A strong emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship has emerged in many parts of the world during the past ten years. You find it equally in the developed and developing world: government programs, training workshops, corporate grants, special banking efforts.
There are two reasons. On the one hand, entrepreneurial activity is thought to be a major factor in economic growth overall, creating jobs and stimulating new industries. Particularly in rough economic times, governments need people to start businesses—and, when laid off from the formal economy, many do start businesses as a way to earn a living. So,entrepreneurship is seen as both stimulus and safety net in developed countries. However, women tend to start businesses less often than men and, when they do, growth is not as great. So, many programs from both the public and private sector seek to support women as entrepreneurs. The second reason is that patriarchal social structures make it difficult for women to find, keep, and advance in formal economy jobs. So, in the developed world, for instance, mothers may become frustrated with the “double bind” of child care and job stress—and they deal with it by quitting their jobs and starting a business. Unfortunately, many face other gender barriers getting financing, seeking family support, and so on. In the developing world, women are often precluded from holding formal employment or they are so strapped with reproductive duties that they can’t meet the hours demanded by a “regular” job. So, entrepreneurship seems to allow them to build businesses of their own, in some ways “outside” the patriarchal social structure. Of course, like their sisters in the developed world, they still meet with gender barriers. Nevertheless, many development and gender empowerment experts believe that entrepreneurship is a viable avenue, not only for strengthening economies, but for improving conditions for women.
My research looks into questions of entrepreneurship and empowerment for women. In addition to the Avon research mentioned on its own page, my colleagues and I have been studying a women’s entrepreneurship system built by CARE Bangladesh for about three years. This system, as a recent article in Business at Oxford details, is superior on several dimensions to other “entrepreneurship networks” involving women and microfinance. Last month, I made my first visit to view the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program in China, one of the big corporate programs designed to stimulate entrepreneurship among women through training, advice, and other support. Here in Oxford, I interact with several women’s entrepreneurship initiatives and I am the faculty advisor to the student group dedicated to women’s entrepreneurship.