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Women in the entrepreneurial world

September 12, 2019





Introduction
Studies on women entrepreneurship have witnessed a rapid growth over the past 30 years. The field is in an adolescence stage with a considerable number of journal articles, literature reviews and books being published on women entrepreneurs. The objective of this study is twofold. First is to examine the number of papers published on women entrepreneurship in 12 established entrepreneurship journals from 1900 to 2016. Second is to assess the growth of the field by specifically reviewing literature reviews published from 1980s till 2016 and put forward future research directions. Our review findings suggest that there is still a long way to go in terms of building a strong theoretical base for research on women entrepreneurship. The lens of feminist theories can be applied in conjunction with the existing entrepreneurship theories to advance the field. Methodologically, past research is dominated by the positivist paradigm and there is a need to embrace innovative methods to build explanations using a constructionist approach. Further, studies are mostly restricted within national boundaries primarily being conducted in developed economies. There is a need to build transnational networks and foster professional communities to enable the growth of the field.
Till the 1990s, mainstream academic journals and leading newspapers in the US perceived women owned firms as only small lifestyle businesses or sole proprietorship firms (Baker et al. 1997). The male-centered business model was considered as the natural model of doing business. However, research on women entrepreneurs’ reveals that entrepreneurship is a gendered phenomenon and entrepreneurial activities can be rooted in families (Jennings and Brush 2013).
Emerging literature suggests that women can play a significant role in the larger entrepreneurship phenomenon and economic development (Sarfaraz et al., 2014). As a result, there is an insistent need to investigate various dimensions of women entrepreneurship. The existing theoretical concepts need to be expanded to better explain the uniqueness of women entrepreneurship as a subject of research inquiry.

Addressing the need to build a better understanding, this paper attempts to present an overview of the field and highlight future research directions. In particular, this paper has two broad objectives. The first objective is to highlight the mainstream entrepreneurship journals and explore the number of papers published on women entrepreneurship in these journals till date. The second objective of the paper is to review the growth of the field and present an analysis of the literature review papers published on women entrepreneurship till 2016.
The paper is organized as follows. First, we discuss the growth and chronological history of the field of women entrepreneurship. Then, we discuss the research review approach followed in the paper and present the findings from our search using e-databases. Next, we present a summary and analysis of the literature review papers published from the 1980s till 2016. Finally, we discuss directions for future research and conclude the paper.



Women entrepreneurship: chronological history of the field
The literature on mainstream entrepreneurship primarily focusing on the male entrepreneur emerged in the 1930s. The late 1970s witnessed the emergence of an explicit sub-domain of women entrepreneurship (Jennings and Brush, 2013). This section outlines the chronological history of development of the literature on women/female entrepreneurship. Table 3 presents a summary of the key historical milestones in this sub-domain.
In 1976, Schwartz published the first academic paper on female entrepreneurship in the Journal of Contemporary Business and the first policy report in this area titled “The bottom line: Unequal enterprise in America” was released in 1979 in Washington DC. Hisrich and O’Brien (1981) made the first academic conference presentation on women entrepreneurs at the Babson College Conference on Entrepreneurship in 1981. The first academic book on female entrepreneurs was published in 1985 (Goffee and Scase, 1985).
Initial research on entrepreneurship assumed that male and female entrepreneurs were generally the same and there was no specific need for a separate investigation (Bruni et al. 2004). As a result, the sub-domain of women entrepreneurship did not develop as a significant area until the late 1990s to early 2000s (Jennings and Brush, 2013) with the launch of two dedicated conferences. First, a policy oriented Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Conference on women entrepreneurs in small and medium sized enterprises was held in 1998. Second, an academic conference Diana International was held in 2003.
It was not until 2009 that a niche journal titled the International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship was launched. Eventually, leading journals in the mainstream Entrepreneurship area recognized the growing need for research in this area. The journal of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice published a special issue on women entrepreneurship in 2006 and 2007 (de Bruin et al. 2006) and then again in 2012 (Hughes et al., 2012).
Table 1 and Fig. 1 summarize our search results. Table 2 lists all the selected entrepreneurship journals along with the total number of 185 papers published on women entrepreneurs. Amongst the mainstream entrepreneurship journals, we find that the Journal of Small Business Management published the first paper in 1973, which was followed by the Journal of Business Venturing in 1988. Total number of papers published in the mainstream journals from 1900s till 2016 was 185 with the Journal of Small Business Management having the maximum number of papers. Interestingly, we find two mainstream entrepreneurship journals having no papers on women entrepreneurship. These two journals are Economics of Innovation and New Technology and the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior and Research.

Table 1




Fig. 1
Papers on Women Entrepreneurs in established Entrepreneurship Journals
Table 2
List of Entrepreneurship Journals and Papers Published on Women Entrepreneurs

Journal Name
First article published in Year
Total papers (1900–2016)
1
Economics of Innovation and New Technology
-
0
2
Entrepreneurship & Regional Development
1998
11
3
Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practicea
1991
34
4
Industry and Innovation
2010
1
5
International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior and Research
-
0
6
International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
2007
5
7
International Review of Entrepreneurship
2015
1
8
International Small Business Journal
1998
18
9
Journal of Business Venturinga
1988
26
10
Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development
2003
16
11
Journal of Small Business Management
1973
46
12
Small Business Economics
1996
27

Total Number of Papers

185
A Journal  is a Leader in the Entrepreneurship Field (Harzing, 2016)
Figure 1 graphically illustrates the number of papers published in the 1900s and 2000–2016 in the 10 journals. The two journals mentioned earlier that had no papers on women entrepreneurship were dropped from this graph. We found a total of 138 papers published during the 2000 to 2016 time period. This clearly illustrates a substantial increase from a total number of 46 papers published during the 1900s. Except for two journals, namely the Journal of Business Venturing and the Journal of Small Business Management we see that the increase in publication trend is clearly visible in Fig. 1. During the 2000–2016, the Journal of Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice published the maximum number of papers (total 28) followed by Small Business Economics publishing 25 papers, Journal of Small Business Management publishing 22 papers and the Journal of Business Venturing publishing 13 papers. It is advisable to note that the journal list in Table 2 is only indicative of the existing established entrepreneurship journals and scholars seeking potential publication outlets can also consider other upcoming journals or interdisciplinary journals that are open to publishing research on women entrepreneurship.
Next, a second round of search was conducted for literature review articles published on women entrepreneurship in management and social science journals. We used a combination of keywords “female” or “women” or “gender” and “entrepreneur” and “review” or “literature” in the paper title using e-databases like EBSCO, ProQuest and Google Scholar. Only relevant review articles were shortlisted for our analysis after reading the abstracts. We also selected a comprehensive review article by Jennings and Brush (2013) published in The Academy of Management Annals as our foundation review paper. This paper helped us in identifying few more review articles that did not get covered in our search in paper titles. In all, we found 19 relevant literature review articles on women entrepreneurship published from 1986 till May 2016. These are discussed in detail under the Reviews section that follows.

Reviews
An increase in the number of papers on women entrepreneurs resulted in publications of literature reviews to comprehend the state of the field. Table 3 presents a summary of the literature reviews published in research journals from 1986 to May 2016. There were two review papers published in the 1980s, five reviews in 1990s and twelve review papers in 2000s (up to 2016). These are covered in detail in the following sub-sections.

Build theoretical explanations for gender based comparisons of business owners
In the 1990s, as the number of women business owners grew the number of research studies on women entrepreneurs also grew (Brush, 1992). Initial research was primarily focused on listing similarities and dissimilarities between male and female business owners. Differences were reported on educational background, occupation, motivation and method of business creation and growth. Researchers like Fischer et al. (1993) suggest that the differences reported in literature between male and female entrepreneurs were speculations and largely atheoretical in nature. There is a need to build more theoretical explanations and move beyond recording differences.
For example, Brush (1992) proposed an integrated perspective explaining gender related differences using psychological and sociological theories. This is different from the economic perspective of firm creation and assumes women entrepreneurs to perceive their businesses as cooperative networks of relationships involving family, society and personal relationships. Fischer et al. (1993) suggests using theories of liberal feminism and social feminism to understand undefined male and female socialization differences, which can help explain why men and women run their businesses in different yet equally effective ways.
Extend existing theories of entrepreneurship using a feminist perspective
There exists a debate in literature whether a new theory on women entrepreneurship is required. Many researchers suggest that the existing concepts of entrepreneurship itself can be used in conjunction with feminist theories to extend the theoretical foundation of the larger entrepreneurship field. In the past, many theoretical lenses have been used to examine the phenomenon of women entrepreneurship. For example, Bowen and Hisrich (1986) used career theory to propose a career model of women’s entrepreneurial behavior; Brush (1992) used psychological and sociological theories to explain gender-based differences; Brush et al. (2009) used institutional theory to propose gender as a social construct; and Sullivan and Meek (2012) used expectancy theory, regulatory focus theory and social cognitive theory to study entrepreneurial process model concepts. Ahl (2006) reports the use of many feminist theories like the liberal feminist theory, social feminist theory, psychoanalytical feminist theory, radical feminist theory, social constructionist and post-structural feminist theory. To advance our understanding of this field, there is also a need to make a shift in epistemological position from how gender is done to how social orders are gendered (Ahl, 200; Ahl and Nelson, 2010). Research efforts in this direction are likely to offer a richer perspective on women entrepreneurship. Scholars can use the existing concepts of entrepreneurship and ground them in feminist theories.

Study entrepreneurial processes of women founded business models
Women entrepreneurs comprise about a half of human resources in developing economies (World Bank, 2009). Despite an influx of women entering the field of entrepreneurship in developing countries (Gichuki et al., 2014), very few authors have explicitly examined the entrepreneurial processes of women founded businesses (de Bruin et al., 2007). In reality, women in developing countries are more likely to face complex barriers to entry and unequal access to resources and networks (Goyal and Yadav, 2014). Thus, there is a need to build an in-depth understanding of the business models of women founded firms from prelaunch to launch and post launch phases (Sullivan and Meek, 2012). Scholars can use the lens of process theories to understand the influence of gender in business models.


Expand the scope of research on women entrepreneurs: context and content
Our review findings suggest that there is a need to expand the scope of research on women entrepreneurs involving the context as well as the content of the research. de Bruin et al. (2007) report that the Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice journal’s special issue had generated interest on the topic in the researcher community and the special issue’s countries of submission included countries like United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Spain, Australia, China, France, India, Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan and Ghana. Despite the interest, we find that most of the literature on women entrepreneurship reports empirical studies primarily from the west. There are very few studies that explore this phenomenon in a developing economy context and there is a need for research on women entrepreneurs in developing countries (Gundry et al., 2002; Goyal and Yadav, 2014).
Further, the context can also be expanded in terms of the women entrepreneurship environment to study comparisons among class (upper, middle and lower), sectors (manufacturing, services and others), regions (urban and rural) and nations. Scholars can design studies to examine the impact of factors like industry, family, culture and goal orientation in women founded enterprises (Gundry et al., 2002). It would be interesting to observe horticultural and economic class differences across nations with different cultural backgrounds.
Content-wise, there is a need to move beyond the individualist focus of the female entrepreneur and include more factors like contingency studies or comparative studies (Ahl, 2006). For instance, contingency studies can explore external factors like legislation, social norms, family policy, economic policy, labor market structures, and the degree of female business owner’s involvement. From a macro perspective, scholars can explore links between income class, educational attainment and women entrepreneurship. To foster entrepreneurship among young women, it would be useful to explore entrepreneurial intentions of young women from varied socioeconomic and class backgrounds in different cultural contexts.

Conclusion
The field of women entrepreneurship has come a long way since its emergence in the late 1970s. In this paper we report findings from 19 literature reviews on women entrepreneurship that were published between 1986 and 2016. We find that the initial studies on entrepreneurship primarily assumed male and female entrepreneurs to be the same and found no explicit need for a separate investigation. As a result, research on women entrepreneurship did not develop as a distinct domain until the late 1990s to early 2000s. This development witnessed the emergence of professional communities like the Diana International project, dedicated conferences and niche journals in this area. Mainstream entrepreneurship journals also acknowledged the need for research in this area and came out with special issues to advance the body of knowledge on women entrepreneurship.
Many studies in the past borrowed theoretical concepts from areas that were not valid for the women entrepreneurship domain. There is a need to be inclusive of diverse voices and consider constructionist approaches to explore traditional as well as non-traditional questions. Particularly, there is a need to use the lens of feminist theories to capture heterogeneity in women entrepreneurship research and extend existing entrepreneurial theories. There is also a need to study entrepreneurial processes of women founded business models and adopt inattentiveness in research method choices.

In my Opinion results can also be beneficial for startup managers and women entrepreneurs. In practice, aspiring women entrepreneurs can benefit by gaining access to apprenticeship in target industries. This experience can help them prepare better prior to launching their own business in that particular industry. Specifically, gaining exposure to a business start-up can be beneficial. Further, much of the collaborations in the women entrepreneurship area are still restricted within national boundaries and there is a need to build research as well as practice networks across transnational borders.


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