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

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.

The Banbridge Leader- Maura’s project supports women

An international consortium led by Professor Maura McAdam at Dublin City University, has been awarded €994,133 to help tackle gender inequalities in Ireland’s entrepreneurial sector.

Professor Maura McAdam, who is from Banbridge, will work with researchers from Norway, Israel, Sweden and Ireland on the three-year project entitled Overcoming the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Gender Divide: A Cross-Cultural Perspective to provide an understanding of how gender is a decisive factor in women’s participation in entrepreneurship, with a focus on women in technology.

It will generate new insights and knowledge whilst providing tools to visualise and challenge underlying gender imbalances that inhibit the process of innovation in entrepreneurship. It is hoped that a cross-cultural comparison between the four partner countries will help to explain variations and similarities with regard to gender in entrepreneurship ecosystems.

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.

Professor Maura McAdam, Professor of Management and Director of Entrepreneurship at DCU’s Business School said: “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. I am delighted to take the lead on this project and look forward to working with all of my international colleagues to ultimately help attain gender equality in the entrepreneurship domain in particular and also within broader society.”

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.


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.

4 weeks to the Irish Women’s Awards!

In four weeks time, I will attend the Irish Women’s Awards 2019 as a Service to Education Finalist. The black-tie event will be held at the Crowne Plaza Dublin Blanchardstown Hotel, on Monday 21st of January when meritorious female role models will gather together to celebrate their achievements.

The Irish Women’s Awards 2019 aim to acknowledge and celebrate the success of women entrepreneurs, businesswomen, professionals, civil servants, women in uniform, charity workers and many more that contribute in making Ireland a greater place to live in. The awards embody the continuing strength, grit, and determination of women, honoring those who continue to thrive, excelling them to the forefront of their industries.

A Spokesperson for the Irish Women’s Awards 2019 said: “We hope that these finalists will inspire younger women to follow their steps and we can’t wait to welcome meritorious individuals at the ceremony and celebrate the winners with them in an enjoyable event. We wish all the finalists the best of luck.”

Looking forward to a great night!