Entrepreneurs Women Gender

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It is now universally acknowledged that there is no single entrepreneurial experience, either for men or for women. The formation of a business is the result of the interaction of a number of factors, particularly the demographic characteristics and background of entrepreneurs, their reasons for starting up, and the unique environmental conditions they face. Moreover, many of the factors associated with the start-up process can only be identified through an in-depth investigation at the micro level of the new business and its founder(s) (Shane, Kolveried, and Westhead, 2001).

Such an in-depth approach is needed to answer the following questions. Given similar circumstances, why do some people succeed in starting a business, whereas others do not? Or going a step further, why do some people despite apparently unfavorable circumstances start a business, whereas others, even under apparently favorable circum stances, do not do so? These questions are particularly pertinent to agencies in developing countries that aim to stimulate entrepreneurial activities. There is a need to conduct in-depth qualitative studies on women entrepreneurs (as for men entrepreneurs as well) that attempt to take a closer look at their motivations and experiences in starting a business. This would contribute to a better understanding of the various factors that influence the process. The present study was such an attempt. Adopting a symbolic interactionist approach, the aim of the study was to take a closer look at how actual and potential women entrepreneurs define their goals and perceive the advantages and constraints that face them when starting a business. This has been studied within the unique sociocultural setting of a developing country, namely Pakistan. In view of the fact that the literature on women entrepreneurs in developing countries is limited and that the literature on women entrepreneurs in industrialized countries may not be relevant, the present study was aimed primarily at theory building rather than theory testing.

Literature Review

Most of the research on women entrepreneurs, limited largely to women in industrialized countries, has tended to concentrate on unique aspects of the entrepreneurship of women. Thus, there are studies investigating the demographic characteristics of women (Hisrich and Brush, 2003: Watkins and Watkins, 2003), their motivations/reasons for start-up (Sundin and Holmquist, 2001), and the constraints/barriers that women face in starting up (Carter and Cannon 1992). Brush (2002) points out that there are few studies that look at differences in individual characteristics across groups of women. The research that has been done indicates that women face different issues, depending on their stage of personal life cycle (Kaplan 1998), region or industry of location (Holmquist and Sundin 1998), and role perceptions in business ownership (Goffee and Scase 1995).

More recently, however, researchers have recognized that the process of starting a business is highly interactive and that it is a combination of personality as well as environmental factors that motivates people. Hence, the lead for this research has been taken from the more recent, holistic studies on women entrepreneurs. An earlier attempt in this direction was a study by Goffee and Scase (1995). They developed a typology of women entrepreneurs to help explain the patterns or links between the types of women entrepreneurs, the types of businesses they start, and the problems they face in the process.

Their typology is based on two sets of factors: first, women's attachment to entrepreneurial ideals and second, women's acceptance of conventionally defined gender roles. By attachment to entrepreneurial ideals, Goffee and Scase refer to a set of attitudes characterized by a belief in economic self-advancement and adherence to individualism and self-reliance. The acceptance of conventionally defined gender roles refers to a willingness on the part of women to accept their subordination to men.

Conventional business owners (highly committed to both entrepreneurial ideals and conventional gender roles) experience conflicting pressures from their businesses and from domestic personal relationships, because most will be married. They tend to start up on skills acquired through pursuing traditional female roles.

Innovative proprietors (highly committed to entrepreneurial ideals but rejecting conventional gender roles) see business as a central life interest. They are likely to be well educated and have been successful in organizational life. Yet this experience has made them aware of the obstacles facing career women, and they have opted for entrepreneurship to fulfill their ambitions. Domestic business owners (low commitment to entrepreneurial ideals but high commitment to the traditional female role) tend to be married and see their businesses as secondary to their primary roles as wives and mothers. Business ownership offers them an opportunity for self-fulfillment. Radical proprietors (low commitment both to entrepreneurial ideals and conventional female roles) see their businesses as a means whereby women can overcome their subordination to men. They are feminists who regard their businesses as social as well as economic units. Profits are used to further the feminist cause. Goffee and Scase's typology has subsequently been criticized by a number of researchers. One of the most pertinent arguments against this typology has been raised by Allen and Truman (1998). They argue that the connotation of "entrepreneurial ideals" would vary from one context to another as the socioeconomic reality of women's lives in different cultures would give them little control over how attached they can be to entrepreneurial ideals. As for women's acceptance of "conventionally defined gender roles", Allen and Truman argue that this is centered on the assumption by Goffee and Scase that there is a homogeneous experience of women's subordination by men. In fact, they argue, female subordination differs in relation to social class, ethnic origin, and marital status as well as other factors. In spite of its many limitations, Goffee and Scase's typology serves as a useful starting point for further in-depth work in this field in the United Kingdom.

Although this study is influenced by research based in Western industrialized societies, it is recognize that it can only be tentatively apply outside this context. A more exploratory approach is needed. Therefore an emphasis is placed on the women's own accounts of their experiences. In this way a conceptual framework appropriate to the context of Pakistan will be more likely to emerge.


Research on women entrepreneurs is at an initial stage of paradigm development (Moore, 2000) and is particularly limited and fragmented in the case of women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Brush (2002), in a review of articles on women business owners published between 1977 and 1991, comments that most of that research has centered on individual characteristics and that as a result the theory bases used come from psychology, particularly trait and psychoanalytic theories. Many of these studies did not explicitly note the linkage between the theory and the research. However, Brush mentions that more recent studies looking at start-up processes have used social interaction and network theories from sociology. Most recently, there have been a few studies using qualitative methods.

A symbolic interactionist approach will be adopted in this study, in order to stressing that individuals have to interpret the world before they can act. Action or behavior will be constructed by an individual pointing out to her the different things that have to be taken into account in the course of the action and looking at the various conditions that may aid or obstruct the action. She will also need to take account of the demands, threats, and expectations as they arise in the situation in which she is acting (Blumer, 2002). This is in contrast to a behaviorist approach, where individuals simply respond to an environmental stimulus. Consequently, this approach requires a method with which the researcher can enter the world of those being studied in order to see the situation as the actor sees it.

Data Collection

The in-depth interview will be considered to be the most appropriate method for a number of reasons. First, it is a way to get at the individuals interpretation of the situation when deciding whether to start a business. Secondly, the indigenous researcher will be able to draw on her own understanding of how the respondents see and experience the world in supplementing and interpreting the data. Finally, the in-depth interview will enable the researcher to capture the details needed for penetrating qualitative analysis without requiring contact over a prolonged period of time with the participants. This will be particularly important given the limited resources and time available to the researcher. As the study is concerned with exploring women's perceptions of the constraints they face in starting a business, it will be decided to seek the perspective of women who may succeed in starting a business and of women who did not.


Assuming that there are such constraints, then a comparison of business starters and nonstarters may indicate those constraints that the starters face but they may be somehow able to overcome as well as the factors that actually prevent women from starting a business in the first place. The respondents will be randomly picked from the list of the past participants of an entrepreneurship development program (EDP) will run exclusively for women in Karachi.

Although it is easy to identify women entrepreneurs by their very presence in the market, it is almost impossible to identify the ones who intend to but do not start a business, unless there is some means of knowing their intention. An important reason, therefore, for choosing the participants of an EDP is to identify the nonstarters, because attending an EDP strongly suggests an intention to start a business. Nonstarters, for the purposes of this study, will be women who have not be started a business after attending the EDP, at the time of the interview, and starters will be women entrepreneurs who have started a business after attending the EDP.

Te aim of this study is not to provide generalizations concerning women entrepreneurs in the urban formal sector of Pakistan but to provide an initial basis for deepening our conceptual understanding of start-up. The EDP provides an opportunity to obtain a sample of women that included those who intend but decide not to start a business. The initial framework will be developed from this sample will have to be further refine by theoretically sampling other groups that will not be included by the sampling frame used in this exploratory study.

The interview schedule for women entrepreneurs will be developed after a thorough review of the questionnaire used by Carter and Cannon (1998) in their similar study in the United Kingdom. The main issues will cover in the interview schedule for women entrepreneurs will be similar to those covered by Carter and Cannon (1998), with the language and contents being adapted according to the "focus "' of the study and the cultural setting in which the interview schedule will be used. These issues will be motivation, access to resources, technological constraints, professional and occupational constraints, government regulations, role of family/friends, and factual information about the business. The main issues cover in the interview schedule for the nonstarters will be the same as those for the starters, with the exception of questions relating to the process of starting up. The interview schedules will develop and use in English. The respondents will consist of approximately 20 women starters and 20 nonstarters, who have been attended the EDP during the last years.

The purpose of this research is to find out how potential and actual women entrepreneurs in Pakistan interpret their world and how this interpretation affects their behavior. These findings will not meant to be generalizable in themselves. However, by gaining an in-depth insight into the process of starting/not starting a business, they do offer a preliminary conceptual framework that can be apply and develop to other samples and settings in order to aid a deeper understanding of the process of business start-up.


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