WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS IN MALE-DOMINATED SECTORS AND THE SEGREGATION/ STEREOTYPING BIND
Business ownership is considerably segregated by sex (Sappleton 2009). This fact is aptly illustrated in figure 1. This shows US business ownership by sex and three-digit industry classification in 2002 (the latest available data). While most businesses are male-owned, the differences according to sector are quite evident. Women are overrepresented in Healthcare and Social Assistance and Educational Services and underrepresented in Construction and the primary sectors. Men are underrepresented in the sectors in which women are most commonly found, but in most industries, men form a majority.
In spite of these observations, the absolute numbers as well as proportions of women-owned firms in nontraditional industries have seen a spurt in growth in recent years. According to the National Women’s Business Council, the number of women-owned firms in non-traditional industries grew by 17.5% between 1997 and 2002, outstripping the 10.4% growth in the number of women – owned firms in traditional industries (NWBC, 2004). Growth has been strongest in the Construction category; where, between 1997 and 2002, the number ofwomen-owned firms grew by 35.5% (ibid). This increase in women-owned nontraditional business increases the extent to which women business owners must network across gender-boundaries. That is, the growing number of women in traditionally male industries poses a challenge to women’s preferences for homophilious relations. This challenge is outlined below.
The Stereotyping Problem
In an industry that is predominately populated by men, structural forces will induce women to possess networks that resemble the industry pro-
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file. That is, the vast proportion of nontraditional women business owners’ daily interactions will be with male staff, male colleagues, male clients, male suppliers, male financiers, accountants, associates, advisors and so on. There is some evidence that these interactions may be colored by incidents of gender stereotyping which impact on the volume and quality of resources exchanged between interactants. Gender stereotyping is the act of unnecessarily categorizing and evaluating a person according their sex, evaluating their credentials along dimensions relevant to their group’s stereotype and selectively interpreting their traits (Cejka and Eagly 1999; Glick and Fiske 1999). In the past, researchers have suggested that women entrepreneurs have suffered from a general attitude that they have no place running a business (Heilman and Block 1989; Morrison and von Glinow 1990; Owen and Todor 1993; Schein 1994; 2001). Yet, now that women own 40 per cent of all firms, and this figure is increas
ing, the association between actual numbers of women in entrepreneurship and gender stereotypes may be weakening. It is no longer unusual to see a woman in a management or ownership position. Instead, the general stereotype regarding women in business may be being replaced by more specific stereotypes regarding the type of business that men and women should own and operate. Stereotyping occurs most readily when three conditions are satisfied: 1) when a person moves into a nontraditional position; 2) when that person is isolated or a few-of-a-kind and 3) where information about the person is ambiguous to perceivers (Kelly, Young et al. 1993). The migration of women into business ownership in sectors previously unaccustomed to a female presence meets each of these conditions.
Empirical evidence of stereotyping against nontraditional women can be found in literature studying businesspersons’ associations with consumers, financiers and employees. Traditional
women-owned enterprises serve a household clientele, but larger male-typed firms operating in global markets are far more likely to sell their products and services to other corporations and government agencies. Bates (2002) has contended that women-owned business enterprises have encountered buyer discrimination when they seek out markets beyond the (female) household clientele.3 Using the US Census Bureau Characteristics of Business Owners data, Bates finds that although women business owners have less capacity for serving business and government clients (in terms of their size, age and industry location), even when these dimensions are statistically controlled, women-owned businesses are less likely to sell to other firms and government agencies than male-owned firms. This finding is redolent of buyer discrimination: even in skilled services, construction and goods industries (the industries most easily able to penetrate business-government markets), and “capacity notwithstanding, owner gender by itself is a major factor shaping market access” (Bates, 2002: 321).
Coyle and Flannery (2005) also found evidence of customer discrimination in their interviews with women business owners in male dominated industries. They suggested that discrimination was related to the way that business was drummed up through insider networks and word of mouth. A comment from one interviewee is illustrative: “.. .And it develops this whole network and often it’s a network that women and minorities are just not included in. And so it takes twice as much effort and work to get past that. It really does. You have to be better at what you do because if you’re equal it’s [the work] going to go to someone else” (Coyle and Flannery, 2005 p. 8). Some women in that study also reported encountering flirting, sexual innuendos and inappropriate touching from male clients. Finally, the authors concluded that it was the women based in the most densely male dominated fields that experienced the greater number of gender-related barriers.
Raising finance has repeatedly been identified as problematic for women entrepreneurs, particularly so in the capital-intensive industries. Brophy (1989: 73) has argued that women’s financing difficulties have “been due to attitudes held by representatives of male-dominated institutions – and often reinforced by businesswomen themselves – regarding the proper role of women in business. That role has been seen as staff or part-time employee or business hobbyist, and – if an entrepreneur at all – one confined to businesses traditionally run by women: retail and service businesses for the most part”. The attitude to which Brophy refers is summed up nicely in a quote from a venture capitalist who specializes in financing computing firms: “I would never invest in a women-led business. Don’t get me wrong, women are great for day care centers and have done a lot for customer service, but as an investor, you can’t take a chance that they might leave to get married or pregnant” (Brush, Carter et al. 2004: 72). One-quarter of the women in Borooha et al’s (1997: 86) study ofNorthern Irish business owners described their gender as hindering their access to external finance; many complained that banks “took them seriously only when the chosen business was in ‘women’s’ area”. Marlow and Strange (1994: 181) contended that “bank managers are still reluctant to fund female ventures, particularly those which stray beyond traditional feminized occupations”. And, in interviews with male and female bankers, Blake (2006) found that certain sectors (such as construction) were seen as more appropriate for male owners while others were deemed suitable for women. A male loan officer in that study cited the example of a female who began a cleaning firm with a loan from his bank. Despite the applicant’s previous job as an auto mechanic, the banker admitted that he would have had “a greater degree of difficulty granting the loan to her if she had wanted to start a business as a mechanic” (Blake, 2006: 195).
With regard to employee relations, Herrick’s (1999) case study comparing the experiences of two upper level female managers in one manufacturing firm is illuminating because it highlights the importance ofboth sex segregation and the gender typicality of roles on staff attitudes to managers. This manufacturing firm, known as Phoenix, is described as highly sex segregated – all forklift drivers, warehouse foremen and supervisors are men, whereas women are found in clerical roles. One of the subjects of the case study, Rose, is a new senior level manager who is responsible for all-male staff. Rose is recognized as competent but disliked and viewed as a “bitch”. Because of this, her subordinates refuse to take orders and will not work under her. Finally, she is replaced by “a strapping 6’2”, no-nonsense kind of guy, someone tried-and-true from the old days. He too barks directions, and he too is soon disliked, but orders begin to go out on time. Now Rose’s only duties are the distribution computer work. Rose seems relieved. She begins to smile more. She begins to wear her hair in a ponytail and chat with other employees. Some of the guys in the warehouse – much to their own amazement – begin to find her attractive. They claim she ‘looks different somehow – softer’. They even flirt with her and dare to consider asking her out” (Herrick, 1999: 287). It is interesting that despite the male replacement’s use ofthe same “no-nonsense” style of management as Rose, his authority was accepted. This is because the male employees found those qualities natural and acceptable for a man. To emphasize the point, Herrick also describes the experience of another female senior manager. This manager, Kathy, is well liked and powerful in the organization, which is partly attributed to her role as personnel manager (a stereotypically female role), and partly to her effort to behave “in accordance with the local norms at Phoenix for feminine behavior – baking cookies for people’s birthdays, circulating birthday cards, arranging for cakes and parties to commemorate employee anniversaries, organizing baby showers for the women in the plant, providing candy for every team meeting, listening to complaints and problems, and never openly confronting anyone” (ibid: 291).
Identifying and appropriating business resources may mean aggre ssive networking activity. And, endorsing one’s own talents, skills, accomplishments and strengths is essential in situations where an individual is in a minority. However, tactics of impression management are much more difficult – and dangerous – for women to employ successfully, particularly to male audiences (Carli 2001). In one study, Rudman (1998) found that women who behave confidently and assertively are evaluated more negatively and are socially less popular than males following the same strategy. This is because in youth, males are socialized to be competitive and outspoken, whereas females are taught to be community-oriented and modest (Reskin 1993; Heilman and Chen 2003). Individuals that capitulate to perceivers ’ expectations, whilst reconfirming gender stereotypes, create an environment that is socioculturally comfortable to all parties. Thus, both men and women exert greater influence when acing in a gender stereotypical manner (Carli 2006). In the workplace, women in managerial roles are trapped in a bind where they are perceived as “either likeable but weak and ineffective, or as unlikeable but competent and professional” (Herrick, 1999: 275). This explains why women who show communality (for example, by nodding and smiling) exert more influence than women who do not (Carli, 2001).
The literature examined above suggests that women in male dominated business contexts face a greater degree of stereotyping from male associates because of commonly held gendered beliefs about their abilities in the field. These observations explain why the “old boys’ network” which supplies its members with crucial insider information on business trends has been identified as a major hindrance to the operation and growth of women owned, traditionally male firms (Weiler & Bernasek, 2001). On the other hand, “in industries where men-owned businesses historically have had strong support from customers, business networks, and families, they probably continue to receive it” (Bird and Sapp 2004: 10). The answer for many women is to carve out same-sex networks. For example, there is evidence that women nontraditional business owners hire a disproportionate number of female staff than men in the same industry (Smith, Smits et al. 1992; Verheul, Risseeuw et al. 2002). However, as the studies below show, segregation may be no more beneficial in helping these women to secure business resources.