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.

Mummypreneurs

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

Business networking for women only: Is there still a need?

Whilst reflecting on IWD 2017, Olive Keogh discusses the relevance of women-only networks for women entrepreneurs

“women choose an all-female group not because they lack confidence in themselves or their idea, but because they prefer the camaraderie and support they get from other women. It’s not that it’s any less competitive – the women are as driven to succeed as the men. But there’s a huge openness within female-only groups that you don’t get with mixed groups.

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/work/business-networking-for-women-only-is-there-still-a-need-1.3002534

“When it comes to increasing sales and achieving strategic goals, such as growth, or accessing new opportunities, then a mixed group is better as it more accurately mirrors the general business environment,” says McAdam, a professor of management and director of entrepreneurship at DCU.

Delighted to be invited to engage in this worthwhile and timely conversation

Spotlight on Research: The Topic of Entrepreneurship with Professor Maura McAdam

In the Spotlight on Research series, the focus is on the topic of entrepreneurship wtih Maura McAdam, Professor of Management and Director of Entrepreneurship at DCU.

For the last 17 years I have been actively involved in researching, engaging with entrepreneurs and supporting prospective entrepreneurs in realising their potential. Within my research and the lecture theatre, I like to challenge the popular assumptions of entrepreneurship as being an individual-based form of organising with purely economic finalities. Rather I support the everydayness of entrepreneurship whereby it is a type of action deeply embedded within the fabric of society as opposed to traits possessed by a few heroic (male) individuals!

I believe individuals may dip in and dip out of entrepreneurship at different points throughout their life. It is not just for the young, and in their daily choices they make small discrete actions which cumulatively result in larger entrepreneurial efforts. By taking a more inclusive standpoint – which I refer to as ‘entrepreneuring’ – we broaden what is traditionally viewed as entrepreneurship (solely starting a business), and allows us to appreciate other exciting forms of entrepreneurial activities such as social entrepreneurship, civic entrepreneurship, gig entrepreneurship and academic entrepreneurship.

Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught in the classroom? What are your approaches?

Yes, I very much believe that entrepreneurial attributes can be positively influenced by entrepreneurship education, and that all students can benefit from the acquisition of “enterprise skills for life”. Skills such as negotiating, influencing and selling, which are all deemed important by employers and essential elements of entrepreneurship, can enhance the employability skills of all graduates, regardless of career path chosen.

To this end, I have taught entrepreneurship across a range of disciplines including nursing, engineering, pharmacy and dentistry. In order to aid the acquisition of enterprise skills of life, I am a supporter of experiential teaching and learning by doing, so rather than asking myself “what am I going to teach today? I ask “what am I going to have my students do today”.

Student learning is therefore promoted through creating an environment where students are encouraged to learn and practice enterprise skills in ‘live’ situations and to reflect on their learning.

Your research pieces speak about sexism in the work place, how do you hope to spread these ideas to your students? (https://theconversation.com/do-tech-accelerators-have-a-sexism-problem-47072)

My research into accelerators highlighted that, although portrayed as gender neutral, accelerators were in fact embedded masculine. As a result, women were self-selecting out of this business support mechanism because of a perceived lack of fit. Within my lectures, I want to ignite important conversations around inclusivity and equality. The world economy is driven by sustainable value and business growth, which depend upon attracting, optimising and retaining talent.

Therefore it is an economic imperative that every organisation is fully utilising and optimising the talents of their entire staff, including women. To accelerate closing the gender gap both in the entrepreneurial arena and the workplace, I hope to create gender awareness by encouraging students to challenge social norms associated with gendered role expectations and embedded masculine norms and also by providing access to credible role models. In so doing, I hope to help create not only the next generation of women entrepreneurial leaders but also gender aware male entrepreneurial leaders.

Your book, “Female Entrepreneurship” focuses on women’s experience in the world of business today. What key piece of advice would you give female entrepreneurs?

My intention with this book was to highlight the challenges and also the opportunities associated with women entrepreneurship. Women bring something unique and special to the entrepreneurial table, so my first piece of advice would be to celebrate this uniqueness and never underestimate the impact of your imagination, individuality, and unique ways of seeing things on the products and services that you are creating.

I also find that women entrepreneurs have difficulties with seeing themselves as entrepreneurs and are reluctant to say “I am entrepreneur”- so in addition to celebrating your uniqueness I would encourage female entrepreneurs not to shy away from owing their entrepreneurial identity and commit to their entrepreneurial career as they would to any other career. One way in which to aid self-confidence is to surround yourself with a community of people to help in your entrepreneurial development.

So my last piece of advice is to find your tribe, your own board of personal advisors. For example, a female accelerator programme such as the Ryan Academy Female High Fliers accelerator programme http://www.ryanacademy.ie/what-we-do/female-high-fliers-accelerator/ can help with the building of connections and finding your tribe.

You joined Dublin City University recently. What have you enjoyed most so far and what are you most looking forward to?

Given my own teaching and research philosophies I am already feeling very much at home at DCU and look forward to representing DCU, the University of Enterprise, on an international stage. I am also looking forward to putting gender on the agenda within the Centre of Family Business and enjoyed leading the first “Women in Family Business” workshop which took place in DCU. Given my work looking at women in accelerator programmes, I am also excited about getting involved with the Ryan Academy Female High Fliers Accelerator and working with Irish women entrepreneurs who are transforming their entrepreneurial potential into economic and social impact.

Finally, I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders – the DCU students!

s, the focus is on the topic of entrepreneurship wtih Maura McAdam, Professor of Management and Director of Entrepreneurship at DCU.

For the last 17 years I have been actively involved in researching, engaging with entrepreneurs and supporting prospective entrepreneurs in realising their potential. Within my research and the lecture theatre, I like to challenge the popular assumptions of entrepreneurship as being an individual-based form of organising with purely economic finalities. Rather I support the everydayness of entrepreneurship whereby it is a type of action deeply embedded within the fabric of society as opposed to traits possessed by a few heroic (male) individuals!

I believe individuals may dip in and dip out of entrepreneurship at different points throughout their life. It is not just for the young, and in their daily choices they make small discrete actions which cumulatively result in larger entrepreneurial efforts. By taking a more inclusive standpoint – which I refer to as ‘entrepreneuring’ – we broaden what is traditionally viewed as entrepreneurship (solely starting a business), and allows us to appreciate other exciting forms of entrepreneurial activities such as social entrepreneurship, civic entrepreneurship, gig entrepreneurship and academic entrepreneurship.

Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught in the classroom? What are your approaches?

Yes, I very much believe that entrepreneurial attributes can be positively influenced by entrepreneurship education, and that all students can benefit from the acquisition of “enterprise skills for life”. Skills such as negotiating, influencing and selling, which are all deemed important by employers and essential elements of entrepreneurship, can enhance the employability skills of all graduates, regardless of career path chosen.

To this end, I have taught entrepreneurship across a range of disciplines including nursing, engineering, pharmacy and dentistry. In order to aid the acquisition of enterprise skills of life, I am a supporter of experiential teaching and learning by doing, so rather than asking myself “what am I going to teach today? I ask “what am I going to have my students do today”.

Student learning is therefore promoted through creating an environment where students are encouraged to learn and practice enterprise skills in ‘live’ situations and to reflect on their learning.

Your research pieces speak about sexism in the work place, how do you hope to spread these ideas to your students? (https://theconversation.com/do-tech-accelerators-have-a-sexism-problem-47072)

My research into accelerators highlighted that, although portrayed as gender neutral, accelerators were in fact embedded masculine. As a result, women were self-selecting out of this business support mechanism because of a perceived lack of fit. Within my lectures, I want to ignite important conversations around inclusivity and equality. The world economy is driven by sustainable value and business growth, which depend upon attracting, optimising and retaining talent.

Therefore it is an economic imperative that every organisation is fully utilising and optimising the talents of their entire staff, including women. To accelerate closing the gender gap both in the entrepreneurial arena and the workplace, I hope to create gender awareness by encouraging students to challenge social norms associated with gendered role expectations and embedded masculine norms and also by providing access to credible role models. In so doing, I hope to help create not only the next generation of women entrepreneurial leaders but also gender aware male entrepreneurial leaders.

Your book, “Female Entrepreneurship” focuses on women’s experience in the world of business today. What key piece of advice would you give female entrepreneurs?

My intention with this book was to highlight the challenges and also the opportunities associated with women entrepreneurship. Women bring something unique and special to the entrepreneurial table, so my first piece of advice would be to celebrate this uniqueness and never underestimate the impact of your imagination, individuality, and unique ways of seeing things on the products and services that you are creating.

I also find that women entrepreneurs have difficulties with seeing themselves as entrepreneurs and are reluctant to say “I am entrepreneur”- so in addition to celebrating your uniqueness I would encourage female entrepreneurs not to shy away from owing their entrepreneurial identity and commit to their entrepreneurial career as they would to any other career. One way in which to aid self-confidence is to surround yourself with a community of people to help in your entrepreneurial development.

So my last piece of advice is to find your tribe, your own board of personal advisors. For example, a female accelerator programme such as the Ryan Academy Female High Fliers accelerator programme http://www.ryanacademy.ie/what-we-do/female-high-fliers-accelerator/ can help with the building of connections and finding your tribe.

You joined Dublin City University recently. What have you enjoyed most so far and what are you most looking forward to?

Given my own teaching and research philosophies I am already feeling very much at home at DCU and look forward to representing DCU, the University of Enterprise, on an international stage. I am also looking forward to putting gender on the agenda within the Centre of Family Business and enjoyed leading the first “Women in Family Business” workshop which took place in DCU. Given my work looking at women in accelerator programmes, I am also excited about getting involved with the Ryan Academy Female High Fliers Accelerator and working with Irish women entrepreneurs who are transforming their entrepreneurial potential into economic and social impact.

Finally, I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders – the DCU students!

Article originally published at DCU News


Open to all? Challenging the inclusivity of Tech Accelerator Programmes

The emergence of the UK tech accelerator scene coincides with the rapid growth of its start-up community. In the UK, there are now almost 60 accelerator-up programmes, with this figure likely to grow exponentially over the next two years. Accordingly, the UK is becoming one of the world’s most dynamic start-up clusters and the most prominent start-up ecosystem in Europe. As the number of accelerator programmes is set to increase in the UK, even in traditionally under-served areas such as Northern Ireland and the North West; we need to challenge the equality and diversity of these initiatives and consider whether they are unknowingly catering for the needs of men over women.

Accelerator programmes are normally fixed-term, cohort-based initiatives that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in investment-ready technology start-ups, with UK success stories such as Lystable  and Big Data for Humans . The primary value to the entrepreneur is derived from mentoring, connections, and the recognition of being chosen to be a part of the accelerator. Considerable debate has ensued regarding the role and influence of accelerator programmes in developing entrepreneurial talent. However, the general consensus is that they are a good thing and – the more the merrier!

However, one need only take a quick look at any accelerator participant list to see that women lack status, visibility and voice within these programmes. For example, the US accelerator Y Combinator has invested in more than 700 start-ups, including Dropbox and Airbnb, however only 13% of these have been led by women.  The situation in Europe is slightly bleaker, with indicative figures claiming that women are only holding a 5-10% share of accelerator programmes. This begs a question as to whether accelerators offer equal access to women entrepreneurs despite accelerators claiming to be “open to all”.

The well-rehearsed counterargument to this imbalance is that this is merely a reflection of women’s share of high technology entrepreneurship (i.e. women are just not involved in this space – as opposed to why not?). However, evidence indicates that within Europe women own around 15% of all SET ventures (ECDGEI, 2008). So, where are all the girls? Sector marginality does not satisfactorily explain an almost total absence from this important support mechanism.

Recent research (Marlow and McAdam, 2015) indicates that this absence is due to women’s perceived lack of fit with the stereotypical accelerator candidate. This is intriguing given that it is assumed that such programes are inclusive, with the focus on the commercial potential of the venture and not the owner’s personal characteristics. However, according to Susan Johnson (Women.com CEO and Y Combinator participant) “I didn’t think I was a candidate for this world-class accelerator. I didn’t think I looked like a ‘YC founder’”. Thus, women may be opting out of accelerator programmes because of a perceived lack of fit with the predominantly male tech and startup culture. Furthermore, for those women who do overcome ‘lack of fit’, they encounter instances of prejudice and discrimination such as fraternity and an old boy’s culture.

In order to address the absence of women on accelerator programmes and related retention problems, there has been a recent surge in accelerator programmes tailored specifically for women. However, there appears to be conflicting opinions as to whether such programmes are the best way to help women get started in high technology venturing. Although they are ensuring that women can avail of the support typically associated with accelerator programmes, there is some concern that they are putting women into silos by treating them as problems that need to be fixed or given special treatment (McAdam, 2012), without tackling the inherent problems of mainstream accelerator programmes. We need to continue the debate on the inclusivity of accelerator programmes, as we still have a long way to go before an equal playing field in the traditionally male-dominated tech start-up industry is reached.

The featured image has been used under a Creative Commons licence.

Article originally posted at Queens Policy Engagement


The tech industry is no picture of equality. shutterstock.com

Do tech accelerators have a sexism problem?

Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit are all companies that emerged out of tech accelerators. These incubators of talent have been a crucial component in turning tech start-ups into businesses that can stand on their own two feet. As well as giving needy new companies financial support and office space, they play an important role in helping them develop through mentoring.

So it’s good news that the number of accelerator programmes is set to increase in the UK, to support what is one of the world’s most dynamic start-up clusters and the most prominent start-up ecosystem in Europe. But, as this takes place, there’s a huge need to address the industry’s gender imbalance. My research into tech accelerator programmes has found many (often unwittingly) cater for men over women.

You only need to take a quick look at any accelerator participant list to see that women lack status, visibility and voice within these programmes. The US accelerator Y Combinator, for example, has invested in more than 700 start-ups (including Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit). Just 13% of these have been led by women. 

The situation in Europe is even bleaker. Some figures show that women hold a mere 5 to 10% share of accelerator programmes. This therefore begs the question as to whether accelerators offer equal access to women entrepreneurs, despite accelerators claiming to be “open to all”.

The well-rehearsed counter-argument to this imbalance is that this is merely a reflection of engineering and technology entrepreneurship – women just don’t feature prominently in the industry and the numbers in accelerator programmes reflects this. The evidence, however, indicates that within Europe women own around 15% of all science engineering and technology ventures. So, where are all the women when it comes to accelerators? Their minority status in the sector does not satisfactorily explain their absence from this important support mechanism.

Fighting stereotypes

Research I’ve carried out with my colleague Susan Marlow indicates that the absence of women is due to their perception that they are not the stereotypical accelerator candidate. This is intriguing given that it is assumed that these programmmes are free from prejudice, with the focus on the commercial potential of the venture and not the owner’s personal characteristics.

Susan Johnson, CEO of women.com and a Y Combinator participant, said of her experience

I didn’t think I was a candidate for this world-class accelerator. I didn’t think I looked like a ‘YC founder’.

Thus, women may be opting out of accelerator programmes because of a perceived lack of fit with the predominantly male tech and start-up culture.

For those women who do overcome this problem and get onto the programmes, they often then encounter prejudice and discrimination at the hands of the old boys’ club culture of many accelerators, which can manifest in rugby and golfing outings in addition to typical “boys talk”.

‘Boys talk’ at the golf club. shutterstock.com

Furthermore, in an attempt to blend in, women feel pressure to adopt a male persona. For example, the high tech women entrepreneurs we interviewed spoke of adopting particular gestures and dress codes in order to fit in and succeed.

Mentoring is one of the linchpins of any accelerator programme. Not only do the lack of women in accelerator programmes lead to a lack of female mentors. Our research also found that many women wanted a male mentor in order “to learn how to think like a man” – this being the perception of how to succeed in the tech industry. Thus, women’s efforts to adjust to the predominantly male culture of the tech start-up scene, leads to sexism in accelerators going unchallenged and camouflaged instead.

If we want to support the ambitions and great work being done by women entrepreneurs, we must question existing accelerator culture and what an ideal candidate looks like. Currently they only serve to reduce women’s confidence and interest in entering the programmes.

Furthermore, the lack of women within accelerator programmes results in a lack of female role models, making it challenging for a woman to imagine herself as a suitable accelerator candidate. We therefore need to continue the debate on the inclusivity of accelerator programmes as there remains a long way to go towards an equal playing field for women in the traditionally male-dominated tech and start-up industry.

Article originally posted at The Conversation

Tech Diversity: Accelerators Go After Women, Underrepresented Minorities For New Startup Ideas

Salvador Rodriguez writes about tech diversity in accelerators, a subject close to my heart.

Accelerators focused on entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities, have begun to spring up across the tech industry. Above, an entrepreneur from the accelerator Startupbootcamp, which this month launched a program in Miami focused on entrepreneurs helping underserved communities with tech healthcare startups

www.ibtimes.com/tech-diversity-accelerators-go-after-women-underrepresented-minorities-new-startup-2177805

I am little concerned that they are putting women and minorities in silos by treating them as problems that need to be fixed or given special support, without tackling the inherent problems of the mainstream accelerator programs,” said Maura McAdam, a senior lecturer in management at Queen’s University Belfast who has done research on the diversity of startup accelerators.

Delighted to have been asked for academic comment given my expertise in the accelerator and incubator domain.