Some of our experts in the field have given their thoughts on the Debate Piece Does how we talk about entrepreneurship have gendered consequences? by Sally Jones. If you would like to join the debate please email email@example.com and your comments will be placed on the website.
Response to "Does how we talk about entrepreneurship have gendered consequences?" From A from a non-fictive male member of the Gender SIG
As an entrepreneurship scholar (and as a white, now middle class man of some maturity) I read this debate piece with great interest. Not just because it was a well written and impassioned plea for banning the very word entrepreneur from the language, or at least from our scholarship, but because it is a perennial debate. Nor was I impressed by the contentious viewpoint expressed by Duncan Bannatyne that there are no female serial entrepreneurs in the UK. It depends upon how one defines the term serial?
I have just recently extolled the virtues of the Leeds based serial entrepreneur Jan Fletcher in a lecture to my 4th year entrepreneurship students on female and ethnic entrepreneurship. Jan is a wonderful example of both womanhood and entrepreneurial achievement. I also ‘waxed lyrical’ about the serial entrepreneurial activities of Edel Harris of Cornerstone Housing Association from Aberdeen and extolled the entrepreneurial virtues of ‘Dolly Parton’ as an entrepreneur whose serial entrepreneurial exploits have spanned several careers. My point is that starting and selling a company, or companies, should not be the sole measurement used to determine who is, and who is not a serial entrepreneur. In fiction one also encounters examples of ‘women’ as serial entrepreneurs in the novels of Catherine Cookson or Taylor Caldwell. Bannatyne was obviously speaking from his particular experience but the idea that women are only domesticated entrepreneurs is simply not tenable. I think that his fellow Dragonesses must have their own opinion too.
Sally Jones has expressed her argument eloquently and has marshalled her evidence to narrate a well told story relating to an ongoing debate. But to answer the question - Does how we talk about entrepreneurship have gendered consequences? Yes, it clearly does and also because the arguments about the socially constructed nature of reality and the gendered skewing of entrepreneurial identity refuse to go away. The notion of the ‘fictive’ entrepreneur and the ‘fictive’ student are very useful from a conceptual and theoretical perspective but we must realise that these constructs are ‘ideal typifications’ like the discursively constructed ‘special heroic, white male entrepreneur’ we routinely vilify as a straw man. Elsewhere, Professor Tony Watson has argued that we should not use the term entrepreneur but instead talk about enterprising behaviour. I exhort my students not to try and emulate any particular entrepreneur but to be as enterprising an individual as is possible in their personal circumstances.
The thread relating to ‘masculine symbolism’ is fascinating and although we need to acknowledge the power of gendered symbolism in perpetuating socially destructive constructs we must resist banning the word entrepreneur from our language and scholarly activity. We must try to use it more sparingly. Is there a deliberate masculine conspiracy to retain the term entrepreneur as one of the last bastions of masculinity? I doubt it, but lively debates such as this one where one can strip away the theoretical underpinning and get to the point are most welcome. It is a first step towards challenging and changing ‘symbolically loaded’, destructive gendered social constructs which no longer add value to the changing nature of entrepreneurial identity in contemporary society.
Dr Robert Smith, Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University
By Maura McAdam
In one word - the answer to the question of this debate piece is yes!
I find it interesting that not only does Duncan Bannatyne comment that men are more likely to be entrepreneurs they are also more likely to be serial entrepreneurs, thus raising the bar even higher for women! This brings to mind a quote by Helene Ahl, who noted that ‘somehow all men get to be free riders on their few growth-oriented fellow businessmen’ or as in this case serial entrepreneurs. In sharp contrast, the “lifestyle” or “women are not serious entrepreneurs” label sticks to women (and in fact all women). The worrying repercussions of this affliction is that it feeds into women’s self-beliefs regarding their fit with and ability to be an entrepreneur.
So how do we go about changing this: Firstly, we need to broaden the existing conceptualizations of entrepreneurship, as a more varied discursive repertoire is required. Ideally this would result in the incorporation of gender, social, community, ethnic and environmental aspects – to name but a few. Secondly, we need to move away from the term entrepreneur and its associated elitism and use a term which incorporates the everydayness of entrepreneurship, for example entrepreneurial actors. However, I would warn against the broadening of the criteria of success, as this often results in the inclusion of feminine softer elements which only serves to reinforce the “unseriousness” of women as entrepreneurs.
Finally, as enterprise educators we have a responsibility to explore the constructions of masculinity and femininity within the entrepreneurship education discourse in order to identify the contradiction between encouraging entrepreneurship within the female student population and the risk of reproducing and reinforcing the image of the successful male entrepreneur. Obviously the use of role models within teaching practice is critical as we need to add the voice of successful practicing entrepreneurs who also happen to be women. However, we also need to explore closely how women are positioned in subtle ways which reinforces their marginalization as entrepreneurs. This is evident within case studies which often refer to women operating in female type sectors who are in need of support and less willing to go for VC funding, which only reinforces the notion of women as deficient entrepreneurs or as Duncan Bannatyne puts it - competent business owners (which appears to be the runner-up prize). As they say close but no cigar!
Dr Maura McAdam, Queen's University Belfast