Commentary

Women entrepreneurs: a global perspective


Meagan McElroyThe gender disparity in the business world in general, and entrepreneurship specifically, has recently garnered renewed attention in light of the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week and Women’s Enterprise Day. The UK’s unofficial Women’s Enterprise Day, in particular, spurred an opinion piece on economia.icaew.com, an online newsletter for an international accounting professionals union. Although the ICAEW, as an accountants’ union, undoubtedly contains a large female membership proportion and showcases professional women in accounting, author Claire Louis Noyce’s attitude towards gender stereotypes perpetuates the perception of women being suited only for “pink collar” clerical work rather than leadership roles. Noyce writes:

Women are usually good at nurturing businesses, at nurturing in general. Speaking from personal experience, nurturing tends to be what most of us women are doing when not at our desks, and doing constantly. Cultural and social attitudes to women in business therefore – if they remain an obstacle to enterprise realising its full potential – should and need to be somewhat “revived”.

Reinforcement of stereotypes such as women being “naturally” skilled at “nurturing” encourages a secondary role of women as entrepreneurs and business leaders. Noyce isn’t just endorsing such stereotypes through anecdotal evidence and reinforcing the myth that women’s only legitimate basis for authority outside the home is the conversion of skills acquired inside the home (“what most of us women are doing when not at our desks”). She goes farther than personal endorsement, and advocates society-wide promotion of such harmful stereotypes. The attitude of, “If you can’t beat the stereotype, enforce it in order to take advantage of it” will only cause more problems for women entrepreneurs in the long run.

The irony present in this article stems from the fact that it ultimately laments the low proportion of women entrepreneurs, and particularly the lower proportion in the UK as compared to the US. Perhaps the gender stereotyping Noyce advocates is more pervasive and accepted in the UK than in the US; such a disparity would explain the lower proportion of women entrepreneurs across the pond. Alternatively, the more entrenched stereotypes in the UK could be seen as a symptom of its exceptionally low proportion of women entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the solution Noyce advocates of promoting women’s “nurturing” skills will only perpetuate such disparity.

The only way to promote entrepreneurship among businesswomen is to promote equal participation of women in business regardless of any perceived gender differences. Rather than encouraging women to act like stereotypical men or stereotypical women, business leaders and mentors should attempt to transcend such biases and encourage individual ambition regardless of gender. In addition, women should be especially encouraged to become entrepreneurs so that the attributes associated with such endeavors, such as ambition, creativity, and independence, become non-gender specific. Such encouragement should be deployed globally, particularly in the many countries with worse gender inequity than the UK.

By Meagan McElroy, a graduate student in Public Policy at Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University, and a law student at University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Her professional interests include women’s rights and creating equitable economic opportunities for women.

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