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Women Entrepreneurs: Challenging Conventional Theories through Intersectionality. Le point de vue de Corinne POROLI et Stéphanie CHASSERIO, SKEMA Business School

LOGO SKEMA-BS-emailpetit.jpgNous vous proposons ci-dessous la lecture d'un article sur les femmes entrepreneures co-rédigé par Corinne POROLI et Stéphanie CHASSERIO de SKEMA Business School, partenaire de Femmes 3000.

Dans cet article, intitulé "Women entrepreneurs: challenging traditional theories through intersectionality", les visions traditionnelles de l'entrepreneuriat (fortement marquées par le "masculin") sont remises en perspective. Une lecture nouvelle à travers le cadre de l'intersectionnalité pour mieux comprendre le vécu des femmes entrepreneures est proposé.

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Women Entrepreneurs: Challenging Conventional Theories through Intersectionality

A growing body of researchers from various theoretical standpoints (Ahl, 2006; Brush et al., 2009; Calas et al., 2009) insists on limits of traditional theories in entrepreneurship to grasp women’s entrepreneurship phenomenon. According to them, theoretical frameworks of the mainstream literature appear clearly gendered. Thus academic studies which are supposedly gender-neutral are, in fact, structured following a masculine point of view.

Thus, most often only male entrepreneurs are depicted; however findings are addressed to both men and women (Fälthom et al., 2010). Thus how to understand and read women’s reality with such male gendered frameworks? Moreover the traditional positivist view of the entrepreneur doesn’t consider social dimensions of human life (Ogbor, 2000). By omitting historical and social variables, it produces an incomplete view of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is considered as static and disconnected of the rest of social life (Ahl, 2006; Bruin et al. 2007; Brush et al., 2009; Calas et al., 2009). This disembodied vision of entrepreneur could not be applied to women and probably could not be applied to contemporaneous men either. Indeed studies pinpoint that all roles and dimensions of women’s life are deeply intertwined (Bruni et al., 2005; Edwards and Rothbard, 2000; Powell and Greenhaus, 2010 and 2006). Therefore several authors (Bowen and Hisrich, 1986; Brush et al., 2009; Calas et al., 2009; Jennings and McDougald, 2007) propose to enlarge and/or to change traditional frameworks by considering social dimensions in entrepreneurship.

To explore this new perspective, our study focuses on multiplicity of women entrepreneurs (WE) identities, how these identities interact, and how WE manage these interactions and intersections. To conduct such an analysis, the intersectionality framework appears particularly relevant. Intersectionality knows an increasing success particularly in women’s studies (Mc Call, 2005). The intersectionality framework concerns intersections of race and gender, but also often of class and sexuality (Cole, 2009). In fact, it considers all social categories (such as gender, race, class and sexuality) as inextricably interconnected (Crenshaw, 1997).

Intersectionality is now used in an extensive way. It enables to introduce in research theoretical frameworks multiple memberships of individuals. Therefore intersectionality could be a powerful and helpful framework to draw identities as multiple, complex and ambivalent (Essers et al., 2010). It is the reason why we would like to use the lens of intersectionality to capture multidimensionality of WE’s identity. In that way, intersectionality grid challenges the traditional framework of entrepreneurship. Then it could help us to shed light on the multiples interactions between WEs’ identities and their related roles, and how all the life’s dimensions are interdependent, sometimes positively or negatively. The study of WE calls into question different aspects of the mainstream literature and can highlight the inadequacy of the model not only for women but also for men.

Considering that, our aims in this study were the following:

-          Observe the dynamic of multiple and intertwined identities of WE with  the lense of intersectionality

-          Question our influence as women researchers on our respondents, women entrepreneurs.

-          Finally, through the WE’s case, reappraise the conventional academic viewpoint on entrepreneurship which depicts a white rational one-dimensional man.

For this study, we adopted qualitative methodological design. First of all, majority of studies and data available on this topic in France are quantitative. These data are mainly descriptive and don’t allow a deep understanding of the entrepreneurial phenomenon, and more particularly of the process of identity construction of WE. Moreover, according to an intersectional viewpoint, qualitative research enable “to delve in to the complexities of social life – to reveal diversity, variation, and heterogeneity” (McCall, 2005). Several scholars (Ahl, 2006; Bruin et al. 2007, 2009) note the lack of qualitative studies on WE, and recommend using narratives methodologies to develop theories on WE.

41 French WE, were interviewed from October 2009 to March 2011 on following topics: information on the current situation of the firm, context of business venturing, entrepreneur’s education, financial aspects of the venture, networking, work and family conciliation issues and representation of success. The in-depth interviews have been realized in their company facility by researchers. They lasted between one hour and two hours and a half. To gather data on WE, we have collaborated with a French business women network (FCE Grand Lille). Therefore, a part of our respondents has been found thanks to this network (22/41 respondents). We have also got in touch with personal relationships and with entrepreneurs mentioned in local newspapers or economic newsletters, or by other entrepreneurs (19/41).To put it in a nutshell, our sample is not statistically representative. In fact, our objective is to illustrate the various situations of WE. We want here to avoid the traditional temptation to gather WE in only one category. On the contrary, we aim to bring out the diversity of their profiles and activities.

The findings reveal the ability of these WE to deal with numerous and various identities. Their daily strategies to accommodate different roles depict how their entrepreneurial activity is intertwined with their personal and social life. The use of an intersectional framework enables us to make visible interactions and intersections among identities. We are far away from the picture of a monolithic entrepreneur without social dimensions. Given that, our findings broaden the too simplistic vision of WE as an homogeneous whole. Within this group of French WE, our analysis reveals differences and diverse profiles. It also brings a nuanced understanding of complexity and multidimensionality of their daily life.

As researcher, we are also conscious that our research itself has contributed to build the recognition of these women themselves as entrepreneurs. During the interviews, they talk about themselves, about their life. In fact, through this narrative process, they build their own identity. As mentioned by Alvesson and Due Billing (2009:103), “through describing oneself in a particular way, one expresses and reinforces a particular identity”. So, taking part in this research, WE express and reinforce their own identity as entrepreneurs. To extent, we are a part of their ongoing process of entrepreneurial identity construction.

Finally, we believe that our findings could be a first step to highlight the diversity among WE. For instance, our study reveals the diversity of profiles, paths, and identities building of entrepreneurs. In this manner, we contribute to question the vision of entrepreneurship in the traditional literature. But as several authors (Ahl, 2006; Calas et al. 2009), we consider that an important effort of “deconstruction” is still necessary in the field of entrepreneurship.

Stéphanie Chasserio et Corinne Poroli

Stéphanie Chasserio – Professor and researcher at SKEMA Business School, member of the Women Equity for Growth scientific committee. She has an MBA from Laval University in Quebec, Canada, and a PhD in Organizational management and human resources from the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada.

Corinne Poroli – Professor and researcher in entrepreneurship at SKEMA Business School, member of the Women Equity for Growth scientific committee. She holds a PhD in Management Sciences from ESSEC Business School, France.

Key words: Entrepreneurship, Gender, Women, Identity, Intersectionality, Qualitative research

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