Context is Everything

So I am currently musing over the words context and contextualization. This may not be surprising given that my edited collection Women and Global Entrepreneurship: Contextualising Everyday Experiences with Professor James Cunningham is due for submission in September. It has been said that I love context and for me, context in research (and in life) is not just the background story but is part of the story. In fact, entrepreneurship including women entrepreneurship is never conducted in a void; it is never context-less. Context is much more than just a passing reference to the particular domain or setting in which a study has been conducted or as a means of justifying unusual and /or unique findings or to report theory-free research. However, researchers to date have failed to be explicit in regards to how they understand and employ context in their particular study. This is worrying as context plays a critical role in new venture creation and a dynamic influence on entrepreneurial propensity, attitudes, and actions as it simultaneously provides individuals with entrepreneurial opportunities and constraints. It is also important to note that context is not just geographical but also refers to socio-economic, political, market, and institutional. Thus, a multiplicity of influences shape everyday entrepreneurship experiences.

Contextualising women’s entrepreneurship

The emergence of a focused and explicit discussion about context is relatively new within entrepreneurship and is particularly relevant in relation to women’s entrepreneurship. However, context is not a construct which only applies to those economies and situations which differ from the presumed norm of Western developed nations; adopting this stance is both discriminatory, myopic and blinkered in that it suggests a dominant model to which others should aspire. Consequently, adopting a more critical appraisal of how context is positioned within current theorising around gender and entrepreneurial behaviours offers potential to progress debate whilst acknowledging that competing and contrasting contextual influences require clearer recognition.

So coming soon Women and Global Entrepreneurship: Contextualising Everyday Experiences with Routledge Publishing.

Empowering or Marginalising? Women-Only Business Networks

In a nutshell….

Women entrepreneurship strategies and policies focus on addressing failings or limitations unique to women, rather than on systemic, industry, or institutional issues, perceiving a deficiency of perceived female underperformance. By treating women differently to men, treating them a problem that needs to be fixed, and by creating women-only targeted initiatives, women continue to be marginalized. Many business structures are shaped for men, with women restricted in their entrepreneurial ambitions in the lower echelons of the retails and service sector, often referred to as ‘pink ghettos’.

The research…..

Our research explores the efficacy of women-only networks in supporting women’s entrepreneurial ambitions. The research was conducted in Northern Ireland, a region where female entrepreneurship is low in comparison to the rest of the UK. In order to combat this, regional economic policy has focused on stimulating and supporting women’s entrepreneurship through the establishment of formal women-only networks to provide support, role models, and access to networks. indeed, policymakers see the drive to increase female entrepreneurship as key to helping foster national and regional economic growth. In conducting this research, we spoke to members of women-only business networks, which have been at the heart of policies in Northern Ireland for nearly two decades, as well as members of mixed networks and of both.

What we found….

Our findings show a disconnect between intent and actual impact, as the networks perpetuate women’s marginalization and place them in a niche rather them empowering and encouraging them. The research shows policy design ignores inherent structural issues within society and entrepreneurship, where there is still a clear and continuing division of labor between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. We also found that there is a lack of knowledge and information around the sectors women entrepreneurs tend to predominate in. This leads to a shortfall in well-connected and credible contacts and role models to provide information or introductions to suppliers or gatekeepers. The women-only networks tend to be more geographically restricted and focus more on social support over business development, failing to provide a platform to address issues of gender inequality in entrepreneurship. The interviews also revealed a perception among the network members of having to battle against a male-dominated society, where they had to overcome stereotypes of women as mothers or homemakers, which can reduce entrepreneurship being seen as a viable option.

Call to action….

  1. Women need to bold and not be afraid to say “I am an Entrepreneur”. Women often find it difficult to see themselves as entrepreneurs, and some feel that they need permission to do be one! (see my previous blog)
  2. More needs to be done to combat wider issues around male dominance – challenging taken for granted assumptions which are often premised on male standards. Caroline Criado-Perez’s work really highlights this.
  3. Identify, address and challenge the various means by which cultural bias manifests (e.g. networking venues -i.e. pubs and clubs) and networking times – again all based on men’s lifestyles!).
  4. Also, read my interview which appeared in the L’Express Magazine

Gender and Digital Entrepreneurship

Digital Entrepreneurship -What is it?

The rapid acceleration of digital technologies is reshaping markets and society globally. In Ireland, whether you are a student, an employee, a customer, a business leader or a mere observer, it seems that everyone is talking about ‘digital’. So what do we mean by digital? In the entrepreneurship context, digital platforms allow the development of digital start-ups and scale-ups ventures that incorporate novel digital technology as a vital component of their business model and which could not feasibly operate without the internet-enabled platforms. Digital entrepreneurship is, therefore, opening up fascinating innovation opportunities for entrepreneurship (see my research); whereby entrepreneurs and innovators are adopting digital technologies to develop new forms of entrepreneurial actions that move beyond traditional industry boundaries. This phenomenon is widespread and growing within Internet-connected societies.

Women’s Digital Entrepreneurship

Interestingly digital entrepreneurship has been posited as a “great leveller” of the entrepreneurial playing field whereby entrepreneurs can benefit from greater access to ideas, potential customers and necessary resources (Nambisan, 2017). The incorporation of digital architectures (e.g. online communities and social media) and artifacts (digital components, applications or media content) mean that spatial and temporal boundaries of entrepreneurial activities, when and where activities are carried out, are significantly less constrained and product and service opportunities are constantly evolving. Additionally, the Internet attributes of convenience, ease of use, large audience reach, anonymity, and interactivity mean that digital entrepreneurship offers significant potential for those groups who face barriers to engagement in the traditional bricks-and-mortar entrepreneurship. Indeed, digital entrepreneurship has been positioned to facilitate the engagement of marginalized groups, with one such group being women (McAdam et al., 2020). It is argued that the use of digital platforms can, therefore, provide women with greater access to markets, knowledge and more flexible working arrangements and greater reach to customers. It thus suggested that the Internet, with its protection of individual privacy, may provide a ‘safe space’ for women, free from the challenges they often encounter in their day-to-day offline lives given that online they are body-less, sex-less and gender-less.

So what?

However, such claims must be tempered with the reality in that digital entrepreneurship remains a resource-based activity, requiring capital investment, technical knowledge, access to online marketplaces and supporting hardware and software (Dy et al. 2017; 2018). In fact, there is evidence of a “gender digital divide” wherein some women entrepreneurs due to lack of digital literacy, skills, access, and resources are excluded from the opportunities and benefits offered by digital technologies. In order to understand the true potential of digital entrepreneurship for Irish society and its economy, greater attention needs to be paid to the everyday interactions with digital technology leading to the creation of new business ventures often outside of high-technology industries. Specifically, the importance of understanding how the ubiquity and everyday experiences of digital technology provide innovation opportunities. Although advances in digital technologies offer significant potential for women to engage in entrepreneurship, as my research demonstrates these opportunities co-exist within the confines of existing social and cultural practices.

For the full article which was published in 2020 Education Matters click here

 

Inclusive Allyship

Allyship….. what is it?

Well let’s start with what it isn’t – Well it isn’t an identity- nor do we want to fall into the trap of another label. Rather it is a continuous process in which someone with privilege and power seeks to first learn about the experiences of a marginalized group of people, and then ultimately empathize with their challenges and then build relationships with that group of people.

Allyship is about bridging the gap between those with privilege and those without it. A person doesn’t need to know everything about the group they’re supporting in order to be an ally. They just need to commit to standing up for others even if it costs them a few moments of social discomfort (Teaching Social Justice, 2016).

An Active Doing

Allyship is a verb…. an active doing- a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. It, therefore, should be seen as an evolution from I…We…Us

To be an Ally is to……

  • Take on the struggle as your own.
  • Stand up, even when you feel scared.
  • Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it.

The role of an ally includes:

  • Being able to listen and shine a spotlight on those whose voices are often unheard.
  • Recognizing your own privilege and power and using that privilege to lift others up.
  • Being aware of implicit biases you might have.
  • Supporting the group, you’re allying by letting them speak for themselves whenever possible.
  • Not expecting special recognition for being an ally, and not taking credit for the ideas of the marginalized group.

It requires braveness, vulnerability, not always getting it right but always willing to learn.

Permission to be an Entrepreneur….

The cultural conversation around entrepreneurship tends to focus predominantly on the male experience. This is also reflected in academia, where the debate regarding entrepreneurial identity has drawn attention to the gender blind assumptions informing this analysis, thus suggesting that the normal entrepreneur is 35yr old male. These assumptions or biases can have serious implications for those considering entrepreneurship, who do not fit the ideal image of the male entrepreneur. Indeed, this lack of fit with the accepted mode of entrepreneurship has resulted in women being made invisible, marginalized and deemed the ‘other’, in the entrepreneurship field. Women must, therefore, reach into a social space that is fundamentally unsympathetic to their gendered characterization. For those women who decide to engage in entrepreneurial activity, they are positioned within the contemporary entrepreneurial discourse, including popular media, as a discrete and separate category with their own label – “female entrepreneurs”. This special classification only goes to confirm that there are normal entrepreneurs (men, family teams, partnerships) and, separate from them, are women. It is unsurprising therefore that women may be reluctant to claim the entrepreneurial identity and feel that they may need permission to do so. This reluctance is significant as “owning/claiming” is an important first step in the building of a credible entrepreneurial identity.

So my key message is to be aware that you do not have to wait until you get a degree, gain 10 years’ experience or reach some other self-prescribed milestone before you can be an entrepreneur – just do it. Only through action can you see actual results. Then, based on that data, you can determine what your next steps will be. As an entrepreneur, you have permission to act. So rather than waiting for permission, the right time and right circumstances, be ready to act.

Professor Maura McAdam wins Best Paper Award at the 2019 Diana Conference

DCU Business School Professor Maura McAdam was recently awarded the Best Qualitative Paper Award at the 14th Diana International Conference held in Babson College, June 2019. The paper, “Online Communities and Entrepreneuring Mothers: Practices of Being, Building and Belonging”, co-authored with Dr Natalia Vershinina (University of Birmingham) and Ms Nichola Philips (De Montfort University), examines how entrepreneurial actors collectively interpret and negotiate the challenges of combining entrepreneurship and parenthood.

The  paper adopts a multi-staged research design, incorporating elements of netnography, participant observations and a series of qualitative semi-structured interviews with entrepreneuring mothers across different stages of development of their ventures.  Analysis of the reported experiences and observed interactions of entrepreneuring mothers reveals the particular benefits and support women seek and derive from community engagement and shows how key characteristics of the online environment can facilitate the development of strategies to overcome contextual constraints.  The empirical insights gleaned into the mundane discursive practices online illuminate the development of entrepreneurial competencies, suggesting co-operative and communal aspects of entrepreneurship may be particularly important to women.

The Diana Project was established in 1999 to raise awareness and expectations of women business owners regarding the growth of their firms.  Diana conferences provide an annual forum to share and develop a global research agenda in women’s entrepreneurship across continents, cultures and contexts. The Diana International Research Conference brings together more than 100 scholars worldwide, providing an annual forum to share global research dedicated to asking and answering questions about women entrepreneurs and how they grow their ventures. The 14th annual conference took place on June 2-4, 2019 at Babson College, Wellesley, MA

Maura is a full Professor of Management and the first Director of Entrepreneurship at Dublin City University. She is a nationally and internationally recognized scholar within the area of entrepreneurship having particular expertise in gender, entrepreneurial leadership, technology entrepreneurship and family business. Accordingly, her research has been published in top-rated North American and UK journals. In addition, she has authored the book ‘Female Entrepreneurship’ and co-authored the book “Entrepreneurial Behaviour” and is currently leading a €1m European Commission funded project investigating gender inequalities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Maura is an experienced entrepreneurship educator and her use of innovative teaching practices has been recognized in her receipt of several teaching awards including more recently the 2019 Irish Women’s Award for her Services to Education. Maura is a regular commentator on female entrepreneurship, women in leadership, accelerators and women in family business, on radio and in print.

DCU and the Sustainable Development Goals Event- May 2019

A one-day conference and workshop featuring scholars from across the university, highlighting key DCU research relating to the SDG’s and promoting future cross-faculty collaboration took place on the 3rd of May, 2019.

DCU is actively developing its commitment to the furtherance of sustainable development goals and already has considerable expertise in this regard. This event was an innovative platform to incentivize and encourage further work, to share the valuable insights generated by DCU researchers, and enhance the impact of the university’s work output.

This event allowed each of the 17 SDG goals to be highlighted and discussed by a member of DCU academic staff who is internationally recognized within this topic. It was an honor to be invited to discuss SDG 5 – Gender Equality and its relevance in informing my own personal research agenda. The aim of SDG 5 is to Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. During my presentation, I highlighted that “women” are often used as a proxy for gender and as a result, this may serve to exclude other gendered subjectivities. With regards to the identification of future research avenues, I referred to the importance of intersectionality, cyberfeminism, and masculinity, with regards to moving the gender agenda forward.

DCU Led Project Addressing Gender Imbalance in Entrepreneurial Sector Receives €1m in Funding

A Dublin City University (DCU) led consortium that is addressing the gender imbalance in the Entrepreneurial sector in Ireland, has been awarded nearly €1m in funding.

The project is titled ‘Overcoming the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Gender Divide: A Cross-Cultural Perspective’. The head of the project is Professor Maura McAdam, a Professor of Management and Director of Entrepreneurship in DCU’s Business School.

The team is made up of McAdam and three partners from Israel, Norway and Sweden. The aim of the project is to provide a nuanced understanding of how gender is a decisive factor when it comes to women’s participation in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The funding was awarded by the Irish Research Council under GENDER-NET Plus, who are an EU-funded initiative. Their aim is to strengthen networks between researchers from other countries and to support gender equality through institutional change. They gave the project €994,133.

The project is set to last for three years and the work began on March 1st 2019. After the end of year one, outputs from the different stages of the project will start getting published.

With the contributors of the project being from four different countries, there will be a cross-cultural comparison of women’s participation in the entrepreneurial ecosystems in each of the countries.

An entrepreneurial ecosystem is the social and economic environment that affect the local or regional entrepreneurship which helps to promote the creation of new businesses. A healthy inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem includes four domains, which are density, fluidity, connectivity and diversity of opportunity.

“In all four domains, women’s entrepreneurial activity is underrepresented: the relative share of women in and entering into entrepreneurship is lower than for men,” said McAdam, “women are leaving employment in STEM-based industries, due to a hostile environment, gender bias and glass wall/ceiling effects, reducing their potential entrepreneurial contribution; where networks exist they are not all gender inclusive; and women are significantly underrepresented in what is still a highly masculinised domain.”

It is hoped that this project will increase awareness of gender inequality within the high tech sector, which may lead to more gender equality in the sector and for more women to become successful technology entrepreneurs.

Article published in campus.ie