Women Entrepreneurs: A Critical Review of the Literature
by Tara Fenwick, Asst. Professor
Increasing numbers of women are becoming leaders of their own businesses, and many are struggling to achieve success. A growing body of theory and research is exploring how different women come to business ownership, their unique leadership challenges and strategies for success, their personal change and the processes of leadership development they experience. This paper reviews literature addressing women business owners from the general perspective of understanding their leadership. Within this frame, existing studies of women business owners are classified and examined according to four themes that appear to be most prominent. These four themes are (1) Women business owners characteristics and development; (2) Womens motives for starting and leading a business; (3) Womens leadership styles and management strategies in small business; and (4) Barriers and conflicts encountered by women business owners.
The article argues that further study and critical analysis is required, particularly examining relationships between changing economic contexts and cultural meanings of work, and womens unique ways of crafting entrepreneurial leadership. Questions are suggested for future research continuing the inquiry into womens leadership as small business owners.
Women Leaders in Small Business:
A Critical Review of Existing Literature and Questions for Future Inquiry
Womens leadership in contexts of small business ownership  can be argued to present different models of leadership style, values, and challenges than those developed by women in organizational leadership roles. Recent studies of women in business ownership (i.e. Business Development Bank of Canada, 1999; Industry Canada, 1999) suggest that these women business owner-leaders exercise a large degree of control over the vision and purpose of the enterprise, and often deliberately craft working environments and cultures that support their personal values and preferences. They can cultivate their own working relationships with greater freedom. They can seek as much challenge and take as much risk as they can personally manage. For some women, these freedoms come at a high cost of fears and insecurities, unpredictable workload and isolation (Canadian Advisory Council, 1991). In sum, small business ownership creates leadership issues for women that are different in kind than those shared by their sisters in senior management positions located in corporate or government settings.
In the 1990s across North America, women increasingly have been entering ventures in self-employment. In the USA, by 1992 women already owned 27 percent of small businesses (National Women Business Owners (NFWBO), 1992). In Canada, this figure in 1996 was 40 percent (Industry Canada, 1999). Statistics collected in 1997-98 found that women were starting businesses in North America at two to five times the rate of men (National Foundation, 1999; Industry Canada, 1999) and that increasing numbers of these were home-based. There is also evidence of a trend of women in senior management leaving or wanting to leave their corporate positions to try business ownership (Catalyst, 1998; Sharp and Sharp, 1999). In the U.S. from 1987-99, womens businesses increased 103%, their sales grew 436% and their employee ranks swelled 320% (NFWBO, 1999a). Various estimates claim that by the year 2000, almost 50 percent of all new businesses in North America will have been started by women (Business Development Bank, 1999; Industry Canada, 1999; NFWBO, 1999a). World-wide, similar patterns are becoming evident. Women-owned businesses are increasing to comprise one-quarter to one-third of businesses in the formal economies of Brazil, Equador, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, Italy, England, Germany, France, and certain African countries, and women business owners of these countries share similar concerns, according to surveys conducted 1997-98 at international conferences by the National Foundation of Women Business Owners (1998).
A growing body of literature is emerging to study the phenomenon of womens leadership as small business owners along a wide variety of dimensions, drawing from perspectives ranging from market models of business economic development to womens psychological development and feminist studies of womens leadership. Qualitative studies in the past five years have indicated contested issues related to values, identity and the meaning of leadership emerging in this trend of women business ownership (Gay, 1997; Robertson, 1997; Thrasher and Smid, 1998). For example, women dont always accept the dominant formula that success equals money and power. Women who start their own business sometimes do so to craft a new way of working, and many continue to fight barriers related to traditional constructs of economic power and expectations. Many women business owners claim that the whole experience changes them profoundly.
The purpose of this paper is first to provide a critical overview of selected literature exploring womens small business ownership, and second to pose questions arising from the existing literature to guide further research and theorizing about womens leadership in small business contexts. In her 1992 review of existing literature, Brush concluded that womens business leadership cannot be understood using traditional (male-oriented) frameworks of business analysis. She writes, Significant differences have been found in reasons for business start-up, educational background, work experience and business skills . . . business goals, management styles, business characteristics and growth rates. These variations suggest that women perceive and approach business differently than men (p. 16). Research related to womens leadership in business ownership has produced findings and theory that can be divided into four general themes outlined briefly below. These themes were selected for discussion because of their prevalence in literature of the past two decades addressing womens business ownership, much of it published in recognized journals of small business management.
This paper argues that there are two main difficulties with some of this literature. First, comparisons of women to men business owners continue to be prevalent in business ownership literature. Gender-comparative studies have focused on psychological characteristics such as propensity to take risks (Masters and Meier, 1988; Sexton and Bowman-Upton, 1990), leadership dimensions such as levels of experience and education (Bowen and Hisrich, 1986), and networking styles (Aldrich, Reece, and Dubini, 1989). The problem lies in the legacy of this comparative approach: many constructs applied to analyse womens small business leadership approaches and needs continue to be derived from male orientations. Feminist writers such as Hart (1992) have shown the limitations and incongruence of male leadership patterns applied to womens experiences. Meanwhile in small business literature women are sometimes portrayed as deficit, requiring training to compete with traditional (male) business models measuring success according to profit, growth and size.
Second, much of this literature continues to rely upon assumptions grounded in individualist psychology. Attributes of women business owners are often presumed inherent, and leadership styles are sometimes generalized as if there existed womens ways of leading. Also neglected is specific attention to relationships between the emergence of womens leadership in small business, and the changing cultural and political-economic dynamics of the marketplace  . What may be helpful is a more critical analysis of the discourses within which different women in particular cultural-economic contexts are construing their meanings of leadership and success and the possibilities available to them. Finally, the nature of gendered work and barriers in both leadership and business ownership need to be analysed within these frameworks.
The four themes are briefly introduced in the following paragraphs. Within each theme, more recent literature is expanding the scope of issues being explored and the depth and richness of the exploration. These themes are discussed in detail in later sections.
Women business owners psychological characteristics were a focus of many early studies (Hisrich and Brush, 1987; Watkins and Watkins, 1983), showing the historical interest in relationships between psychological profile and leadership success. More recently, studies of womens personal development and change related to their small business leadership experiences is a recurring theme. These tend to highlight the importance of womens struggles with identity and personal change in leading their own business, including shaping their own role in the venture (Albert, 1992; Fenwick, 1998; MacKeracher, 1996; Wells. 1998).
Womens motives for starting and leading a business have been documented in many studies (Lee and Rogoff, 1997; NFWBO, 1999b) to help illuminate the desires and needs of women leaders who choose business ownership over organizational management positions. Womens reasons for business start-up reasons encompass a wide range: desiring greater work-life flexibility, seeking challenge, fulfilling a long-felt desire, or escaping an organizational glass ceiling.
Womens leadership styles and approaches have become prominent in studies situated in larger organizations. However in small business literature, the focus tends to be womens business management strategies rather than their visions, values, and relational processes. Management strategies often tend to be reported from statistical studies grounded in market models which examine womens business growth rates, business planning ability, and possession of management training against traditional expectations of small business management (i.e., Carlsrud and Olm, 1986; Fagenson and Marcus, 1991). While a few have drawn attention to the possibility that womens leadership approaches in small business are unique (Chell, Haworth, and Brearley, 1991), there is still little substantial research exploring this area. Value choices in leadership of women entrepreneurs, including women entrepreneurs meanings of success and values respecting work, money, and family, is a theme emerging in some recent writings on women entrepreneurs that embraces many tensions and dilemmas.
Barriers and conflicts encountered by women business owners are sometimes studied from a feminist perspective which critiques the structural and ideological discrimination built in to the existing economy and tacitly-agreed western models of business growth. Reports include isolation and gender-based discrimination of various kinds (Canadian Advisory Council, 1997), exclusion from male networks (Shragg, Yacuk, and Glass, 1992), and limited access to capital (Buttner, 1993). Work-family conflict experienced by women business owners has been a focus of recent studies.
These four themes will be discussed in more detail in the following sections, and suggested directions for further inquiry will be posed at the conclusion of the paper. This review is intended to be representative, not comprehensive. Any categorization like this one makes compromises to produce a certain clarity. Such a broad review may blur important internal differences within each perspective, and build the illusion of static reification of these dynamic themes. Hopefully these limitations may be overlooked in face of the potential usefulness of this review. The overall intention of the article is to outline scholarly understandings of womens entrepreneurial leadership that are accumulating in the four themes outlined here, to challenge certain apparent limitations in existing research, and to present questions for further study of womens leadership as small business owners.
As the following paragraphs should make clear, womens experiences as owner-leaders are not unitary, nor should women business-owners be treated as a monolithic group in some sort of misguided search for womens ways of doing business. A critical theme threaded throughout this discussion is the need to resist any urge to homogenize women into clear patterns (often through contrasts with men), and to emphasize their differentiated opportunities, approaches, and perceptions of leadership.
Women business owners characteristics and development
Studies of business-owners characteristics continue to compare women to men. Most studies have concluded that women are more similar to men business owners than they are different, in terms of both psychological and demographic characteristics. Marital status (married), age (30-45), birth order (first born) and having a self-employed father are characteristics reported to be similar across men and women business owners (Chaganti, 1986; Hisrich and Brush, 1987). General personal characteristics of so-called successful women business owners identified through survey research include autonomy, persistence, hard work, competitiveness, orientation to personal achievement and higher income, belief in ones own vision, goal-setting, risk-taking, and natural leadership qualities (Buttner, 1993; Carlsrud and Olm, 1986; Fagenson and Marcus, 1991).
Caruana, Morris, and Vella (1998), in their study of Maltese export firms, found that women and men business owners show similarity in demonstrating three characteristics deemed key for business owners: innovativeness (creative ability to create purposeful change or develop novel products, services, and processes); risk-taking (active willingness to pursue opportunity notwithstanding reasonable chance of costly failure); and proactiveness (the perseverance, adaptability, and assertiveness to initiate rather than react to the environment, and do whatever it takes to bring the venture to fruition). Masters and Meier (1988) found womens entrepreneurial risk-taking to be almost as high as mens, although they did not consider respondents personal meanings of what constitutes risk in a particular situation. Sexton and Bowman-Upton (1990) found that in comparison to men, women have higher willingness to accept change and greater need for autonomy while having lower energy levels and risk-taking propensities.
The first problem with such studies of characteristics is their assumption that observable behaviors emanate from inner traits. This psychological view has been challenged by critical cultural writings of the past two decades which claim that peoples so-called characteristics are in fact produced within a web of cultural practices, social interactions, images and language.  Second, such studies appear to be motivated by a fundamental belief that personal traits are significantly linked to organizational development and success in a cause-effect relationship. However, critics of leadership trait theory have shown the weaknesses in this link, arguing that leadership is enacted in socially constructed contexts and cannot be attributed to inherent characteristics. **Third, these characteristics are all reported as broad dimensions in isolation, lacking situatedness in particular local histories, and cultural and socio-political contexts which women business owners must confront. These psychological dimensions unfortunately present a static, cookie-cutter model which implies an entrepreneur is born, not developed and continually developing. Chell (1991) questions whether the heffalump of entrepreneurism actually exists, arguing that entrepreneurs present different characteristics in different lights at different times. From gender perspectives, an essentializing approach tends to contribute to assumptions that a unitary set of womens ways of doing business can be identified. This not only obscures important distinctions and inequities, but leads to unfortunate assertions of womanliness . . . accessing femininity offering new hope for corporatism (OBrien, 1998) with kindness and gentleness.
Fourth, several of these business owner characteristics studies, in comparing women to men, fail to attend to individual womens needs, development, meanings, and changing responses to their contexts. Many feminist writers argue that approaches and descriptors suitable for exploring womens experience are incommensurate with those that might be useful for analysing mens patterns. For example, MacKeracher (1996) observes that womens self is not single and solitary but woven into relational networks, and Clark and Dirkx (2000) argue that multiple selves emerge and shift according to circumstance. Research and theory of womens development consistently report that their workplace learning is significantly rooted in self and relationships (Enns, 1991; Caffarella and Olson, 1993; Leroux, 1996; Pearson, 1992; Schaef, 1992). Identity and intimacy appear to be central issues throughout womens lives (Caffarella and Olson, 1993), and women tend to develop their self-concept in a way that is intimately linked to their interactive relational connections with other people (Gilligan, 1992; Lyons, 1987; Schaef,1992). In her comprehensive review of literature describing women entrepreneurs, Brush (1992) argues strongly for a new model through which to view and understand women business owners, one which recognizes that women view their business as a network of relationships in which the changing self is woven.
Some researchers have called attention to the wide variation in women business owners characteristics and approaches to their business (Barrett, 1995; Chell, 1991; Gay, 1997; Robertson, 1997). Robertson provides case studies of diverse women who started a business through financial need or personal change, rather than because of desire for achievement or personal vision. Some worked more collaboratively than competitively, sought relational more than autonomal ways of working, and were oriented more to service and contribution than to higher-income goals. Gays narratives illustrate women business owners developing certain characteristics according to the circumstances of their history and the nature of business challenges they experience. Characteristics are contradictory: some women describe their low self-esteem, tendencies to personalize relationships and shoulder others problems along with challenge-seeking, proactive aggression (Gay, 1997). In any case, the whole area of womens development has grown to contribute more differentiated, dynamic models from which women leadership as business owners can be better understood. Yet as Chell (1996) argues, a stereotypic view of individualism, aggressive competitiveness and self-interest, while inaccurate, somehow continues to be reproduced.
Meanwhile, feminist poststructural perspectives advanced by writers such as Lather (1991), Orner (1992), and Tisdell (1998) have called for analysis of the ways womens subjectivity is produced through cultural discourses. Thus the characteristics of human subjectivity (including their sense of identity, actions, vision, risk-taking, creativity, etc.) emerge through engagement within the practices, discourses, moralities and institutions that lend significance to the events in their worlds. Lather (1991) explains that through discursive struggle for subjectivities people occupy conflicting subject positions, some received and others created, marked by contradictory meanings and pleasures. Especially in an age of semiotic glut, humans are constantly figured and refigured within a context of bombardment by conflicting messages (Lather, 1991, p. 113). This feminist poststructural frame encourages discursive analysis of how subjectivities are regulated through positionality, knowledge construction, voice, and authority, and makes gender prominent in the analysis. As Tisdell (1998:146) explains, the connections between ones individual (constantly shifting) identity and social structures are the focus in poststructural feminism. This conceptual view holds promise for reframing what formerly have been accepted as women business owners innate characteristics, and analysing womens negotiations as owner-leaders in business start-up and development among the discursive meanings and practices swirling around them. One study (Fenwick, 2000) has examined how women business-owners and these contradictory discourses inform and shape one another  .
Womens motives for starting and leading a business
Studies of reasons given by women for starting their own business have been prominent especially in the early studies of female entrepreneurship, claim Carter and Cannon (1992), although few studies developed sophisticated taxonomies. Womens start-up motives may be particularly instructive in understanding womens leadership needs and preferences. Among the reasons, workplace dissatisfaction seems significant: much literature has documented womens struggles with what they perceive to be inflexible workplace structures and expectations (Finlayson, 1995; Lynn and Todoroff, 1995), incompatible communication styles (Gougeon and Hutton, 1993), and ethical conflicts (Helgeson, 1990). From a feminist perspective Hart (1992, 1993), among others, argues that many workplaces provide a miseducative context for women. She claims that women seek environments where they may find (or create) communality, validate their subjectivity, engage concretely in work that matters, and root their work in reciprocal, caring networks.
The Business Development Bank (1999) found significant differences between mens and womens business goals: for men, financial gain is a primary objective. Although there are variations, many women emphasize that their primary goals in starting a business are not financial (Chaganti, 1986; Cromie, 1987; Holmquist and Sundin, 1988; Lavoie, 1992).  So why would women give up income security, job status and stability for the high risk, hard work and often low income of business ownership? One dominant motive reported by women surveyed in past studies was to create greater flexibility for balancing work and family (Chaganti, 1986; Kaplan, 1988). In more recent studies women continue to emphasize flexibility as a primary motivator for business start-up, along with other personal reasons: need for more challenge, independence, passion for a particular idea, and desire for greater fulfillment and meaning in their work (Business Development Bank, 1999; NFWBO, 1999a). Women also represent the fastest-growing group of home-based business-owners, entering five times more than men. Reasons appear to include low start-up costs, a perceived significant increase in personal productivity working at home, and the fact that personal skills that may not be marketable to an outside company can be used to start a business from home (Soldressen, Fiorito, and He, 1998).
Self-actualization is the most important reason given by women in a survey of 223 business owners (Lee and Rogoff, 1997), including goals of maximizing personal skills/abilities, contributing to society, and gaining respect and recognition. Interestingly, this study also found that women who have lost their jobs through restructuring tend more than men to turn to self-employment instead of pounding the pavement in search of another job. In Gays (1997) interview study, women business owners stated frequently their desire to prove I can do it. Fasci and Valdez (1998) found business ownership attracts women accountants as a viable avenue to achieve career success, gain control of their destiny and the respect of their peers, create their own work environments, and ensure their advancement is truly based on merit -- all dimensions that women perceive to be less available to them when employed in someone elses enterprise.
Many women business owners quit leadership positions in larger organizations, a theme supporting the possibility of systemic organizational power imbalances and perhaps gendered corporate cultures. Sharp and Sharp (1999) reported that of 165 executive women surveyed, 37% indicated strong possibility of leaving their job to start their own businesses. Reasons given by women leaders include feeling undervalued, experiencing little challenge and career development opportunity, and believing their contributions to be insufficiently acknowledged. The National Foundation of Women Business Owners (1999b) found that fully half of women surveyed left a previous position primarily looking for more flexibility, but also describing a desire to follow an entrepreneurial dream, a need for greater challenge in their work, and glass ceiling issues such as gendered limitations in opportunity and creative freedom . Catalyst (1998) confirmed this trend and reported similar reasons. Other recent studies such as Baridon and Eyler (1994) document womens frustration with glass ceiling issues that continue to prevent their promotion in many organizations. Ferguson and Durup (1997) report women starting their own business to escape perceived gendered conditions contributing to their underemployment, work-related stress, and difficulties managing work-family balance.
These reasons continue to be echoed in research focusing on women business owners. Moore and Buttner (1997), in their comprehensive U.S. study surveying and interviewing 129 women entrepreneurs, followed with focus groups one year later, ask the question, Why and how did women with exposure to corporate life decide first to enter the organization and then to leave it for entrepreneurship? (p. 18). Their findings revealed five thematic clusters of reasons women left their jobs to start a business: need for self-determination (including need for greater autonomy and freedom) and challenge; blocks to corporate advancement (including lack of career advancement, discrimination and a feeling of no fit with the corporate culture); organizational dynamics that dealt with power and politics; and desire for greater family-career balance.
The Lee and Rogoff (1997) study concluded that womens goals for business start-up were similar to mens: for example, almost half of women and men surveyed chose the following statement from seven alternatives: Creating a new product or service had always been my dream. However, it is noteworthy that the other statements contained no references to creating flexibility for home/family, career dissatisfaction, controlling ones destiny and escaping gender discrimination, or any of the other reasons cited by women business owners. Moore and Buttners (1997) conclusion is that despite some overlap, other reasons appear special to women . . .Gender, only occasionally in the form of discrimination, makes a difference (p. 50).
Business start-up is not simply about goals, but also about process. Albert (1992) indicates that women experience phases of psychological crisis, black hole, and personal transformation during the transition period from employment to self-employment, a phenomenon deserving attention from policy-makers and program planners determining womens support needs. Yaccato and Jubinville (1999) compare womens processes of starting a business to pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing, explaining that business start-up for women is a very personal endeavor of nurturing a private dream, entwined with issues of identity and personal relationship.
Business starts of women must be assessed in terms of particular contexts and conditions. Their motives and approaches must be examined carefully against their own goals and standards. Although there are continuing calls for further studies comparing women to men business owners (Fasci and Valdez, 1998), a serious question needs to be raised relative to conclusions such as those reported in the Lee and Rogoff (1997) study. As Moore and Buttner (1997) assert, research still tends to measure women according to traditional models of business ownership created by the men who dominated business-ownership in North America until the past fifteen years. We need to ask why there is a perceived need to compare women to men business owners (is it to determine the ways women need to improve their skills to become more successful according to male models of business ownership?), and whether such comparison is appropriate.
Womens start-up motives and enterprise goals are unique. Their reasons for entering business appear to depend partly on push factors such as gendered discrimination they encounter in jobs, and partly on pull factors such as seeking greater fulfillment, accomplishment and control in their work. All of these dimensions appear to vary according to different womens positionality in terms of socio-economic condition, race, geographic location, former education, experience and community of networks. Careful research probing relationships among these dimensions would be helpful for three reasons. First, it may help illuminate the difficulties that potential women leaders encounter in existing workplace organizations and perhaps suggest changes to work conditions that might keep women from leaving. Second, careful analysis of their objectives may help trace the contours of alternate models of enterprise development emerging under the leadership of at least some women. Finally, understanding those desires drawing increasing numbers of different women into leadership as small business owners may open spaces for analysing the changing nature of work and of womens expectations and needs related to work, in an increasing technologized, globalized economy.
Womens leadership styles and management strategies in small business
Womens small business leadership has been frequently compared with mens. Some claim that womens and mens business management skills appear not to vary significantly (Birley, 1988; Carlsrud and Ohm, 1986). Others, however, claim that women business-owners tend to lack management skills, training or experience (Allen and Truman, 1993; Thrasher and Smid, 1998), and good business plans (Alsos and Ljunggren, 1998). Other studies have questioned dominant views of what counts as good business skills (such as clear economic goals, tightly-controlled hierarchical structures, logical strategic planning, and strong financial performance), arguing that conventional male-oriented premises may distort the ways women in business are judged (Canadian Advisory Council, 1997; Ferguson, 1997).
Studies have noted womens tendency not to expand their business and increase profits, their unique focus on personal and social goals as well as economic goals stressed by male-owned businesses (Hisrich and Brush, 1987; Holmquist and Sundin, 1989), their tendency to initiate service-oriented businesses and sole proprietorships (Neider, 1987), their lack of previous experience in executive management or entrepreneurism (Watkins and Watkins, 1982), and their access to fewer role models than men. As Brush (1992) and later Moore and Buttner (1997) conclude, such findings indicate that women have different goals and develop different processes of business decision-making, planning, and structuring than men.
The leadership style of women business owners has received attention in various studies (Moore and Buttner, 1997; Chaganti, 1986) showing parallels to studies of womens executive leadership in corporations. Management studies have declared that women attend more to process than to bottom line: they are concerned with how their actions affect others, appreciate diversity, and stress teamwork and the interpersonal (Gougeon and Hutton, 1993). Women leaders supposedly tend to emphasize democratic participation by all, using multi-directional power-with authority to energize others to actively participate (Desjardins and Brown, 1991; Helgeson, 1990). Women leaders have also been characterized as showing passionate commitment to collective action and to change (Astin and Leland, 1991; Rosener, 1990).
Similar patterns appear in studies of womens leadership as small business owners. Wells (1998) shows women business owners to be highly motivated by community needs, and to favor collaborative management approaches. Another recent US study asserts that women-owned companies are more likely to be family friendly, offering flextime and job-sharing benefits (NFWBO, 1999a). Moore and Buttner (1997) identify among women entrepreneurs an interactive leadership style that integrates transformational, role model/visionary, and web approaches to leadership. The interactive style demonstrates greater concern for staff welfare; pays less attention to formal power and more to personal power; and believes in the importance of empowering staff.
However in small business ownership, women leaders must balance many roles: strategic planner, accountant, marketer, product developer, human resource manager, to name a few. As Brush (1999) points out, Moore and Buttners (1997) emphasis on the effectiveness of transformational leadership is not clearly operationalized or measured. Desires to nurture staff often conflict with needs to please customers and survive, according to the findings of Godfrey (1992), Robertson (1997), and Thrasher and Smid (1998). Leadership oriented to a vision of collaboration must somehow be reconciled with issues of authority, control, and competitiveness, forcing many women business owners to navigate between competing values and expectations.
The importance of values and women business owners struggles with them are clearly entwined with their choices and changes as owner-leaders of small business. A few studies have examined this area, usually treating values as something possessed, substantive and inherent, and examining how an owners identifiable value affects her leadership. Olson and Currie (1992) for example found that women entrepreneurs values, infusing their management strategies, were influenced by whether their industry was male-dominated or not. Good and Mistick (1999) suggest there exist misconceptions about womens business intents and decision-making, and claim that these must be interpreted within a clearer understanding of womens unique value systems.
More recently, some studies are exploring women leaders values as a dynamic site of contradiction and even struggle. Three patterns related to the values of entrepreneurial women indicate sources of tension which these women must confront. The first is related to leadership style: women leaders often try to balance caring for the welfare of individuals with concern for justice and conflicting individual rights (Young, Staszenski, McIntyre, and Joly, 1993), and face dilemmas when their vision of collaborative community conflict with multiple power dynamics, differing values and agendas (Gay, 1997; Godfrey, 1992; Robertson, 1997).
A second source of tension for women owner-leaders is related to meanings of success. Soldressen, Fiorito, and He (1998) draw attention to the inadequacy of traditional measures of business success based on financial performance and expansion, and personal success based on achieving material wealth, for describing women. Studies have reported that many women view success as achieving balance of work and family (Holmquist and Sundin, 1990), self-fulfillment and helping others, or working at something they love, despite what may be low income (Soldressen, Fiorito, and He, 1998). Fenwick and Hutton (2000) report, in a study interviewing 110 Canadian women owners of small business, that women emphasized the secondary importance of money and material goods in their lives. They tended to describe their work success as building mutually supportive relationships among their staff and networks of suppliers and competitors, making qualitative contributions to their communities, creating reputations as reliable and effective, and sustaining quality of life for themselves, their families and the people connected with their enterprise. Quality of life was more typically represented by examples of right relationship than by material markers. Moore and Buttner (1997) found that self-fulfillment was the most important measure of success for women heading small firms: Success seems to be measured internally in terms of personal growth, professional development, and improving ones skills., rather than measured externally in profits or business growth. Money, then, is a means and not an end (p. 166). However, it can be speculated that the micro-practices of balancing such values with business demands amidst the profit discourse and competitive pressures of a globalized marker might be complex.
A third tension for some women is connected with business planning. Writing a business plan is a conventional starting point for conceiving the terms and constraints of ones practice in running a business, according to pre-determined constructs, to obtain start-up capital from financial institutions. A good business plan guarantees a degree of credibility for the new business-owner, signifying proper preparation, organization, and goal-setting according to logics of prediction and control. Thus a business planning discourse disciplines and regulates enterprise creators through their own desires to be taken seriously and granted venture capital (Oake, Townley and Cooper, 1999). Alsos and Ljunggren (1998), in telephone interviews of 9,553 Norwegian women entrepreneurs, found that women were far less likely than men to prepare a business plan. They suggest therefore that even though the lack of business plans did not result in lower business success, that initiatives should encourage women to write such plans. North American women also have been targeted for training in business planning as one outcome of many 1980s studies concluding that women had less formal business education and experience than men, and needed to improve their competitive potential (Brush, 1992). Embedded in this logic is a shared and unproblematic acceptance of a right way to do business, an efficiency ethic (discovering strategies takes longer and costs more than being trained in them), and a will to suppress alternate approaches in sustaining the dominant. However, Fenwick and Hutton ( 2000) show that for some, the prediction-and-control logic based on principles of competition and autonomy of the traditional business plan is counter-productive. Fenwick and Hutton claim that some women entrepreneurs are experimenting with more emergent, fluid, intuitive ways of developing an enterprise vision and plan, although such non-conventional approaches invite skepticism and even attack from the business community.
Vision can be argued to be another key dimension of enterprise leadership, strategy implementation and change; vision both embeds values and ensures the success of an enterprise. Falbe and Larwood (1995) found significant differences between the vision of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs (executives in organizations) in terms of action-oriented flexibility, and envisioning the organization as an extension of themselves and their needs. Some studies of women business owners have also found their vision to be linked closely to self-expression. In a recent qualitative study of Texan women business owners, Wells (1998) found identity to be central in womens business visions and sense of achievement, and their learning about self through business ownership to influence their leadership strategy in terms of changing business goals, staff management, and planning focus. Albert (1992) documents womens attempts to break away from traditional definitions of career and job roles that limit their growth or fragment their lives, to invent work allowing them to integrate various parts of self. Like Albert, Brook (1997) argues that many North American women in mid-life are grappling with identity issues which often lead them to quit traditional employment. Stories of women business owners indicate that deep needs to express self meaningfully through work and to make a contribution to the world often lead to business start-up, and that profound personal change is often experienced throughout the process of business development (Gay, 1997; Godfrey, 1992; Robertson, 1997).
Barriers and conflicts encountered by women business owners
Research has established the smaller size, dramatically lower profits and take-home pay of womens businesses compared to mens (Brush, 1992; Fasci and Valdez, 1998). One study of womens businesses reported general disappointment that women business owners face the same sort of pay gap as salaried female workers, possibly related to the type of businesses women initiate, their reported difficulties in securing bank financing, womens business skills, and the lower fees-for-service women are able to command (Canadian Federation, 1995). These issues must be interpreted carefully. When using different frames of analysis what appear to be barriers may be deliberate choice, and what appear to be naturalized conditions may be structural but invisible inequities.
Within feminist frames, gendered work structures create broad barriers that pervade social and economic relations in which women owner-leaders practice. Probert (1998) synthesizes feminist research on womens work to show many themes relevant to this discussion:
For women business-owners, these inequities can be argued to be implicated in womens decision (or compulsion) to start a business, the kind and scope of business they undertake (and its perceived credibility and profitability, their attempts to seek funding and establish commercial networks, and, for some, their lack of leadership experience and training prior to becoming an owner-leader. However, the literature offers conflicting ways of viewing and responding to these issues. As Barrett (1995) explains, liberal feminism recommends lifting the barriers to ensure women business owners full participation in the market, while social feminists argue that womens ways as business owners need to be celebrated in their own right. Liberal feminism doesnt question the system but fiddles with details that improve the lives of some women, particularly the (white) upwardly mobile. Feminist poststructuralists would argue against any unitary treatment of women, and perhaps suggest that barriers might be better analyzed as systemic power relations in which different women negotiate positionality, identity and voice by virtue of their particular culture, class, age, and authority.
Some studies in the 1980s began to report unique barriers confronting women business owners. Most significant for business viability included discrimination experienced by women seeking venture capital and exclusion from financial business networks (Hisrich and Brush, 1987). In the 1990s women business owners apparently continued to confront significant gender-related obstacles (Buttner, 1993; Shragg, et al., 1992) including limited access to capital, difficulty in competing for government contracts, and lack of information about where to get assistance (NFWBO, 1992). Women reported that they had to work harder to prove their competence to suppliers and clients (Buttner, 1993; Gould and Parzen, 1990), and to be taken seriously (Adamski, 1995). Others often underestimated womens ability to start a venture and discouraged them from dreaming big (Godfrey, 1992). Women still report struggling with others (banks, government, suppliers and competitors) diminishment of the significance of their enterprise: the little business syndrome (Gay, 1997; Robertson, 1997). However, despite their stories of gender discrimination, many individual women interviewed by Gay (1997) and Robertson (1997) claim that their obstacles are simply the challenges of small business shared by all business owners. Evidently this area requires further study.
A primary and continuing obstacle faced by women appears to be difficulty in securing capital funding for new business ventures (Buttner and Rosen, 1992; Canadian Federation, 1995; NFWBO, 1992). Riding and Swift (1990) concluded financial conditions for women business owners were less favorable than for men: women more often had to pay higher interest rates, find more collateral, and provide a spouses co-signature. Strauss (2000) claims that by 1994-95 in North America, statistics made it clear that women were starting 40% of businesses and were still receiving only 3-4% of venture capital funds. However Buttner (1993) counters that some women have been unprepared with the comprehensive business plan demanded by the banks: rather than do their homework they attributed their loan difficulties to gender discrimination. Yet women interviewed in qualitative studies tell stories about their business plans being scrutinized more carefully and having to meet more special demands than mens (Gay, 1997; Robertson, 1997). There are signs that the financial situation is changing: recent studies indicate that women now have more access to capital, as certain financial institutions and government loan programs have specifically targeted needs of women business-owners (Industry Canada, 1999; Bank of Montreal, 1996). And as Strauss (2000) points out, in the New Economy women of all ages are starting dotcom businesses which do not require much venture capital. Further study is needed to clarify this issue from different perspectives.
However, more attention perhaps should be paid also to the subtle ways womens choices are regulated by the pervasive cultural emphases placed on competition, profit, and growth. Many discursive and material practices patrol the boundaries between women business owners and the networks leading to venture capital. Carter and Kolvereid (1997), comparing differences between new women and men entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Norway found that women had smaller financial resources than men, came from households with lower incomes: almost 60% of the men successfully started the business compared to only 24% of the women. Critics who attribute womens failure to obtain necessary funds for start-up to their lack of a proper business plan (Buttner and Rosen, 1992) reinforce the tightly circumscribed discourse of a right way to do business. This militates against the alternate approaches that some women experiment with. Meanwhile Thrasher and Smid (1998) argue that many women business-owners tend to undervalue their own work, echoing Godfreys (1992) claim that certain women are complicit in a gendered diminishment of their enterprise. Thus they are less assertive about seeking financing and undercharge for their services. Thrasher and Smid suggest that this discursive dynamic ultimately results in women business-owners accepting a reduced quality of life because of their ambivalence about money.
Another significant barrier for some owner-leaders reported in the literature has been networking. Studies a decade old showed that few men business owners included women in their close business networks (Gould and Parzen, 1990). Women business owners were often traditionally excluded from old boy networks, were perceived to have more affective and less instrumental motives in building relationships, and relied more on spouses for information and support than on outside advisors such as bankers and lawyers (Buttner, 1993; Canadian Advisory Council, 1991). Networks of contacts, important to both men and women business owners, differed in content and size. Womens networks tended to be composed of women and were smaller than mens networks (Aldrich, Reece, and Dubini, 1989), which may be one reason for certain difficulties reported by women in obtaining financing. Women were seeking special womens networks, and women tended to rely on their networks not only for information but also for personal support (Smeltzer and Fann, 1989). A study of Canadian women business owners concluded that they worked in a glass box: isolated by overload, they had not the necessary time to cultivate or use important support networks (Canadian Advisory Council, 1991).
However, a more recent study of networking has concluded that women are as active as men entrepreneurs in networking to obtain assistance, and as successful as men in obtaining high-quality assistance including resources (Aldrich, Reece & Dubini, 1997). By contrast, Moore and Buttner (1997) conclude that women use networks primarily for sounding boards rather than resource acquisition. One problem here is the lack of contextualization in findings. How women create and use networks could reasonably by presumed to be connected with both their environments and their business size, nature, and purpose. For example, Sawyerr and McGee (1998) found significant differences between personal networks of new firm owner/managers and those of more mature firms, and show strong relationships between environmental uncertainty and networking activity and intensity. Chell (1996) has shown the importance of analysing relationships between personal networks and labor market inequalities to better understand how which individuals develop aspirations, access resources and build support for an enterprise. Brush (1999) suggests that network uses rely on business needs, which vary according to size, scope and sector. Thus research exploring the function of networks in business leadership should be carefully situated, and compare links between relational dynamics, individual needs and values, leadership approaches and outcomes in terms of business success as women owner leaders define it.
A third key struggle for women business owners is related to balancing family issues. Work-family conflict results from inter-role conflict caused by incompatible or conflicting pressures from work and family domains, including job-family role strain, work-family interference, and work-nonwork role conflict (Parasuraman, Purohit, and Godshalk, 1996). Women are more likely to have primary domestic responsibility and to have interrupted careers (Aldrich et al., 1989; Gould and Parzen, 1990), which create work-family conflict. Seeking balance in work-family has been established as a significant factor in womens decision to start a business (Chaganti, 1986; Holmquist and Sundin, 1988), although women business owners still appear to experience much greater conflict than men in managing family and work life (Parasuraman et al., 1996).
As discussed throughout this article, research throughout the past few decades has suggested that women start a business to create greater flexibility in their lives, to seek greater quality of life and more creative, meaningful work, and to place higher priority on relationships and family. If this is so, it puts certain women in tension with a highly competitive profit-driven marketplace, and presents a fundamental shift in the meaning of work and career for some women. Meanwhile, some studies show women business owners in inner turmoil, stretched between round-the-clock working hours and the great feelings of satisfaction and competence from their business, while suffering guilt and fragmentation while juggling family issues (Canadian Advisory Council, 1991; Fenwick and Hutton, 2000; Gay, 1997; Thrasher and Smid, 1998). Sadly given these important issues, Ferguson and Durup (1997) show that specific study of work-family conflict experienced by women business owners is virtually non-existent.
Considerations for Future Research
Historically, the focus of research studying women entrepreneurs tended towards two main directions: (1) a-historical, a-contextual, a-political description of womens businesses and ownership characteristics; and (2) comparison to mens businesses using economic measures derived from traditional male models. A surprisingly extensive number of studies continue to measure women against men owner-leaders according to management style, goals, type of business, and approaches to planning and developing the business. Brush (1992) charges that the constructs, principles and language of business ownership governing the perspectives and questions of researchers have mostly been derived from mens view of reality, based in autonomy, logic, and rule-based decision-making (p. 17). Accordingly, some studies concluded that women fall short of the success achieved by their men colleagues in terms of management skills, business size, growth rate, and overall profits (Hisrich and Brush, 1987; Kaplan, 1988). Then a wave of studies in the 1990s, reviewed in the preceding paragraphs, examined women business owners motives for start-up, leadership styles, and barriers. Though helpful in building initial understandings of diverse women business owners and detecting issues for policy and program attention, this research has sometimes been limited by its lack of attention to specific contexts and womens differentiated approaches and experiences. Also lacking in much of this research is consideration of gendered structures from a feminist perspective. Finally, there is a paucity of cultural analysis examining the production of women business owners choices, experiences, meanings and values in prevailing discourses and practices of a globalized market and post-Fordist work environments.
Recent case studies and surveys of women business owners have explored some of these issues. These offer rich stories and analyse the transitions experienced by women starting businesses in various contexts and stages of life (Alsos and Ljunggren 1998; Brook, 1997; Carter and Kolvereid, 1997; Fenwick and Hutton, 2000; Gay, 1997; Godfrey, 1992; Robertson, 1997). A few qualitative research studies shed light on womens learning processes in business ownership (Albert, 1992; Barrett, 1995; Fenwick, 1998; Wells, 1998). For example, some of these studies show the significance of womens lifelong learning, search for meaningful vocation and ecological living, identity formation, and transformation, in business start-up motives, leadership approaches, and business goals and structures which partially determine unique characteristics of women-owned businesses. There is indication that women are increasingly seeking to transform their lives by integrating their work, learning, personal life, and relationships in the venture they build (Adamski, 1995; Albert, 1992; Gay, 1997; Godfrey, 1992; Robertson, 1997). If so, women are generating new models for creating work and doing business which deserve continuing study by small business researchers. In the process, as Moore and Buttner (1997) demonstrate, women are experiencing significant personal change and developing distinctive models of leadership.
Meanwhile Barrett (1995), drawing from Chells (1991) questions about this heffalump that is entrepreneurism, suggests that past efforts to examine entrepreneurism in its own right, divorced from analysing relationships with industry and gendered notions of work, may have been misguided. Barrett calls for future research using a variety of disciplines and research techniques to explore women in business. Carter and Cannon (1992) claim that theoretical frameworks are lacking. They urge future research that draws from sociological frames and debates, and combines more qualitative methods with quantitative. Chell (1996) goes further, stating What is needed is a multi-paradigmatic approach in which local economic conditions and institutional frameworks can be described initially, with follow up investigative work assuming interpretivist/radical structural paradigms (p. 10), to examine threads of local culture, socio-economy, gender and power.
The point is that future analysis of womens leadership in small business contexts would be well-served with more qualitative research, employing in-depth approaches such as life history, narrative inquiry, heuristic inquiry, discursive analysis and ethnography to balance the large-scale survey studies that have dominated examination of women entrepreneurs in the past two decades. Further, theoretical perspectives governing research needs to be expanded to include critical cultural studies, political economy, psychological development, and post-structuralism as well as different feminisms. These different lenses may help to decenter the predominant focus on women as isolated and somewhat exoticized actors, and help illuminate important relationships of women business owners choices within changing social webs of action, meaning, knowledge and power to which Chell refers. Theoretical perspectives that deconstruct systemic power imbalances embedded in dominant business practices and models might help avoid potential feminization of the struggling micro-enterprise, where unreasonably long hours, low income and isolation (Canadian Advisory Council, 1991) do not support the triumphalist claims by writers such as OBrien (1998) of women liberating themselves and their national economies through entrepreneurism. Ferguson (1997) argues feminist perspectives help move beyond the efficiency and effectiveness of business practices to question the moral and political legitimacy of these practices: not how best to use the power that business accords certain groups of people (owners and manager for example) but why these people are thus empowered (p. 80).
Within these new perspectives and methodological approaches, questions for future research can be derived from various threads currently stirring amidst the four themes of research discussed in this article. Here are some examples:
Such questions move beyond essentialist ways of conceiving women business owners, help address complex dimensions of power and social context, eschew tendencies to examine womens business in terms of mens motives and strategies, and widen the vocabulary defining success to embrace different womens own meanings and objectives. These questions also contribute to the four themes adopted by the 2000 OECD conference on women entrepreneurs in small and medium enterprise  , which focus on improving knowledge about female entrepreneurship and its obstacles, fostering entrepreneurial culture and developing women-owned businesses.
This article has reviewed research about womens entrepreneurial leadership organized in four themes prominent in the existing literature: characteristics, reasons for business start-up, leadership approaches, and barriers Some of this literature homogenizes women, or reduces their complexity to simple models. Some is guided by constructs and language derived from models of mens business ownership which, as Lee and Rogoff (1997) point out, is in danger of producing policies and programs aiming to make women more like men business owners.
But together these four themes help move us toward important questions about womens leadership development in entrepreneurial contexts. How are different women transforming small business leadership in ways that may challenge traditional understandings of work, learning, career, and success? What personal needs do women meet through leading their own businesses? What kinds of knowledge do they value, and how do they develop this knowledge while growing a business? How are womens choices shaped by and shaping the changing dynamics and cultural discourses of their local socio-economic contexts?
The main intention of this article is to join the calls put forth by others (i.e. Brush, 1992; Carter and Cannon, 1992; Moore and Buttner, 1997) for research attention to these and other complex questions. Women leading their own businesses are increasing, and have become the largest employer of the U.S. labor force (Moore and Buttner, 1997). Meanwhile rapidly changing contexts and dynamics of work have shifted the demands of organizational leadership and the opportunities for alternate expressions of leadership. Women leaving jobs, particularly senior management ranks, to start businesses may be exemplifying Edwards (1998) vision of post-Fordist artisans that resist the oppressive structures and discourses of Taylorist workplaces: active, creative, reflexive, risk-taking workers with certain degrees of autonomy in how they define and achieve their work goals, engaging in practices of social entrepreneurship (p. 387).
Growing evidence asserts that womens entrepreneurial leadership, while differentiated, is fundamentally different than mens. It is apparent that some entrepreneurial women are crafting new visions and models of leadership, and many are experiencing unique processes entwining the developing self, values of work, life, and family, and the personal dynamics of change with the processes of developing and leading a business. These phenomena deserve careful and critical exploration if we are to understand radical changes now occurring in women business owners work-lives and leadership development, and develop new conceptual frames and vocabulary for naming these changes as they emerge.
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 For the purposes of this article, the term small business designates an enterprise of 50 employees or fewer. Womens leadership here refers to individuals who have started, maintained ownership of, and assumed management responsibility for, a small business.
 The work of Elizabeth Chell (1996) exploring culture and networks influencing entrepreneurism is a notable exception.
 The assumption of identifiable innate traits emanates from a unitary self philosophy pervasive in humanistic psychology. Poststructural writers (such as Foucault, 1980) have attacked this notion, using the term subject to describe human beings, The subject has no existence per se, but is brought into presence through actions and stories. Orner (1992) explains that the switch from conceptions of psychological self to subjects encourages analysis of ourselves and our realities as constructions; the products of meaning-making activity which are both culturally specific and generally unconscious. The term subject calls into question the notion of a totally conscious self (p. 79).
 Some of the discourses affecting women business owners discussed by Fenwick (2000) include neo-liberal self-made entrepreneurism emphasizing profit/growth and business as tough frontier, glory-girl triumphalist media stories, women in deficit beliefs catalysing calls for womens training in business management, cautionary wellness/balance messages, business planning the right way, advice-giving discourses that have traditionally domesticated women, womens ways themes of caring, collaborative leadership, and mommy guilt.
 However, Caputo and Dolinsky (1998) show that a spouse and his income, along with children, influence a womans ability to become self-employed and her decision-making about starting a business.
 The four themes for the November, 2000 OECD conference in Paris are: (1) improving knowledge about female entrepreneurship and its role in society and the economy; (2) fostering the development and growth of women-owned businesses and their participation in international trade and globalization; (3) improving knowledge about the financing of women-owned business and removing obstacles in this area; and (4) fostering an entrepreneurial culture through improved education, management training for women and girls, and changes in societal values in regard to gender roles (OECD, 2000).