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Three Myths about Women’s Social Entrepreneurship

Via LinkedIn : Social enterprises are companies with a social mission that reinvest a portion of their profit back into their organizations… and they follow new hybrid business models that have the potential to radically change the way we think about doing business.

And who are the emerging leaders at the forefront of this new and innovative sector? Women.

With new research revealing that women are more innovative than men when it comes to creating new social enterprise products and processes, more and more, it appears that not only does social entrepreneurship offer a new way of approaching profit-creation; it also has the potential to revolutionize the old-school gender dynamics that dominate the traditional field of entrepreneurship and business in general.

Or does it?

While women’s social entrepreneurship offers a new model of both market interaction and leadership, it is vital to understand the ways in which structural, institutionalized sexism continue to be obstacles to women’s success, even as they are being hailed as the “future of a new approach to enterprise”.

MYTH #1: Unlike the traditional enterprise sector, the social enterprise sector has equal representation of men and women in leadership roles.

FALSE. Women may be higher represented in social enterprise than traditional enterprise (38 percent versus 30 percent in the UK) but the majority of social enterprises are still led by men. Women social entrepreneurs continue to face the same barriers to success as women undertaking traditional entrepreneurship, including lack of access to funding and absence of networks and role models. Furthermore, men continue to access social funding for social enterprise startups at a much higher rate than women.

MYTH #2: Women are ‘naturally’ drawn to social entrepreneurship.

FALSE. Scholars attempting to explain why there are more women in social enterprise than in traditional enterprise have often fallen back on stereotypes about women as being naturally more nurturing or inclined towards social activities than men. However it is a dangerous essentialism to conclude that something about women’s biological nature leads them to be more interested in social endeavors, and there is no evidence that this is the case. Social enterprise, as a new sector, may provide fewer barriers to entry than traditional enterprise, which has been historically male dominated. Additionally, the participatory and collaborative nature of social enterprise may be more attractive to women, who, across cultures, are expected to bear the brunt of care work, in addition to any income generation they undertake.

MYTH #3: Women’s social entrepreneurship is the answer to national-level unemployment and poverty.

FALSE. Women’s social entrepreneurship is often presented as a win-win situation for national governments dealing with the effects of the global crisis; women create employment opportunities, while simultaneously tackling social problems. However what is overlooked is the fact that in many countries, women have started social enterprises out of necessity after state-funded social services are cut. Social entrepreneurship can be something that women are forced into because austerity measures have increased the level of poverty within their communities, and entry barriers to traditional employment are increasingly high. Women social entrepreneurs should be encouraged to continue finding innovative solutions to the world’s pressing social problems, but equally, states need to ensure that women have access to the social services and employment opportunities that they need to thrive.

Emily Usher Shrair is the Director of WEstart: Mapping Women’s Entrepreneurship in Europe. WEstart is a new year-long pilot project based out of the European Women’s Lobby Secretariat in Brussels that seeks to shed light on the state of women women’s social entrepreneurship. Focusing on ten European countries, is the first step in a longer term strategy to help connect women social entrepreneurs and advocate for policy change that supports women’s leadership in this growing sector.

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