Women and Entrepreneurship

Women have historically been less likely to take on leadership roles in business than men. This disparity persists even though there is a near even split in today’s workforce between female and male workers.

In recent decades, the issue of women’s leadership has attracted growing attention, as women have expanded their leadership presence and contributions in a wide variety of fields. Whether on corporate boards, senior management, or political and community leadership, evidence suggests that female leaders bring important skills, values, and perspectives to contemporary challenges, and that economic and social benefits flow from more gender diverse and inclusive leadership cultures.

The Alberta School of Business recognizes the importance of women business leadership. Several have been recognized at the School’s annual Canadian Business Leader Award Dinner, such as Elyse Allan, President and CEO of GE Canada, and Monique F. Leroux, President and CEO of Desjardins Group.

Women and leadership is also an emerging area of research excellence at the School. Some of the key questions we examine include:

  • How does gender shape the process of becoming a successful leader?

  • How do women launch and build new entrepreneurial ventures?

  • How do women navigate the challenges of balancing work and family?

  • How do they develop the skills required to move into progressively more senior leadership roles?

  • What types of mentoring and sponsorship systems are needed to support aspiring female leaders?

  • How can organizations build more gender diverse and inclusive workplace cultures?

  • What is the impact of women’s leadership, for organizations, communities, and economies?

These are important inquiries for Alberta, Canada, and the globe, as we move forward. Our thought leaders offer their insights…

Thought Leaders:

Karen D. Hughes


Organizations around the world increasingly recognize the value of developing female leaders, and the benefits of building more gender diverse and inclusive cultures. Academic research has played a key role in building knowledge and awareness on this issue, and will continue to do so.

Karen D. Hughes focuses her teaching and research on gender, work, and labour markets, with a special interest in women’s entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and gender diversity and inclusivity in organizations. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including Female Enterprise in the New Economy and Work, Industry and Canadian Society (with Harvey J Krahn and Graham S. Lowe).

SSHRC Insight funding has allowed Karen to examine further the significant 'gender gap' in leadership at the middle- and senior-level of many organizations. While women have made strong inroads into areas such as law, medicine, and public sector management, in other sectors, such as science, engineering, and technology, female leadership is rare. Understanding how to develop and retain female leaders in these sectors is a high priority for economic growth, with firms recognizing a growing 'business case' to join the already compelling 'social case' for gender diversity. Similar observations can be made in the 'high-growth' entrepreneurial sector, where female leaders remain scarce, despite their dramatic influx into small business in recent years.

Her passion and research aims to generate new data on women's leadership development and organizational innovation through two studies: 1) Women's Leadership and Gender Diversity & Inclusivity (GDI) in Engineering and 2) Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership in High-Growth Firms.

Jennifer E. Jennings


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that entrepreneurship is not a gender-neutral phenomenon.

Over the past 20 years, Professor Jennifer E. Jennings has examined a variety of questions pertaining to gender, entrepreneurship and the work-family interface. She asks:

  • Why are women less likely than men to become entrepreneurs?

  • Do female entrepreneurs tend to organize, manage and grow their firms differently than male entrepreneurs?

  • Are work-family interface considerations a contributing factor?

  • What are the implications for firm performance and an entrepreneur’s wellbeing?

She and fellow colleague Professor Karen D. Hughes have played key roles in strengthening the profile of women’s entrepreneurship research by co-hosting the Diana International Conference dedicated to this topic and co-editing the book Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Research: Diverse Settings, Questions and Approaches.

Sahil Raina

Assistant Professor

Is there something about how we finance female founders that affects their experience as entrepreneurs, especially in terms of performance? Given the growing role of entrepreneurship in the global economy, it is increasingly important that we study and answer such questions.

Sahil Raina studies why women’s participation in venture capital-financed entrepreneurship is lower than in other sectors of the economy, specifically: does interaction with venture capitalists (VCs) contribute to the low participation and performance gap? To answer this question, Professor Raina compares the gender gap in successful exits from VC financing between two sets of start-ups: those initially financed by VCs with only male general partners (GPs) and those initially financed by VCs that include female GPs. Constructing a novel dataset to perform this analysis, he finds a large performance gender gap among start-ups financed by VCs with only male GPs but no such gap among start-ups financed by VCs that include female GPs. The disparity is solely due to improved performance among female-led start-ups. This suggests that VC gender composition has contributed strongly to the performance gap between female- and male-led start-ups, which could deter women from leading VC-financed projects and lower their participation.

Madeline Toubiana

Assistant Professor

Stigma can paralyze women with shame, however, this need not be the case. Entrepreneurship not only provides opportunities to improve economic prospects, but also one's emotional prospects. Entrepreneurship can provide emotional emancipation from the chains of shame associated with stigmatized work.

Madeline Toubiana is an Assistant Professor at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on the role emotions, complexity and stigmatization play in processes of social change. Within this broad agenda, she seeks to better understand entrepreneurs working in stigmatized work domains. One of her current projects with Trish Ruebottom examines women's entrepreneurship and community-building in change-making within the stigmatized field of sex work in Canada.

In Depth Works:

Hughes, K. D. (2015) Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Canada Report on Women's Entrepreneurship. Retrieved from http://thecis.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/GEM-Canada-2014-report-on-Womens-Entrepreneurship.pdf

Hughes, K. D. & Jennings, J. E. (2015). Women’s Entrepreneurship. Oxford Bibliographies Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, K. D., Jennings J. E., Brush C., Carter S., & Welter F. (2012). Extending Women’s Entrepreneurship Research in New Directions. Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice, 36(3), 429-442. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6520.2012.00504.x

Hughes, K. D. & Jennings J. E. (2012). Global Women's Entrepreneurship Research: Diverse Settings, Questions and Approaches. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. ISBN:9781849804622, 1849804621 

Hughes, K. D. (2006). Female Enterprise in the New Economy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN: 0802089178, 0802086721

Strohmeyer, R., Tonoyan, V., & Jennings, J. E. (2017). Jacks-(and Jills)-of-all-trades: On whether, how and why gender influences firm innovativeness. Journal of Business Venturing32(5), 498-518. doi:10.1016/j.jbusvent.2017.07.001 

Jennings, J.E., Jennings, P. D., & Sharifian, M. (2016). Living the dream? Assessing the ‘entrepreneurship as emancipation’ perspective in a developed region. Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice, 40(1), 81-110. DOI: 10.1111/etap.12106 

Jennings, J.E. & Brush, C.G. (2013). Research on women entrepreneurs: Challenges to (and from) the broader entrepreneurship literature? The Academy of Management Annals, 7(1), 663-715. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19416520.2013.782190 

Raina, S. (2016). VC financing and the entrepreneurship gender gap. Retrieved from https://sites.ualberta.ca/~sraina/files/vc_sexbias.pdf

Raina, S. (2016, July 19). Research: The gender gap in startup success disappears when women fund women. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/07/research-the-gender-gap-in-startup-success-disappears-when-women-fund-women

Ruebottom, T. & Toubiana, M. (2016, July). Pride in alterity: Creating biographical opportunities through entrepreneurship in stigmatized fields. EGOS Naples, Italy.

Ruebottom, T. & Toubiana, M. (2016, May). Put on the red light? Creating pride in alterity through entrepreneurship in stigmatized fields COSI, Stanford University, Palo Alto, US.

Toubiana, M. (2015, August). Out of the shadows: Shedding new light on stigmatized work and workers. Symposium panelist, Academy of Management, Vancouver, Canada.