need to achieve a greater understanding of women entrepreneurs within and across regions, to develop models that account for country differences, and to reflect the extent to which the gender perceptions of certain institutions or societal groups affect the entrepreneurial dynamics. In addition, the fundamental issue of access to data, the different ways in which data are collected, and the different units of measurement that are applied to women’s entrepreneurship all need to be aligned if robust research is to be conducted and the field is to continue to move forward.


This research-paper has considered the main themes currently under discussion within the field of women’s entrepreneurship. It began by considering the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship globally and made the economic case for encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. It is clear that, since women make up half the population, there is considerable economic value to encouraging them to participate in entrepreneurship so that a steady supply of entrepreneurs can be maintained.

The research-paper then highlighted the definitional issues associated with the topic, illustrating how these can restrict the scope for robust comparative studies and impact on research findings. In this regard, it is recognized that self-employment figures do not always equate to levels of business ownership, and thus, total entrepreneurial activity (TEA) rates tend to be the most commonly used indicators of women’s entrepreneurship, particularly where international comparisons are being drawn. The research-paper drew on the work of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and the Diana Project to illustrate some trends in women’s entrepreneurship internationally. While women entrepreneurs in different countries share similar characteristics and face similar difficulties, there are differences pertaining to country, economic, and cultural contexts.

The key characteristics of women entrepreneurs were then discussed, as were the key barriers to women’s engagement in the entrepreneurial process. Here, the difficulties women encounter in accessing finance, and their different perceptions of growth were highlighted. The networking practices of women entrepreneurs were also seen to have an impact on access to finance and the growth potential of women-owned businesses. Finally, the research-paper briefly reviewed existing policy and support for women’s entrepreneurship. Although most countries have introduced a range of support initiatives to promote women’s entrepreneurship, some countries, for example Ireland, still do not have a dedicated policy on women’s entrepreneurship.

While, on an international level, scholarly interest in women’s entrepreneurship has increased significantly in recent years, women entrepreneurs are still very much in the minority when compared to their male counterparts. For the most part, significantly more men than women participate in business ownership. The growing recognition of women’s untapped entrepreneurial talent and the significant contribution they can make to the economy will help keep this topic on the agenda of academics and policymakers worldwide.


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