Strategies to promote female entrepreneurship


Visualize a highly successful entrepreneur. How do you imagine it? Determined, without fear of risk, self-confident, and probably many have visualized… a man. Entrepreneurship remains a stereotypically male career.

And why should we care about entrepreneurship? Because entrepreneurship is essential for economic development and job creation. Therefore, the need to stimulate entrepreneurial attitudes is widely recognized. In this sense, women are a target of special interest, given the gender gap that exists in this field.

Female entrepreneurial spirit

Entrepreneurship education can help increase female entrepreneurship. Not surprisingly, the stereotypes mentioned above weigh on women’s attitudes towards entrepreneurship. Even with the same education and background, women often feel less confident and prepared to undertake than men .

That certain insecurity and lack of preparation that some women feel has to do with the perception of their competences more than with their real capacities . But the perception, although it does not correspond to reality, has a direct impact on reality: feeling less prepared or more insecure causes them to have less interest in entrepreneurship than men, and therefore they do it less.

Academic activities and entrepreneurship

To better understand how entrepreneurship education can contribute to reducing this gap, our study analyzes when and for whom participation in different academic activities increases the attraction to entrepreneurship.

To do this, we use a sample of 918 students from a French business school and study the gender differences in the impact that nine “inspiring” academic activities have on the attraction to entrepreneurship. We also study differences by academic year.

Specifically, students were asked if they remembered any events or activities at school that had dramatically changed their “heart and mind” and encouraged them to consider becoming an entrepreneur.

Among the events or activities that they remembered, there were opinions from a teacher, an external speaker or an entrepreneur visiting the school to that of the judges of some entrepreneurship competition organized at the school; going through meetings with aspiring entrepreneurs, or recent or young entrepreneurs, the preparation of a business plan competition, participation in associations created by students at the school, and having worked at the school with teams made up of students from other disciplines .

We analyze the impact of each of these activities on the attraction to entrepreneurship. To make sure that we were measuring the impact of the activity and not other things, we took into account other factors that could influence the attraction to entrepreneurship, such as having work experience or having a relative who is an entrepreneur.

The most effective activities for them

We find that inspirational activities are mainly effective in increasing the attraction to entrepreneurship for women (the impact on men is very small). Also that its degree of effectiveness differs according to the academic year. The most effective activity for women is the preparation of a business plan contest, an example of an experiential activity. In general, we found that the positive impact of experiential learning activities is greater for women than for men.

Preparing for a business plan contest for months within a stable group allows women to compare themselves and overcome stereotypes. In addition, knowing future, recent or young entrepreneurs (with similar ages to those of the students, allowing them to see themselves as entrepreneurs), and the opinions of the teachers (their continuous contact with the students means that they can play an important role in ensuring that the female students feel that entrepreneurship is an attractive option) are also very relevant for women.

None of the academic activities increases the attraction to entrepreneurship in men: it is the circumstances of the student prior to entering school that explain their attraction to entrepreneurship. Other factors, such as having a family entrepreneur or work experience, have more influence on men.

Different impact depending on the academic year

When we analyze each course, we find that in early educational stages, the attraction towards entrepreneurship of women increases when they participate in academic activities with influential people who transmit their points of view and testimonies.

However, at later stages, participation in experiential academic activities (preparation of a business plan competition and participation in associations) is also important. Meeting future entrepreneurs is also very influential in senior years: they help students imagine themselves as entrepreneurs as they approach graduation.

For men, on the other hand, the activities that influence their attraction to entrepreneurship are essentially the experiential ones (associations, competitions) in the last years. This may indicate that most male students have already considered entrepreneurship as a viable option for them before they enter school.

How to promote female entrepreneurship

To effectively support female entrepreneurship and overcome stereotypes, it is essential to take into account gender differences in the impact of inspirational activities, in addition to considering educational level. Academic institutions wishing to encourage female entrepreneurship should combine long-term activities, such as business plan competitions, with the promotion of close contact with “reference persons” by organizing events in the institution that favor the creation of networks. In addition, they should focus on developing the skills and feelings of women, who play a very relevant role.

It is important to train teachers not only to teach entrepreneurship, but also to “inspire” students and encourage them to seriously consider becoming entrepreneurs by overcoming stereotypes. Our results can help design policies that provide women with more support to facilitate their entrepreneurship, as well as to promote entrepreneurial education.

Author Bio: Laura Padilla is Professor of Economics at the Universidad Loyola Andalucía