Does Gender Matter in Corporate Entrepreneurship?

Gender inequality reduces intrapreneurship development in organizations, for both men and women

¿Importa el género en el emprendimiento corporativo?

Although traditional entrepreneurship with a gender perspective has been researched extensively, little is known about the effect of gender on corporate entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. Despite the growing proportion of professional women in organizations–and government efforts to foster gender equality in the labor market–the figures show a significant gender gap in terms of the number of female vs. male intrapreneurs.

These gender differences are not the same in every country, since they depend on the social and cultural environments that have an impact at the individual level. In this sense, gender equality is reflected in the similar opportunities that exist for women and men to explore and exploit new entrepreneurial ideas within organizations.

In our study, recently published in Small Business Economics (2022) and cowritten with Maribel Guerreo, from Newcastle Business School - Northumbria University, we proved the positive effect of gender equality in the workplace on the participation of both women and men in intrapreneurship activities. By studying a sample of 50,050 employees from 50 countries, sourced mainly from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) surveys, we found that inequalities between men and women reduce the development of corporate entrepreneurship for both genders.

Why is intrapreneurship important for organizations? Research has shown that organizations that promote corporate entrepreneurship are more innovative and inclusive, create more jobs, have a higher employee retention/hiring rate, and, logically, more often support their workers’ entrepreneurial initiatives.

Our article considers two corporate entrepreneurship perspectives: social feminist and liberal feminist. The former allows us to explain that gender differences are correlated at the country level and can be associated with the structural barriers and discriminatory behaviors observed in organizations. The latter suggests that there are no gender differences in terms of individual characteristics, but there is a glass ceiling that prevents women from flourishing as corporate entrepreneurs.

Nowadays, stereotypes regarding the intrapreneurship capacities of men and women abound. The psychological traits attributed to men are favorable for entrepreneurship, such as greater security, results orientation, self-confidence, competence, risk-taking, and high-achieving. However, women are associated with qualities that are considered less suitable for this activity, such as being supportive, empathetic, and caring about others.

In this article, we have examined (and hypothesized about) six of the factors involved in gender inequality:

  1. Gender inequality: The negative gender bias towards women is the result of gaps existing in the workplace.
  2. Culture and social norms: Social perceptions vary between male and female cultures, for example, regarding risk-taking and proactive behaviors.
  3. Entrepreneurial skills: The innovative attitudes and values ​​of an entrepreneurial culture develop similarly when an organization fosters equality and diversity.
  4. Fear of failure: Although risk-taking is a characteristic that contributes to gender differences, risk tolerance and other entrepreneurial traits are common to men and women entrepreneurs alike.
  5. Networks: We assume that there are no key differences between women’s and men’s contribution to corporate entrepreneurship networks.
  6. Opportunity recognition: We do not consider differences between women’s and men’s ability to detect and take advantage of opportunities to develop products/services.

Regardless of gender, we found that corporate entrepreneurship occurs less in countries with a high level of inequality. Therefore, inequality affects labor force participation in intrapreneurial activities.

The conclusions of our study indicate that gender differences in corporate entrepreneurship can be explained by country-level conditions. Inequality is negatively associated with entrepreneurial attitudes, but it depends on each region. One possible explanation is that women are often involved in independent entrepreneurial activities in the most unequal and least developed countries, particularly those that characteristically have fewer employment and educational opportunities. In these contexts, the women entrepreneurs who manage to access corporations are the most highly educated.

Inequality becomes irrelevant in efficiency- and innovation-based economies owing to the labor policies implemented in many organizations. At the individual level, workforce characteristics (skills, networks, and business climate) are strongly linked to corporate entrepreneurship activities.

In response to the question asked in the title of our research, Does gender matter in corporate entrepreneurship?, the answer is: Yes, an inclusive workforce matters. Among the elements analyzed, inequality strongly conditions entrepreneurship for both men and women. Lastly, our findings underscore the importance of establishing mechanisms to close the gender gap in organizations across the world. 

The authors are National Director of Doctoral Programs at EGADE Business School (José Ernesto Amorós) and professor of entrepreneurship at the Undergraduate Business School, Tecnológico de Monterrey (Linda Ruiz).

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