Power shifts: women as entrepreneurs in the global context

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 29 October 2014



Martin, L., Warren-Smith, I., Henry, C. and Scott, L. (2014), "Power shifts: women as entrepreneurs in the global context", Gender in Management, Vol. 29 No. 8. https://doi.org/10.1108/GM-09-2014-0078



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Power shifts: women as entrepreneurs in the global context

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Gender in Management: An International Journal, Volume 29, Issue 8


The idea for this special issue emerged following the inaugural symposium for the Power Shift: Oxford Forum for Women in the World Economy, which took place in May 2013 at Said Business School, Oxford. Recognising that Women’s entrepreneurship is a complex issue – not easily measured, assessed or understood – the Power Shift symposium sought to explore the nature and impact of women’s entrepreneurial endeavours across different economies, highlighting the many challenges they face and laying the foundation for future research questions. Consequently, the symposium covered a range of pertinent themes, including collective action; technology; family, law and customs; finance; measurement and skills. Building on these discourses, the purpose of this special issue is to bring together studies that platform the value of women entrepreneurs and their businesses in the global context. In doing so, we have garnered evidence that sheds light on the varied patterns and styles of female entrepreneurship that are emerging in economies as diverse as the UK, Sweden and Botswana. Individually, these studies explore particular gender shifts in the locus of entrepreneurial power that have thus far remained implicit. Collectively, the papers highlight that although women continue to engage successfully in urban corporate and “for profit” entrepreneurship, they are equally effective as entrepreneurs in small, rural and community enterprises; the latter are, arguably, less glamorous and harder to measure, and as a consequence, remain under-researched.

The rationale for this special issue was also driven by the fact that, to date, extant discourses on entrepreneurship have been predicated along traditional masculine, urban and mainly white systems of corporate entrepreneurship that have mainly constituted the alluring locus of entrepreneurial power. Underpinning such focus has been the philosophy and mind-set that confirm both “corporate” and “maximum profit” as core performance measurements. It is against this backdrop that, thus far, women’s entrepreneurial leadership and endeavours appear to have been benchmarked. It may appear controversial, therefore, that the papers in this special edition suggest that while many women entrepreneurs may well be profit-oriented, they also adopt much broader considerations and different approaches to their entrepreneurial activities. These approaches suggest small, incremental power shifts that are nonetheless worthy of acknowledgement. We acknowledge that a wide range of research studies have already explored the barriers and differences that circumstance and gender have on entrepreneurial start-up and growth, including but not limited to access to entrepreneurial capital, both social and financial. For example, Singh et al. (2001, 2004) have extensively covered gender progression and interaction in corporate “for profit” environments since 2000, and Martin et al. (2008) have looked at empirical evidence of board membership and leadership roles in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Similarly, wider theoretical and empirical studies of barriers within women’s corporate leadership have identified and explored the twin concepts of “glass ceiling” and the “glass cliff”. More recently, articles in this particular journal – Gender in Management: An International Journal – have begun to explore the global context for women’s entrepreneurship (see, for example, Mordi et al., 2010), but such research remains at the early stages of development. While these studies have contributed to a broadened understanding of the issues affecting women’s entrepreneurial choices, the focus on the male gendered benchmark has remained. Therefore, although gender has been receiving increased attention in entrepreneurship scholarship, with Carter et al. (2012) noting the need for more women’s entrepreneurial leadership experiences to be investigated in their own right, much more research needs to be developed, particularly in the global context.

As guest editors, we are delighted to share three studies that not only catalogue the rich and diverse experiences of women as entrepreneurs in the global context, but that also highlight some of the valuable contributions they have made to economic development. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, these studies help illustrate how entrepreneurship has contributed to women’s personal empowerment in different ways. Our key objective for this special issue was to highlight new and emerging patterns of female entrepreneurial endeavour around the globe, and to offer valuable insights into the entrepreneurial role that women play across a range of organisational settings; we believe the papers we have selected fulfill these objectives.

The articles presented in this special issue reveal subtle shifts in power, ranging from those that quietly threaten the status quo to those that provide clear evidence of broader social change. Furthermore, they challenge the accepted gendered benchmark for entrepreneurship by illustrating the sheer diversity of women’s businesses in terms of geographical contexts, management styles and outputs. We hope that this encourages other researchers to further explore such entrepreneurial diversity and highlight its value.

The papers selected by the guest editors explore power shifts in three very different contexts, and employ a range of methodological approaches. For example, in our first paper, Smith interrogates the imagery used in the media portrayal of male and female entrepreneurship in the UK. He questions how adopted imagery, often derogatory, accurately reflects reality but notes that unlike their male counterparts, ascendant female entrepreneurs are in a potential position of power that enables them to define their own image[ry] through the semiotics they convey. Without the confines of traditional stereotyping that have built up over years for male entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to both challenge and demarcate their media images for the future, creating a benchmark that is not defined by a masculine stereotype. Precisely which semiotic messages are adopted, and how these impact on the public perception of female entrepreneurs, remain moot considerations.

Pettersson’s paper addresses the subtle influencing of radical changes and shifts in economic power. It explores how female-driven entrepreneurship has contributed (and is contributing) to the social and economic changes that are taking place in rural areas across Europe (Bock, 2006; Warren-Smith and Jackson, 2004). Through an investigation of the agricultural sector in Sweden, the paper outlines how women entrepreneurs have taken advantage of their location and association with “place” to bring about change, despite the pejorative “pink/apron-string” imagery typically associated with women’s rural businesses. Their entrepreneurial endeavours have transformed the rural economy from a highly masculine, production-driven sector to that of a consumption-based service sector, which is female-focused in its delivery and, more importantly, economically viable.

Finally, Ama et al. use a quantitative study to offer insights into women entrepreneurs in informal cross border trading in Botswana. The women traders in this study are mostly single or (in a small percentage of cases) divorced as a result of the activity in which they have engaged. Nonetheless, their trading is profitable and their income has, more importantly, empowered them to make major decisions within their families to create improved livelihoods. The paper highlights the slightly anarchic yet potentially powerful position of female entrepreneurs in the developing world.

Izzy Warren-Smith, Department of Rural Policy and Economics, Harper Adams University College, Edgmond, UK

Colette Henry, The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

Lynn Martin, Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK

Linda Scott, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK


Bock, B. (2006), “Rural gender studies in the north and south”, Bock, B. and Shortall, S. (Eds), Rural Gender Relations: Issues and Case Studies, CABI, CAB International Wallingford, Oxford, pp. 1-18.

Carter, S., Marlow, S. and Bennett, D. (2012), “Gender and entrepreneurship, in Carter, S. and Jones-Evans, D. (Eds)”, Enterprise and Small Business, Prentice Hall, London, pp 218-231.

Martin, L.M., Warren-Smith, I., Scott, J.M. and Roper, S. (2008), “Boards of directors and gender diversity in UK companies”, Gender in Management: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 194-208.

Mordi, C., Simpson, R., Singh, S. and Okafor, C. (2010), “The role of cultural values in understanding the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in Nigeria”, Gender in Management: An International Journal, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 5-21.

Singh, V. and Vinnicombe, S. (2004), “Why so few women directors in top UK boardrooms? Evidence and theoretical explanations”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 479-488.

Singh, V., Vinnicombe, S. and Johnson, P. (2001), “Women directors on top UK boards”, Corporate Governance: An International Review, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 206-216.

Warren-Smith, I. and Jackson, C. (2004), “Women creating wealth through rural enterprise”, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, Vol. 10 No. 6, pp. 369-383.

About the authors

Izzy Warren-Smith is Principal Lecturer in Rural Policy and Agricultural Economics at Harper Adams University and Visiting Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. She was also the founding Director of Women in Rural Enterprise (WiRE), a successful award winning rural business support and networking organisation. Izzy Warren-Smith is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mailto:iwarrensmith@harper-adams.ac.uk

Colette Henry is Head of Department of Business Studies at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland, and Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway. She is also a Visiting Professor at Birmingham City University, and a Visiting Scholar at Birkbeck, London. Colette is a Fellow of both the royal society of arts (RSA) and Institute for small business and entrepreneurship (ISBE), and Editor of the International Journal of Gender & Entrepreneurship.

Lynn Martin is Professor of Entrepreneurship, Director of the Centre for Enterprise and Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning, Manchester Metropolitan University Faculty of Business and Law. She is an experienced entrepreneur, leader and manager and has significant experience in developing international links with Europe and Asia and working with both companies and public sector authorities at regional and national level. She leads activities across different faculties to operationalise effective knowledge exchange and entrepreneurial academic – practitioner initiatives.

Linda Scott is DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Said Business School, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on the power of entrepreneurship to empower women in developing countries.

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