Advancing debate: An epistemological critique of the relationship between gender, entrepreneurship and firm performance


Purpose owned businesses are frequently described as under-performing in that the majority remain small and marginal. We dispute this description; within this paper, we argue that such performance profiles reflect the constrained performance of most small firms. The assertion that women owned firms under-perform reflects a gendered bias within the entrepreneurial discourse where femininity and deficit are deemed coterminous. In addition, women owned firms are expected to under-perform given expectations of female weakness in the context of male normativity and superiority. Accordingly, we critically evaluate the association between gender and business performance suggesting that this critique has implications for the broader development of our understanding of entrepreneuring behaviours.

Design/methodology/approach – This is a conceptual research note which explores the notion of performance and under-performance in the context of gender. Findings – We argue that gendered socio-economic positioning ensures that women owned businesses demonstrate constrained performance but this is not synonymous with under-performance. Furthermore, ingrained gendered biases persist which portray women as flawed entrepreneurs despite the absence of convincing data regarding essential gendered differences between the performance of male and female entrepreneurs.

Research limitations/implications – We suggest that far greater reflexive criticism is called for regarding epistemological assumptions which shape the current research agenda. Originality/value – This discussion develops a critical analysis of the association between gender, performance and entrepreneuring.
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