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.

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.”

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!

Entrepreneurship: what’s gender got to do with it?

The cultural conversation around entrepreneurship tends to focus predominantly on the male experience. Indeed, the main character in the typical entrepreneurial narrative is the entrepreneur (which is derived from the French word to undertake) and not the entrepreneuse.

This may not come as a surprise. Entrepreneurship has traditionally been associated with men and was once considered a form of masculinity. In years gone by, some even claimed that entrepreneurship required high levels of testosterone .

Although this may now seem absurd, this traditional association of entrepreneurship with masculinity and its embedded assumptions can have serious implications for those considering entrepreneurship who do not fit the ideal image of the male entrepreneur – including women.

Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady wondered in exasperation: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Men, he mused, “are so pleasant, so easy to please”. “Men are so decent, such regular chaps/ Ready to help you through any mishaps.”

Although dating back to 1964 and from the realm of musical theatre, the sentiment could easily be applied to the arena of modern entrepreneurship where a range of policy interventions have emerged to “fix” the problem of the female entrepreneur . This, essentially, has meant finding ways to provide them with the tools and skills to become more like men in order for them to compete in a man’s world and fulfil their entrepreneurial potential.


For those women who decide to engage in entrepreneurial activity, they are positioned within the contemporary entrepreneurial discourse, including in popular media, as a discrete and separate category with their own label – female entrepreneurs or “mummypreneurs”.

This special classification only goes to confirm that there are normal entrepreneurs (men, family teams, partnerships) and, separate from them, are women. I have yet to hear a man introduced or introducing himself as a male entrepreneur or a daddypreneur.

If Ireland is going to truly evolve as an entrepreneurial nation, in addition to the language we use, we also need to change our cultural attitude towards entrepreneurship. This requires resetting our resilience to failure.

As a nation, we have a deeply embedded fear of failure – the shame of letting ourselves and others down and, heaven forbid, “What will the neighbours say?” An European Commission report found that almost three-quarters of Irish young would-be entrepreneurs are too scared of failure to start their own business.

Speaking at a recent DCU Business School event, Roslyn Bell of Commonhall Apartments defined failure as a “first attempt at learning”.

As a society we are not socialised to fail. We need to redefine what it means to fail. It is not the opposite of success, it is just feedback. And when it comes to entrepreneurship, testing, making smart mistakes and obtaining feedback are high-yield activities.

So how do we reframe the entrepreneurial experience? First, we need to accrue courage capital – the learning absorbed from our smart mistakes and experimentation.

Second, we need to learn the entrepreneurial pivot, which requires keeping one foot firmly in place as you shift the other in a new direction. Courage capital is the dance of entrepreneurship where the dance moves are learned over time, especially by interacting with others in your tribe or dance troupe.

Third, you need to surround yourself with a tribe of like-minded individuals who are doing big things. They will inspire you to do big things via their role-modelling behaviour.

We need to stop looking for differences and start focusing on inclusive entrepreneurship. There is a deeply embedded sense that men and women entrepreneurs are essentially different, yet critical research suggests there are more gendered similarities than differences.

At DCU we take this more inclusive standpoint – which we refer to as “entrepreneuring” – which broadens not only what is traditionally viewed as entrepreneurship and but also who can do entrepreneurship, regardless of social and cultural trappings.

So let’s change the cultural conversation around entrepreneurship by being aware of the language we use, the attitudes we adopt, the company we keep and the dance moves we strut.

The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Lessons from Women Innovators

Professor Maura McAdam keynote speaker at International Women’s Day event on Female Entrepreneurship

To mark International Women’s Day 2018 on March 8th, Dublin City University, Enterprise Ireland and Bank of Ireland hosted an event featuring women innovators who are successfully leading the way in business.

The event explored insights into the entrepreneurial mindset that drives the global ambition of contemporary women innovators with the aim of raising collective awareness and encouraging proactive sponsorship of our inclusion and diversity agenda.

Panellists and speakers included women who have made a career out of innovation and risk-taking by launching their own start-ups.

Maura McAdam, Professor of Management at DCU Business School and DCU Director of Entrepreneurship, delivered a keynote presentation. The themes in her keynote address included the following:

Entrepreneurship is a mindset, not a business model; we should not limit our definition of entrepreneurship to narrow interpretations such as new venture creation but should broaden our understanding of the concept to include exciting forms of entrepreneurship such as intrapreneurship.

Intrapreneurship is a concept that focuses on employees of a company that shares many of the traits of entrepreneurs. The only difference between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship is the context in which it takes place. The mindset, thinking and skills are all the same!

The benefits of entrepreneurial thinking for Irish indigenous companies and multinationals are manifold. Intrapreneurs add value to their workplace via their innovative thinking in the same way entrepreneurs add sustainable value via new venture creation and job creation.

Fostering and harnessing entrepreneurial thinking in the workplace is of prime importance for educators and employers alike.  For employers, attracting, optimising and retaining talent are key enablers in developing entrepreneurial mindsets in a company or organisation.

Diversity in the workplace takes many forms. Diverse and inclusive cultures equal greater innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking and as a consequence better bottom line results. Diversity and inclusion should be key guiding principles in the strategies of companies looking to embrace entrepreneurial thinking among staff.

Taken to the national and international level, entrepreneurial mindset impacts the scaling up of companies’ activities and activates growth. This, in turn, means that entrepreneurial mindset stimulates and fuels global ambition.

Article originally published at DCUBS Events

Professor Maura McAdam wins Best Paper Award at the 2017 Diana International Conference

DCU Business School Professor Maura McAdam was recently awarded the Best Paper Award at the Diana International Conference held in Kansas City, Missouri in October 2017. The paper, “An Exploration of the Emancipatory Potential of Digital Entrepreneurship for Female Entrepreneurs in the Kingdom of Saudi Paper”, co-authored with Dr Caren Crowley, examines the emancipatory potential of digital entrepreneurship for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

By examining six case studies through the use of an innovative oral history methodology, the paper explores how women in KSA utilise digital technologies in the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities. The paper challenges the notion that gender inequalities are simply reflected online, by illustrating the transformative potential of Internet technologies especially social media in supporting female entrepreneurship in KSA.

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 10th annual conference took place on October 1 – 3 2017 at the Ewing Mario Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri.

Professor McAdam is Professor of Management (DCU Business School), Director of Entrepreneurship (DCU) and Director of Research at DCU Centre for Family Business. She is an internationally recognised scholar within the area of entrepreneurship with particular expertise in gender, entrepreneurial leadership, technology entrepreneurship and family business. She is currently a Visiting Professor at Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Saudi Arabia.

Dr Caren Crowley Caren holds a PhD in Management and Innovation studies from the National University of Ireland, Galway. In February 2016, she began working  with Dublin City University (DCU), on the MSc in Business Administration at Princess Noura University, Saudi Arabia. Caren is currently an Assistant Professor in Research Methods at Maastricht School of Management where she will continue to work in the area of female / digital entrepreneurship with a particular focus on developing economies.

Article originally published at DCUBS News