diversity

Is entrepreneurship more of a masculine than feminine trait? Research recognises that while there are differences between the two genders within the commercial world, these differences can in fact enhance business. Is entrepreneurial success dependent on gender or in fact a whole host of other factors?

Even though there has been much research on entrepreneurship and gender differences, many people still maintain that entrepreneurship is more of a masculine than a female trait. A particularly interesting assertion given that masculine and feminine traits are frequently referred to in research papers without a satisfactory definition of the terms.

The unhelpful and stereotypical interpretations of both therefore prevail. Masculine characteristics include strength, curiosity, intelligence and logic. Feminine attributes include being sympathetic, helpful and aware of feelings. These interpretations serve no-one, painting an unrealistic view of men and women in the business world.

They are also detrimental to the understanding of the role of gender in research about business and entrepreneurship. This is borne out by the amount of conflicting research concluding that in business there are either large gender differences or none at all. Some people in business also feel pressure to act out some of these attributes in order to succeed, presuming from misguided research that many entrepreneurs place a higher value on masculine traits.

When female entrepreneurs believe that they can only succeed by acting in a masculine way, they – and the business world – miss out on the gift of their authentic attributes and actions. Similarly male entrepreneurs may eschew female traits which could be serving them well. Inaccurate definitions and a misunderstanding of male and female characteristics is not good for business professionals or their organisations.

Feminist research into business and entrepreneurship offers a different and more helpful view. It recognises that women have different needs to men, and that a power imbalance may exist between the two genders. It suggests that there are differences between women and men, but does not believe women to be inferior to men. These differences, in fact, can enhance business.

Academics and the media have a role to play in helping to create true equality in the workplace. They need to provide information that is free from the bias of sexist jargon and gender stereotyping. Research informs many of the professional development programmes and books available to entrepreneurs, so this bias-free approach is key.

What’s more, researchers need to investigate different strategies, traits and examples of success that are not bound to gender and open to all entrepreneurs to experiment with. Entrepreneurs are innovative, creative, risk-taking and most definitely their own people, whatever their gender – let’s support them with research and training and foster this wonderful spirit.

Dr Sara Fisher, lecturer, De Broc School of Business