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Feminine Capital: Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs

Feminine Capital: Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs

by Barbara Orser, Catherine Elliott
Feminine Capital: Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs

Feminine Capital: Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs

by Barbara Orser, Catherine Elliott


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Today, there are over 200,000,000 women business owners around the world. Many of these entrepreneurs are not doing business as usual, nor are they simply leaning in. Rather, they are tapping into feminine capital—the unique skills and sensibilities that they have cultivated as women—to create enviable successes. Drawing on four decades of award-winning research, Feminine Capital reveals how women are harnessing different approaches to doing business. Barbara Orser and Catherine Elliott detail the pillars of feminine capital and offer new insight into the ways that gender can influence entrepreneurial decision-making. They find that leveraging feminine capital can help women to create distinctive brands, build new markets, and drive profits—all while leveling the playing field in business. In doing so, women are changing our social and economic landscape, one venture at a time. Dispelling myths and misperceptions that can undermine women-owned ventures, this book takes a fresh look at how female entrepreneurs can leverage their skills, knowledge, and values. Case studies of women entrepreneurs bring key concepts and lessons to life, while learning aids, diagnostic tools, and checklists help readers to construct innovative business models, refine start-up plans, and hone growth strategies.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804783781
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 03/25/2015
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 7.20(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Barbara Orser is Vice Dean (Career Development) of the Universityof Ottawa's Telfer School of Management. She is Founding Chair of the Canadian Taskforce for Women's Business Growth and has been named one of the Women Executive Network's 100 Most Power Women in Canada. Catherine Elliott is Assistant Professor at the Universityof Ottawa's Telfer School of Management, where she teaches Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management.

Read an Excerpt

Feminine Capital

Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs

By Barbara Orser, Catherine Elliott


Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-9431-2


Reframing Entrepreneurship

To begin our exploration of how feminine capital influences the venture creation process, we open by introducing five women who are among those whose stories we will follow during the course of this book. Three have founded operating enterprises, of which two are intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs who are responsible for creating innovative services and products within institutional settings. Two more of the entrepreneurial heroines are fictitious, composites that embody the experiences of the women whom we interviewed through the course of our research. Each of the five stories reflects a unique perspective about the venture creation process. After becoming acquainted with these entrepreneurial heroines, we step back in time to expose early stereotypes about female entrepreneurship. We do this because a historical perspective helps to illuminate antiquated assumptions about what it means to be entrepreneurial. Stereotypes continue to influence entrepreneurial intentions, sometimes pushing business owners to act in prototypically masculine ways. In addition, stereotypes help to explain why some female entrepreneurs, even those who are experienced and well educated, are less likely to believe that they possess the skills and knowledge needed to become an entrepreneur. Finally, we present summary tables to frame how we think about entrepreneurship. These tools will help you to reflect on the roles that feminine capital and feminism play in the venture creation process.

The Nature of Feminine Capital

Susan Ross

Susan is a stay-at-home mother who is thinking of starting a professional services business. At the same time, she is weighing the pros and cons of returning to corporate employment. Prior to leaving the workforce, she was employed as the product manager in a global consumer packaged goods company. Susan's decision is one that many women face. Should I continue working in the home? Should I start a business? Should I return to paid employment? The decision is not easy. Susan may be aware that most women who leave the labor force for family responsibilities rarely catch up to the earning capacity of colleagues who stay. This leads her to favor venture creation. But business ownership rarely offers health or other benefits coverage. There are more trade-offs to consider. Many new enterprises do not survive the first few years. Given the discontinuance rates of startups, lower self- employment wages, and often lack of pensions and other benefits, Susan must think about the opportunity costs of venture creation. These include forfeited wages, professional reputation, and time and capital invested, not to mention the stress associated with potential business failure. Susan is also aware of the advantages: the satisfaction of creating a new venture, autonomy, the opportunity to employ others, and the possibility of earning more than salaried colleagues.

Asha Sing

Asha is the president of a mid-sized, international wholesale operation for shoes. The firm has a proven track record of performance. She is seeking growth opportunities. During a recent customer visit, Asha noticed that the buyer referred all questions to her male vice-president. Having realized this (after several attempts to engage him in conversation), she stepped back to let the two men speak. In reflecting on this incident, Asha realizes that this customer simply does not wish to do business with a female president. On a personal level, she has no time to worry about what she refers to as "knuckle-draggers," those who treat female business owners as subordinates. At the professional level, she must determine how best to respond to such a client.

Maria Guidi

Maria owns a small construction firm with a growing list of local clients. She likes the idea of keeping her business small. A representative from WEConnect International—a nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes supplier diversity initiatives—has suggested that she apply for certification as a majority female-owned firm. Certification may facilitate business with global corporations. She has mixed feelings, however, about this opportunity. She is concerned that the firm may not have the capacity to meet international standards and fulfill the obligations of a large contract. At the same time, Maria knows that being small has its downfalls. Enterprise growth might enable her to diversify risk across more customers. Growth might increase her compensation. Staying small makes it difficult to attract investors, retain talent, and secure lead clients. Lead clients can be used to signal that her products meet industry scrutiny. Finally, few investors, other than family and friends, are interested in supporting a lifestyle firm—one that is not seeking growth. Yet young, rapidly growing firms also tend to be turned down for bank (or debt) financing compared to relatively stable enterprises.

Elaine Jolly

After thirty years of practicing medicine, Dr. Elaine Jolly sees the need for a full service women's health center. The health care model she envisions will be different from that offered anywhere in North America. Building a multidisciplinary women's health center in the face of hospital budget cuts and rationalization is a monumental task. For Elaine, opportunity takes a different form. In building the center, she must sell the merits of a female-only health care service to the hospital board that is composed primarily of male colleagues. She would like to draw on female patients for support, as she anticipates that they can best understand and communicate the value of women's health care. But a demanding clinical practice leaves her little time to acquire and practice political, fundraising, and board management skills. She must determine how to best sell her vision to colleagues and board members who will ultimately determine the relevance and viability of the center.

Cynthia Goh

Cynthia Goh is a professor of chemistry and medical science at the University of Toronto. She is an academic entrepreneur. Her scientific innovations have led to new medical diagnostics. She is also the cofounder of two nanotechnology firms. Startup challenges for Cynthia have been many. An early challenge was working within the university bureaucracy to commercialize academic knowledge. This was initially frustrating for Cynthia, who finds that developing technology is inherently creative and rewarding. When asked how, if at all, being female might influence the commercialization process, she suggests it is best to not notice. "In many cases, I think if you ignore them, challenges do go away." Taking this pragmatic perspective, Cynthia believes that there are no rules and not just one way to create business success. Focusing on gender is not productive.

* * *

Each of these stories provides insight into the gendered nature of entrepreneurship. For example, Susan's decision between starting a business or returning to paid employment is riddled with trade-offs that many mothers face. Maria's story illustrates that staying small can have an impact on enterprise-wide strategy. Elaine Jolly is strategically leveraging feminine capital within her vision for an integrated women's health center. Her desire to support women's needs is reflected in the center's service delivery practices, governance, and operational processes. For Asha, being female informs her response strategy, and Cynthia Goh's ignoring gender is a conscious decision.

Recognizing Female Entrepreneurship

To understand how being female can influence entrepreneurial endeavor, it is useful to recall that entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon. How we think about entrepreneurship today is rooted in early economic and management theory. While feminine duties traditionally have focused on family responsibilities, throughout the ages women have assumed commercial entrepreneurial activities—trade, harvesting, crafting, midwifery, and, in more recent centuries, small-business ownership. Artifacts testify to the entrepreneurial activities of indigenous women in early settlements. Upon arrival in New England and New France, female colonists established schools, hospitals, and religious orders. In mid-1600, Lady Sara Kirke managed an international fleet of ships, carrying out commerce through military campaigns and political turmoil, despite being subject and servant of the king. Yet the stories of entrepreneurial women are largely forgotten. How many entrepreneurial heroines can you name?

Every nation has a roster of industrial superstars, barons, and captains of industry. Most North American students learn about innovators and high-tech billionaires Bill Gates (Microsoft), Marc Zuckerberg (Facebook), and the late Steve Jobs (Apple). The gregarious British tycoon Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group is another familiar face to many. Canadians have watched leaders such as Blackberry co-founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. But the list of accomplished entrepreneurial heroes rarely includes innovators such as Nobel Laureate Marie Curie, whose work led to the therapeutic application of radiation for cancer treatment. How about the brave women who helped to test the contraceptive pill in the development work of Carl Djerassi (inventor of the pill)? Arguably, radiation therapy and the pill are among the most important medical innovations in history. How about media entrepreneurs Oprah Winfrey, Amber Chand (Baby Einstein), writer J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter), cosmetic pioneers Estee Lauder and Mary Kay Ash, or Anita Roddick and Heather Reismen, who refined customer-focused retailing with the founding of The Body Shop and Chapters/Indigo Books? The list of entrepreneurial heroines is long, but all too often they are not as visible as male role models. The absence of women in our collective memory is, in part, the product of how the media and scholars have systematically ignored female entrepreneurship.

Women's economic invisibility is also not new. Its roots can be traced back to early political philosophers, such as Adam Smith, and economists, such as Joseph Schumpeter.

Rational Economic Man

Adam Smith is credited as the first to describe free market economics. At the epicenter of the free market stands the rational economic (masculine) man. The purported reason for enterprise creation is to fulfill man's desire for wealth, convenience, and luxury through the smallest amount of self-denial. Free market economics (the invisible hand) have driven financial policy and market structures throughout the world. But the mechanics of female entrepreneurship had no place within free market economics. From seventeenth-century rural cottage spinners to nineteenth-century factory weavers, women who ventured away from domestic duties were generally viewed as convenient, low-wage labor in the growing industrial apparatus. Feminine capital resided in the home.

In the early twentieth century, organizational behaviorists turned their attention to how the rational economic man foraged for ways to enhance efficiency and profit through standardizations of inputs and outputs. Building on foundations of Smith's neoclassical economic theory, Joseph Schumpeter is credited for advancing the notion of the entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that enables "creative destruction." This spirit was described as aggressive and dominant, typically masculine characteristics.

Over the past century, entrepreneurship has been viewed as an individual endeavor or process. New wealth is created by the destruction of existing wealth. Only a few possessed the constitution to helm this process. Entrepreneurial men, rational and heroic, epitomize success as "a will to conquer." As men laid claim to that which was enterprising, rarely were prototypical feminine qualities such as loyalty, kindness, and compassion used to characterize rational man and, subsequently, the entrepreneur.

In the mid-1900s, scholars continued to build on these theoretical principles to explain entrepreneurial success as the product of "need for achievement," "propensity to take risks," and "locus of control." Early management studies about entrepreneurial leadership typically employed male-only or male-dominated samples. The iterative nature of scientific conversation further entrenched masculine nomenclature in the concept of entrepreneurial orientation. Commercial decisions were distinct from and in conflict with, feminine behavior. Motivation was predicated solely on financial outcomes. Firm structure was typified as hierarchical with a clear division of labor, roles, and responsibilities.

Like Darwin's theory of natural selection, survival of the fittest implied that entrepreneurial women were expected to remain in the likeness of rational economic men. The feminine was ignored, if not silenced. Only now are scholars unearthing the insights of early female writers such as Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933), who wrote on the holistic nature of collaboration and competition, reciprocal relationships, "power with" rather than "power over," and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. These are some of the leadership practices that we describe as elements of feminine capital.

Women in Management

Removed from the gaze of academe, by the mid-1900s North American women sensed the phenomenon of what Betty Friedan coined "the problem that has no name." Her 1963 groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique, shone a spotlight on the lives of middle-class American housewives, women living with material comfort and unhappiness. Their desire to work outside the home ushered in the second wave of feminism. While the first wave secured the right of women to vote, the second demanded economic opportunity. Women wanted more.

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the mass entry of women into paid employment, spurred by economic necessity and the desire to work outside the home. Simultaneously, primarily female academics began to capture women's professional experiences through research. Few studies, however, challenged established theory. Much of the research in the social sciences simply entailed adding a study variable labeled "sex" to established study protocols, without regard to the impact of structural, historical, and cultural influences on enterprise performance. The fundamental desire for wealth, convenience, and luxury was assumed to apply to all. Studies employing surveys and other diagnostics constructed from male-only samples produced mounting evidence of gender differences in enterprise performance.

Early attempts to capture the feminine within the management literature are presented in Table 1.1. The table presents traits drawn from diagnostics that have been used to examine the characteristics of successful managers and entrepreneurs. The left-side columns are selected attributes taken from the Bem Sex Role Inventory, characteristics thought to reveal that which is masculine and that which is feminine. The right columns list attributes synonymous with "being managerial and male" and "being managerial and female." These word associations are drawn from the Schein Sex Role Descriptive Index. These dated diagnostics continue to be used by social scientists. This is unfortunate in that the lists are premised on the notion that masculine and feminine are independent or oppositional dimensions. They position the masculine within decision-making roles and the feminine within passive or supportive roles. The private or domestic sphere is defined as feminine. We argue that the feminine and masculine fall within a continuum of influences and that feminine capital can be realized in commercial settings and entrepreneurial roles.

Underperformance Rationales

Another legacy from this period is the view that female entrepreneurs are less successful. Comparing females to males creates a norm that diminishes the economic and social value of women entrepreneurs. Here are some of the claims that fall under this umbrella:

• Female-owned firms underperform. For example, accountants and financial analysts draw on resource-based and investment theory to explain gender differences in enterprise performance; comparatively small initial investments produce commensurate smaller economic returns.

• Economists observe that female-owned enterprises incur relatively high transactional costs, costs such as negotiating and information gathering that are incurred by all firms competing in the marketplace. Relatively high transaction costs are associated with weak economies of scale due to firm size.


Excerpted from Feminine Capital by Barbara Orser, Catherine Elliott. Copyright © 2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents and Abstracts

chapter abstract

The Introduction sets the stage for the book. Feminine capital is defined and positioned within the broader landscape of women's entrepreneurship. The reader is taken on a brief journey to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, a small town in Atlantic Canada, to meet seven feminist entrepreneurs, the women of Wolfville who served as the unexpected source of motivation for this book. All had founded business or social ventures; all spoke about the need for social change. Their commitment to equity through enterprise was inspiring. The chapter then moves forward by outlining the framework of the book, providing a preview of the chapters ahead. It concludes with additional observations by the authors that led to the writing of this book.

1Reframing entrepreneurship
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 debunks misperceptions about female entrepreneurs and explains how expert thinking has contributed to the invisibility of feminine capital. The pervasive nature of stereotypes is discussed and how these unconscious biases help to explain why females are less likely than males to consider venture creation as a career option. The chapter opens with the introduction of five women whose stories are followed throughout the book. After becoming acquainted with these entrepreneurial heroines, readers step back in time to understand how early stereotypes continue to influence the ways in which entrepreneurs are portrayed by academics and the media. Different theoretical perspectives are briefly introduced: neo-classical economics, feminist criticism, liberal, social and entrepreneurial feminism.

2Intention, success and identity
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 gets to the heart of feminine capital by exploring how being female can influence entrepreneurial identity, a building block for enterprise creation. The entrepreneurial identity gap is exposed and discussed. The Entrepreneurial Identity Framework illustrates how identity, success and intention interact as individuals weigh the trade-offs associated with venture creation. This information helps business owners map out how perceptions of success and intention are reflected in their entrepreneurial identity.

3Getting to go
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 describes pathways to venture creation and how women entrepreneurs are 'getting to go.' Motivated by the desire for change—themselves, families and others—women are launching enterprises that align personal values with market opportunities. Readers are presented with four theoretical models: planned strategy, effectuation, family embeddedness and organizational creation. These are illustrated through inspirational stories. The chapter content is then summarized through a gendered matrix of venture creation. Exemplars for each quadrant are provided and this helps to merge theory with practice.

4Enterprise growth
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 explores why some enterprises grow and others do not. Four research-based explanations are presented. Strategies that align founders' expectations with performance are described. A key asset of many successful enterprises is the business model. Innovative business models that fuel enterprise growth are illustrated through three case studies. Many of the enterprises that women start are radically different from traditional, profit-focused ventures. This information can help to broaden the reader's vision of venture creation and guide investment decisions. Learning aids provide tips on defining a suitable growth strategy that fits the reader's business objectives and values.

5Social capital
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 explores the gendered nature of social relationships—the who, what and why of social capital. Readers are introduced to a framework of social capital, centered around the foundational element of trust. Scenarios, reflections and learning aids provide practical advice on building trust and value-added relationships. Research-based insights are provided about the gendered nature and configuration of social networks. Readers are prompted to think about the characteristics of their own social networks so that they can manage their social capital in a strategic way. Different sources of social capital are introduced, including advisory boards, industry and professional associations, informal networks, mentors and friends and family. Special attention is devoted to mentors, because mentoring is a highly effective source of entrepreneurial know-how. Best practices in developing healthy mentoring/protégé relationships are discussed.

6Money matters
chapter abstract

Chapter 6 presents a snapshot of the sources of capital available to aspiring entrepreneurs and how being female is associated with preferences for sources of capital and with success at obtaining financing. Innovative small firm financing strategies are discussed. Four popular myths about money matters are debunked. Diagnostics are then provided to assist readers in assessing their fiscal literacy. Upon completion, readers can match their entrepreneurial intentions with the appropriate types of financial capital. Strategies to increase women entrepreneurs' access to capital are then presented.

7Power in policy
chapter abstract

Chapter 7 describes why it is important for business owners to engage in policymaking and how policies can be used to better support women's entrepreneurship. Scenarios illustrate the implications of gender bias in entrepreneurship policy and programming. These challenges lead to a discussion about gender-based interventions including the relative merits and limitations of mainstream and female-focused small business programming.

8Never underestimate the underestimated woman
chapter abstract

Chapter 8 summarizes the key themes of the book by revisiting feminine capital and entrepreneurial feminism—the foundational concepts advanced in the book—to explain how women's entrepreneurship is changing the ways we think about wealth and power. The paths and outcomes of venture creation are rarely predictable. This is exemplified by the entrepreneurial heroines who are re-introduced in the chapter. Each has sought different goals, faced different challenges, employed different strategies and realized different outcomes. The book closes with a broader discussion about strategies to propel women's entrepreneurship forward.

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