Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs: Exploring the Interpersonal Behaviors of Developing, Maintaining, and Leveraging "Social Capital"

By Knopik, Margareta Smith; Moerer, Tamara | Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs: Exploring the Interpersonal Behaviors of Developing, Maintaining, and Leveraging "Social Capital"


Knopik, Margareta Smith, Moerer, Tamara, Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal


INTRODUCTION

The best leadership is found by choosing leaders from the largest pool of talent, and that includes women. Opening doors for women fosters equal opportunity and can help a society to allocate its human resources optimally. With excellence in leadership in short supply, no group, organization, or nation should tolerate the losses that follow from unfairly restricting women's access to leadership roles (Eagly & Carli, 2007, p. 11).

"In the present ever-changing world, the importance of innovation can hardly be overestimated" (Nijhof, Krabbendam, & Looise, 2002, p. 675). However, it has been noted that "one of the most critical needs for women entrepreneurs lies in a non-technical area: the development of networks and mentors" (Kickul, Gundry, & Sampson, 2007, p. 169). How do innovative women, who often find themselves sandwiched somewhere in the middle both professionally and personally learn to make use of their relationships for purposes of bringing the best of their ideas to fruition?

Historically, women have fallen short of men in career advancement opportunities. Barriers have been coined as: the "concrete wall," "glass ceiling," and labyrinth," all contributing to gender-based discrimination in the areas of hiring, wages, and job promotion. Longitudinal research has attributed the phenomenon of the "old boys network' (an informal male network with a significant masculine support system, based on gender) as a lingering factor in restricting women's progression in the workplace. The concrete wall prohibited women from entering the business workplace due to biological reasons ("women must assume the role of homemaker"). The glass ceiling was the invisible barrier that prevented women from advancing in their careers to higher levels occupied by male colleagues ("women are not capable of positions of leadership authority"), and the less obvious labyrinth describes the circuitous path that inhibits women from reaching the leadership pinnacle in business ("despite expanding opportunities, women's access is bound by challenges of maneuvering the maze and dead ends which restrict her progress). Eagly and Carli offer advice to women professionals for coping in the workplace, "First, women should demonstrate that they are both agentic and communal, and second, they should create social capital" (2007, p. 11).

Two qualitative research papers, written by the researchers of this current study in 2008 and 2010, explored differences between females who were considered entrepreneurial and those who exhibited traits attributable to leaders. Observations arising from the 2008 study led the researchers to conclude that entrepreneurs in the study tended to focus on themselves and customers, with no mention of the team (i.e., employees). This "does not mean that entrepreneurs do not struggle to build a support team ... it is just that it is not as important to entrepreneurs that everyone be committed to the vision, only that the work gets done well" (p. 148). "Leadership isn't about the leader ... it's about the relationships between the leader and all of the people around him or her" (Knopik & Moerer) and "a shared sense of purpose" (p. 147). The research paper published in 2010 focused on validating a method for identifying the participants as entrepreneurs or leaders for purposes of examining behaviors and attitudes of each group; a process which was used for the current research.

Comments made by respondents in the 2010 study were intriguing as there were significant differences in how the two groups of professional women (i.e., entrepreneurs and leaders) leveraged social capital. Responses from the entrepreneurial group overwhelmingly focused on "I," whether they referred to using friends to broaden personal professional experiences, using their networks for new business and employee recruitment or indicating availability if a friend needed a sounding board (Knopik & Moerer, 2010, p. …

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