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

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.

DCU gets €1m funding to examine issues affecting female entrepreneurs

Dublin City University is leading a consortium that has been awarded almost €1 million in funding to help address the gender balance in Ireland’s entrepreneurial sector.

The project, entitled “Overcoming the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Gender Divide: A Cross-Cultural Perspective”, will look at how gender affects women’s participation in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and will specifically focus on technology.

The funding was awarded under GENDER-NET Plus, an EU-funded initiative that aims to strengthen links between researchers in different countries, and support gender equality through institutional change. GENDER-NET Plus is also promoting the integration of sex and gender analysis into research.

The consortium, which includes researchers from NorwayIsraelSweden and Ireland, is being headed by Maura McAdam, professor of management and director of entrepreneurship at DCU’s business school. The DCU-led research project is a three-year programme.

Insights

The project is intended to provide new insights into underlying gender imbalances in the entrepreneurship sector, while also creating tools to visualise and challenge factors affecting innovation in the sector.

“There is an assumption that all entrepreneurs have equal access to resources, participation and support, as well as an equal chance of a successful outcome. However, my latest research shows that women are underrepresented in successful entrepreneurial ecosystems, and that a persistent gender bias continues to exist in entrepreneurship discourse and practice,” Prof McAdam said.

The inclusion of researchers from different countries will allow for a cross-cultural comparison that could help to explain variations and similarities with regard to gender in entrepreneurship ecosystems and also identify trends relating to gender in technology entrepreneurship despite different political contexts and structures.