Navigating institutional complexities

Thilde Langevang (Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Michael W. Hansen (Department of Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Lettice Kinunda Rutashobya (University of Dar es Salaam Business School, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship

ISSN: 1756-6266

Publication date: 3 December 2018



The purpose of this paper is to examine how female entrepreneurs navigate complex and challenging institutional environments. It draws on institutional theory and the concept of response strategies to institutional pressures to explore the institutional barriers that female entrepreneurs encounter and highlights the strategies women employ to overcome them.


This paper builds on a case study of female entrepreneurs engaged in food processing in Tanzania. It draws on semi-structured interviews with nine female entrepreneurs, one focus group discussion with six female entrepreneurs and two semi-structured interviews with representatives from women’s business associations (WBAs).


This paper reveals a repertoire of active strategies enacted by women entrepreneurs, including advocacy through WBAs, bootstrapping, semi-informal operations, co-location of home and business, spouse involvement in the business, downplay of gender identity, reliance on persistence and passion and networking through WBAs. While these strategies involve various degrees of agency, the findings indicate that collective efforts through WBAs offer women the most promise in terms of influencing institutional structures.


While there is a growing body of literature examining how institutions influence female entrepreneurs, there is a dearth of knowledge on how women experience institutional complexities and actively react to institutional barriers, complexities and contradictions. This paper shows the value of analytical attention to female entrepreneurs’ agency by highlighting women’s active responses and documenting a repertoire of strategies.



Langevang, T., Hansen, M. and Rutashobya, L. (2018), "Navigating institutional complexities", International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 224-242.

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