Articles

Women Entrepreneurs

Diana Hechavarría

When it comes to women in business -- and more specifically, women in entrepreneurship -- the stereotypes of business suits, Wall Street banker capitalists, or the desire for a fat bottom line aren't always accurate.

USF Assistant Professor Diana Hechavarría, who focused her research on female entrepreneurs, found that women start businesses, but they often emphasize the social and ecological value of creating a business over traditional profit-based concerns. Sometimes, those values get in the way of actually launching the business.

"It struck me that a lot of the characteristics we use to discuss regular business tend to be kind of masculine," Hechavarría said. "The traditional channels for finance and the traditional features when it comes to business is generated in this masculine framework. For women, it's not just about money when it comes to starting a business. It's about, 'who am I going to help?'"

Diana Hechavarría teaching

There's no agreed-upon definition of "social entrepreneurship" in the field, Hechavarría said -- problematic because women tend to be more interested in starting businesses that are about adding community value as much as they are about profit value.

Hechavarría's data came from a sample of women in 52 countries in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the largest and most developed global research program on entrepreneurship in the world. The program measures the rate of entrepreneurship in participating countries each year, developing a consistent basis for evaluating business startup rates internationally. Traditionally, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, women are two times less likely to start a business. But, Hechavarría wondered if the categorization of "entrepreneurship" was leaving women out because the current rate of entrepreneurship focuses solely on commercial ventures.

For instance, when Hechavarría looked at evaluating countries based on their level of social entrepreneurship, Nordic countries with high female populations were among the most highly ranked. Ten in 100 people in these countries were starting social ventures, twice the rate of those ventures in the U.S. It's a surprising result for an area of the world that's not seen as being typically entrepreneurial.

"You're creating a business that's not just aimed at generating profit," Hechavarría said. "When you start adding in these value propositions, the investors are like, 'Well this is going to take away from our bottom line.' You obviously need to make money to stay in operation, but just because you sacrifice some of that bottom line to help other people doesn't mean that the business isn't as valuable."

Hechavarría argues that entrepreneurs need to redefine the way they see value. She says adding value to the planet or to society can be as important as adding dollars to a business' profit. Hechavarría adds that another obstacle to incorporating social ventures into the wider definition of "entrepreneurship" is that these ventures often have an alternative business model. To solve problems of global warming or poverty, startups hope to put themselves out of business because if they grow, it means the problems they hope to solve are still growing too.

As a professor in USF's Center for Entrepreneurship, Hechavarría teaches budding entrepreneurs of all types in strategic and global entrepreneurship courses. Her research focuses on nascent entrepreneurship, and she was also a recent research fellow at the Orkestra Basque Institute of Competitiveness in Spain. The Center for Entrepreneurship is a nationally ranked, interdisciplinary center, and is part of the USF College of Business, in collaboration with the USF College of Engineering, the Morsani College of Medicine, and the Patel School of Global Sustainability.

Hechavarría is quick to note that she's not trying to say the feminine outlook on business is more important or valid than the masculine one but that it is a viewpoint that deserves to have a voice. Women's voices dominate in the fields of social and ecological ventures, fields that are growing as people feel more responsibility towards the global society and the environment.

"Women think differently when it comes to business than men; It's not that they're better," she said, noting that men and women are socialized to fulfill different roles around the world. "At the end of the day, these gender roles are going to materialize in things we do, like the businesses we want to create."