Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Gender Differences in External Networks of Small Business Owner-Managers

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Gender Differences in External Networks of Small Business Owner-Managers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: DIFFERENCE DE SEXE DANS LES RESEAUX D'ECHANGE

EXTERIEUR UTILISES PAR LES PROPRIETAIRES/MANAGERS

DE PETITES ENTREPRISES

Cette etude compare les reseaux d'echange constitues par les petits entreprises proprietaires/managers des deux sexes. Au cours de 1'entrevue accordee par 58 femmes et 59 hommes, reprobsentatifs de ce groupe professionnel, on a pu dibterminer la nature de leurs sources d'informations instrumentales, dans le domaine de la planification et de la prise de decisions. I1 apparait, comme premiere difference, que les femmes entrepreneurs utilisent beaucoup plus souvent des sources feminines que ne le font leurs contre-pardes masculines. Des resultats qualitatifs reielent qu'elles en regoivent egalement un soutien social. L'auteur conclue en encourageantl'ensemble des femmes/chefs de petites entreprises a joindre ce genre de rctsbseaux d'information.

Strong network ties have traditionally been perceived as a means of obtaining power that is seen as critical to a manager's success.' As a result, frequent reference is made to the "Old Boys' Network" and much research examines organizational networks. However, research on networks most frequently is within large organizations; little is known about the power structure of small business managers in external network ties.

External networks, however, can also lead to power for small business managers. Personal contacts with knowledgeable people outside the organization can substitute for expensive paid consulting as well as develop valuable product ideas.

Women's Networks

Although more and more women are owning and managing small businesses, research on women's networks is less prevalent than research on male-dominated networks. Research indicates, however, that women establish different methods for facilitating contacts than do men. For instance, DeWine and Casbolt explain that men's networks are generally informal while women have formalized this activity. Women's business networks are the result of a deliberate strategy of linking women with other women to expand contacts, provide successful role models for each other, generate solutions to problems, and disseminate information. Herein lies an important point: These networks are largely women communicating with other women.

If the purpose of these networks were instrumental rather than social, women in men-dominated environments might obtain a greater variety of information if they networked with some men rather than all women. But this does not seem to be the case with formally organized women's business networks, which are women networking with women. This is not to say all-women networks are bad. It only describes what appears to be the current situation. A look at a definition of networking from the popular press adds some insights. In a book targeted to businesswomen, networking is defined as "the process of developing and using your contacts for information, advice and moral support as you pursue your career." This definition suggests that women's networks may be fulfilling social as well as instrumental needs.

Another reason that many femaledominated networks exist could be that women may not be allowed to break away from the all-female network. Several researchers found that women were less central to men's networks, especially the network of the dominant coalition. Also, women have a difficult time finding male mentors, and occupational prestige is sex-linked.

Supporting this notion is research conducted in the 1970s indicating that men did not perceive women to be compatible with high-achieving business positions.10 Added to this is research that indicates both men and women prefer interacting with members of the same sex in the work environment." In summary, this research indicates that women have not broken into the formal male-dominated network, possibly because they are perceived as tokens and less competent. …

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