Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Same Crisis, Different Strategies? Italian Men and Women Entrepreneurs in Front of the Economic Recession

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Same Crisis, Different Strategies? Italian Men and Women Entrepreneurs in Front of the Economic Recession

Article excerpt


The global economic and financial crisis that began in the USA between 2005 and 2006 spilled over to other economies and triggered a global recession, causing an economic downturn in Italy too. Between 2007 and 2013, two-thirds of the main sectors of national economy declined by more than 20% and in the period 2011-2013 national sales decreased by about 17% (Istat, 2014).

The most critical years were 2008-2009 and 2012-2013 as in these periods GDP, industrial turnover and households' final consumption expenditure has constantly decreased, while unemployment rate constantly increased (World Bank, 2014).

This recession has had a considerable impact on Italian businesses. Company mortality rate, the number of bankruptcies and non-bankruptcy insolvency proceedings has continued growing relentlessly (Cerved, 2014). Even in 2013, the negative effects of the crisis were anything but mild. In that year, 111,000 businesses closed down, 7.3% more than in 2012. Similar trend for bankruptcies: in 2013 they were 14,000, an increase of 12% compared to the record already achieved in the previous year. And again in 2013 three thousands companies were involved in non-bankruptcy insolvency proceedings, an increase of 53.8% over the previous year (Cerved, 2014). However at a national level, company birth and mortality rates have consistently shown that female-owned enterprises fare better. For instance, in the period 2011-2012 the stock of Italian enterprises decreased 0.49% (29,911 enterprises), while the number of women-owned businesses showed only a very slight reduction (-0.04%, 593 enterprises). In the period December 2012-December 2013, moreover, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 0.75% (+10,713 units), a value higher than that reported in all Italian companies, equal to 0.56%. More recently, using data available as at 31 March 2014, women-owned businesses increased by 6,605 units over the past 12 months, thus achieving a growth rate of 0.51%, more than twice that in the total enterprises (0.2%) (Unioncamere, 2013).

In summary, these data clearly demonstrate that, at the aggregate level, women-owned businesses in Italy have shown a greater resistance and have been able to deal with the crisis better than male companies. In this context, it is important to understand how companies have dealt with the crisis and what strategies men- and women-owned businesses have taken to deal with the economic downturn.

In business strategy studies there is a range of strategies that companies can adopt when they face a crisis. The main ones are the following: restructuring strategies; downsizing strategies; innovation and development strategies; reorganization strategies (Latham, 2009; Kitching et al. 2009; Thompson et al., 2009; Sternad, 2012). These different strategies can be traced back to two main opposed approaches (Miles and Snow, 1978; Deans, 2009):

* on one hand, a defensive approach, focused on short-term and based on the adoption of measures aimed at maintaining efficiency and guaranteeing the survival of the business with restructuring and/or resizing strategies;

* on the other hand, an offensive approach, oriented towards the mediumlong term and realized through new investments and an innovation process to maintain and strengthen the competitive advantage adopting reorganization and/or innovation/development strategies.

It is a matter of fact that these two perspectives lead to a dilemma for entrepreneurs: which of these approaches is more appropriate to adopt? Some authors underlined that several factors can affect the choice of ways in which firms react to an economic crisis, for instance: size (Drummond and Chell, 1994; Pearce and Michael, 1997; Dean et al., 1998; DeDee and Vorbies, 1998; Carr et al., 2004), industry (Churchill and Lewis, 1984; Shama, 1993; Srinivasan et al., 2005), the capital structure of the firm and its ratios of debt to assets (Ofek, 1993), the age of the firm (Latham, 2009). …

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