Is there a (Fe)Male Approach? Understanding Gender Differences in Entrepreneurship



The study of female entrepreneurship traditionally has been inspired by gender equality issues. Female entrepreneurs were assumed to experience gender-related discrimination and to experience more difficulties when starting up and running a business than their male counterparts. Today research and policy have been more and more fuelled by the idea that female entrepreneurs are important for economic progress. Even when issues such as barriers and obstacles to female entrepreneurs are raised in the gender and entrepreneurship debate, this is usually done from the perspective that female entrepreneurs are an untapped resource and have potential to contribute to a country's economic performance. Indeed, although gender equality is one of the arguments underlying the support for female entrepreneurs within the European Union, the argument that female entrepreneurs (have the potential to) contribute to economic performance continues to play a role here. In the report Good practices in the promotion of female entrepreneurship of the European Commission (2002, p.3) it is argued that women face a number of gender-specific barriers to starting up and running a business that have to be tackled as women are considered 'a latent source of economic growth and new jobs and should be encouraged'. Hence, the main argument to date for studying women's entrepreneurship is that female entrepreneurs are an engine of economic growth' (Ahl, 2002, p. 125). The basis for this argument is the acknowledgement that entrepreneurship (in general) is important for economic performance. The link between entrepreneurship and economic growth has been established by several scholars and is well documented (see Carree and Thurik, 2003, for an overview). Moreover, in its goal for Europe to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 the Lisbon European Council (2000) emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation to be developed in particular by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).