Forced to Play by the Rules? Theorizing How Mixed-Sex Founding Teams Benefit Women Entrepreneurs in Male-Dominated Contexts

Article excerpt

We examine how establishing a mixed-sex entrepreneurial founding team may benefit women entrepreneurs in male-dominated cultures and industries. We contend that as a result of sex-based stereotypes, women entrepreneurs face unique obstacles in securing access to resources for their ventures. We argue that one way for women entrepreneurs to overcome these obstacles is to partner with a man. Drawing upon institutional, resource-based, and network theories, we theorize how partnering with a man may help provide women entrepreneurs in male-dominated contexts with enhanced legitimacy, access to a larger number of resources, and a stronger, more diverse social network.


While women-owned entrepreneurial endeavors continue to grow as a driving force in the United States and global economy (Greene, Hart, Gatewood, Brush, & Carter, 2003; Jalbert, 2000), many industry segments and business cultures continue to be male-dominated within the United States and other industrialized countries, posing unique challenges to women entrepreneurs. For example, while women own nearly 50% of U.S. businesses, more than half of those businesses are in the retail and service industries. Many primary industries such as construction, agriculture, transportation, information technology (IT), and finance remain male-dominated, with female-owned firms ranging only between 10 and 20% (Center for Women's Business Research, 2005, 2001). This trend does not appear unique to the United States, for a similar pattern of female ownership is seen in other countries as well. In Canada, the manufacturing, knowledge-based, agriculture, forestry, and energy sectors all exhibit below-rate participation by female majority owners (Industry Canada, 2003), and in the United Kingdom, recent surveys have also indicated an underrepresentation of women in the manufacturing, construction, transportation, and agricultural sectors (Carter, Tagg, & Brierton, 2002). In addition to the challenges posed by male-dominated industries, many women entrepreneurs around the globe also continue to face patriarchal societies, where male-centric attitudes predominate (Carr, Chen, & Jhabvala, 1996; Kabeer, 2000; Kantor, 2003; Shaheed, 1989). India, Iran, and Japan are but three examples of the many nations with traditionally male-focused attitudes that impact the nature of business conducted within those cultures. While the degree of male dominance and subsequent authority within business contexts may vary across these cultures, they nonetheless pose particular challenges to women entrepreneurs.

For women entrepreneurs working within these male-dominated industries and cultures, gender arguably remains a salient issue as they attempt to secure resources and to create a new venture. As Eagly and Karau (2002, p. 574) suggest, "a potential for prejudice exists when social perceivers hold a stereotype about a social group (i.e., women) that is incongruent with the attributes that are thought to be required for success in certain classes of social roles (i.e., entrepreneurs)." And, unfortunately, sex-based (1) stereotyping remains a social reality. Compared with women, men are believed to be more instrumental or task oriented, persistent, risk taking, confident, autonomous, able to lead, and knowledgeable about business (Buttner & Rosen, 1988; Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Sexton & Bowman-Upton, 1990; Stuhlmacher & Walters, 1999). In a study of women entrepreneurs, Baker, Aldrich, and Liou (1997) suggested that as scholars and the mass media have increasingly considered women's entrepreneurship less novel and newsworthy, they may also have helped foster a social dialogue that reinforces traditional female career and ownership paths (such as "lifestyle" entrepreneurship, a focus on service industries and retail, etc.), and a portrayal of female entrepreneurship as ancillary to the economy. Such stereotypes and social discourse (or lack thereof) help perpetuate the "think manager-think male" mentality in society (Schein, 1973; Schein, 2001). …