By Jinyi Han

Entrepreneurship is commonly regarded as a male-dominated field, generating little success or long-term prosperity for women entrepreneurs. The men in this domain can appear intimidating and competitive which work together to potentially put women off and lead them to other careers.

The gender disparity issue within entrepreneurship has been credited to a mismatch between the personalities frequently attributed to women and those of successful entrepreneurs (1). Moreover, findings show that women tend to be more motivated by necessity than opportunity, have lower professional self-esteem, and have higher fear of failure (2).

At the Impact Centre in the University of Toronto, an entrepreneurship-focused course called “Exploring New Ventures” is offered to students of various backgrounds. The gender distribution of students enrolled in the course has been observed in our entrepreneurship-focused course throughout the past 3.5 years and counting to determine whether a gender disparity is present.

The data from a total of 148 students from summer 2015 until spring 2018 were compiled and analyzed according to the students’ programs of study and genders. Commerce and Sciences students were evenly split among this population. However, since there were very few students from Social Science and Humanities backgrounds, that portion of the data was excluded from the analysis.

Across the years, we found that 54% of the students enrolled in the course were women and 46% were men. This may not seem surprising considering that the gender distribution of the student population for each field of study in the course is consistent with the institution-wide gender distribution of these field of studies (i.e. Sciences and Commerce) (4). However, industry wide participation of women in entrepreneurship is markedly underrepresented. For example, in comparison to a Statistics Canada report from 2013, women only made up 35.6% of total entrepreneurs in Canada (3). The more specific gender distribution of women in STEM-based entrepreneurship has not been systematically analyzed or reported (5). Therefore, it may seem atypical that within our entrepreneurship program women are overrepresented.

We also speculate that the gender disparity seen for decades in areas of innovation and leadership may be due to women’s self-selection out of leadership roles (6). Women in general tend to be more social – they would rather focus on building community and relationships rather than competing with one another in a cutthroat job market (2).

It is worth noting that neither the entrepreneurship course’s title “Exploring New Ventures” nor the course’s description include any explicit solicitation or targeting based on gender, so the question remains: can the overrepresentation of women in our entrepreneurial internship course be attributed to implicit appeal or a lack of explicit deterrent?

Implicit appeal may be incited through the way that entrepreneurship is presented and contextualized at the Impact Centre. Normally, entrepreneurship focuses on maximizing profits and outcompeting rival companies. However, the Impact Centre’s focus on using entrepreneurship to produce societal benefits may be generally more appealing to women than to men. Even without explicitly focusing on women, it is reasonable to assume that the message implicitly taps into their value systems.

Furthermore, explicit deterrents are likely avoided considering that the course title does not include the word “entrepreneurship.” It is possible that the prospect of exploring new ventures is more exciting and less daunting than exploring entrepreneurship.

Further inquiry is warranted to consider other rationales for students to take this course, besides an interest or passion in entrepreneurship. For example, some students may be looking to gain real work experience, regardless of their interests in the start-up environment. Others may be looking for a course they may believe to be easier than a theoretically heavy course to fulfill degree requirements, or just simply wish to try something new.

Although we are seeing interest in entrepreneurship from women within our course, there is still a lot to be done to expand that enthusiasm on national and global scales. The hope is that one step at a time toward progress may lead us to a completely different atmosphere within the entrepreneurship world.

References:

  1. Brooks AW, Huang L, Kearny SW, Murray FE. 2014. Investors prefer entrepreneurial ventures pitched by attractive men. 111(12): 4427-4431.
  2. Brush C. 2013. Forbes [Internet]. Revisiting The Gender GAP In Women’s Entrepreneurship: What Holds Women Back? Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/babson/2013/08/08/revisiting-the-gender-gap-in-womens-entrepreneurship-what-holds-women-back/#651b9ae86b32
  3. Mousseau JL, Hawa Z. 2014. The Canadian Trade. Canada [Internet]. Facts and Figures on Canadian Women Entrepreneurs. Available from: http://www.owit-ottawa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Facts-and-figures-on-women-entrepreneurs.pdf
  4. University of Toronto [Internet]. 2016. Facts & Figures 2016. Available from: https://www.utoronto.ca/sites/default/files/Facts%20%20Figures%202016%20online.pdf
  5. Kushcel K, Ettl K, Diaz-Garcia C, Alsos GA. Women Entrepreneurship within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Int Entrep Manag J. 1554-7191.
  6. Fouad NA, Chang W, Wan M, Singh R. 2017. Women’s Reasons for Leaving the Engineering Field. Front Psychol. 8: 875.