SCHOLARLY CONTRIBUTION AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
By highlighting the challenges faced by women in male dominated business sectors, this chapter fills an important lacuna in the current literature on women and entrepreneurship. Research on gender in entrepreneurship has been focused on two-group comparisons of sex differences, but has paid little difference to within-category differences. The tendency of previous work to treat women as a monolithic, cohesive category has resulted in unclear and conflicting findings. Relationships are formed by interpersonal communication which is determined to a large extent by contextual and structural factors. Therefore, networks cannot be fully understood without knowledge of the communicative processes that take place within them, and the relationship between these and situational characteristics. Highlighting the ways that interactional processes are created by gendered contextual settings is important because as Mirchandani (1999: 225) has pointed out, “while there has been some reflection on the difference which the sex of business owner makes, this reflection has not been contextualized within theoretical understandings of the ways in which entrepreneurial work is situated within gendered processes which form and are formed through relationships between occupation, organizational structure and the sex of the worker”.
Gender segregation is an important yet often overlooked feature of business ownership and self-employment. Policymakers and academics have viewed business ownership as an ‘alluring escape route” (Heilman and Chen 2003) from labor market discrimination for women, but there is growing evidence that entrepreneurial segregation contributes to gender inequality in similar ways to occupational divisions of labor. For example, women earn less than men in self-employment and business ownership, and segregation makes a significant contribution to earnings disparities (Hundley 2001; Lowrey 2005). The narrow segments of the economy into which women’s businesses are crowded makes their firms much smaller than those owned by men, in terms of employment and sales as well as less profitable (Watson 2002; Miller, Besser et al. 2006/7; Ver – heul, Caree et al. 2009) and less sustainable (Robb 2002; Headd 2003). Finding ways to overcome the barriers to entry into male-dominated sectors should therefore be higher up the research agenda.
Given the recent evidence of the considerable weakening in the gender-based ‘digital divide’ in Internet access5, computer mediated networking appears to offer significant potential. Future research should test empirically whether women nontraditional business owners are indeed able to overcome gender stereotyping via virtual networks. Rich information about the content of relations forged and maintained via electronic means would be particularly useful. Comparison of interpersonal interactions between same – and cross-sex dyads would shed light on the level of resources nontraditional women entrepreneurs are able to secure from their ties. Qualitative research could help us to gain insights into communicative processes in virtual networks.