Gender, disadvantage and enterprise support – lessons from women's business centres in North America and Europe

Paul Braidford (St Chad's College, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Ian Stone (Durham Business School, Durham University, Durham, UK)
Besrat Tesfaye (Director of ENTER, Södertörn Högskola, Stockholm, Sweden)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Publication date: 15 February 2013



The aim of this paper is to analyse support measures in the USA, Canada and Sweden aimed at encouraging women to start their own business and/or promote growth in women‐owned businesses, and in particular the role of women's business centres. It examines whether existing initiatives of this kind have proven successful in their stated and unstated aims; and if elements of practice are transferable to other countries and contexts. The paper also contributes to the gender mainstreaming debate.


Through in‐depth interviews across four countries with managers of such centres and other business support personnel, policy‐makers and practitioners, the paper constructs a view of how women's business centres fit into the overall policy context, and how they have aided the development of women's enterprise.


The use of international comparisons permits the identification of common approaches to enterprise policy for women. Policy‐makers and practitioners will appreciate the nuanced view of the elements that make up several lauded initiatives aimed at supporting women's entrepreneurship, how (and to what degree) these elements work together and how these elements may be used elsewhere.

Research limitations/implications

The paper suggests the need for more nuanced understanding of client needs, whether male or female, and the role this might play in the delivery of business support.

Practical implications

Policymakers should be clear regarding the objectives of women's centres, as between support principally directed at unemployed/low income groups and increasing the business start‐up rate per se among women (leading to economic growth), and even whether support should be differentiated by gender.

Social implications

Women's centres are working mainly for the more disadvantaged women, rather than those with real potential as entrepreneurs. Such centres may also reinforce stereotypes of “women's businesses”.


The key contribution of this paper is that, compared to previous work, it provides a more critical perspective on the specifics of women's business centre initiatives, exploring both the processes and outcomes that lie behind the simple output‐related success measures that often characterise mainstream policy evaluations.



Braidford, P., Stone, I. and Tesfaye, B. (2013), "Gender, disadvantage and enterprise support – lessons from women's business centres in North America and Europe", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 143-164.

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