Women Business Owners in France: The Issue of Financing Discrimination

Article excerpt

Over the last twenty years, academics and economic organizations have demonstrated a growing interest in women entrepreneurs, especially in the United States and Canada where the number of women-owned businesses has been rising. Female entrepreneurship is now considered one of the sources of growth, employment, and innovation. However, very little is known about women entrepreneurs in France, except for basic national statistics, especially at the start-up stage (INSEE 1998; ANCE [1]). In 1998, France had 1,400,000 firms, of which 30 percent (320,000) were owned and managed by women. Among these 320,000 women-owned firms, 55 percent had no employees, 38 percent had from one to nine employees, and 7 percent had 10 employees or more. Taken as a whole, female-owned firms are smaller than those owned by men. As in all other developed countries, these firms operate mostly in retail trade and services (INSEE 1998).

One of the most interesting issues about female entrepreneurship is the way women entrepreneurs forge their own paths in the male-dominated sphere of business and finance. Women in business often claim they are discriminated against in both overt and subtle ways. Previous quantitative studies exploring this discrimination have been rather inconclusive, especially about access to financing--one of the main issues pointed to when discrimination is suggested. Thus, the question remains to be answered, as some still insist discrimination occurs. For example, Hisrich (1985) asserts that, "While financing is a problem for every entrepreneur, for women entrepreneurs the problem is often more acute" (p. 73). The aim of this article is to provide further insight into the issue of financing for female-owned businesses in France, considering both sides of the coin: the financial institutions and the women entrepreneurs. The analysis is based on a combination of previous studies, a questionnaire, and some interviews wit h French women entrepreneurs.

Historically in France, the popular expression "women hold the purse strings" held true as long as only small amounts of money were involved. If there was little money, women were in charge of it; if there was a lot of money, providing access to power and prestige, women were not permitted to manage it. For example, until 1965, a married woman could not open a credit account without her husband's consent (Veil 1994). Considering such a "coercive" past, it is interesting to look at the way French women entrepreneurs currently manage financing within their firms.

Methodology

A general survey with 240 items constitutes the core of this study. Two sets of data were used: data on male-owned businesses dating from 1994 and data for female-owned businesses from 1997. [2] The sample was chosen randomly from national statistics provided by INSEE and resulted in responses from 562 male entrepreneurs and 403 female entrepreneurs. The response rates for this mailed questionnaire were thirteen percent and eight percent respectively, which appears low but fairly represents the initial mailing samples. Due to the small size of the typical female-owned firm, the 1997 questionnaire included firms with 1-499 employees (85 percent had only one to nine employees), while the size of the male-owned firms ranged from 10-499 employees. For accurate comparisons with the male group, data on female-run firms of 10-499 employees were collected and analyzed separately.

In addition to the surveys, thirty interviews were conducted with women entrepreneurs from three geographical areas of France (Brittany, Paris, and Lyon), with businesses in industry, construction, transportation, sales, and retail trade. In terms of the origin of the business, 65 percent of the female entrepreneurs either created or took over an existing business, while the remaining 35 percent had inherited the business from a member of their family.

Results

Motivations. Table 1 presents the findings on the motivations that drive the respondents in their business. …