An Examination of the Relationship between Women Entrepreneurs, Social Gender Role and Leadership Effectiveness

Evidence from Women Entrepreneurs in Beijing

Master's Thesis 2011 35 Pages

Women Studies / Gender Studies



1.1 Background Information

No society has ever been comfortable with the natural sex discrepancies between men and women. Evidence shows that apart from the natural sex differences, every society culturally portrays women as different and inferior compared to men (Blessings, 2010; OECD, 2004; Vogel, 2003). Specifically, Brindley (2008) posits that this obvious differentiation amounts to social gender role profiling. Arguably, it is not enough for a man to be male or for a woman to be a female they must be painted as masculine or feminine. Social gender role can therefore be referred to as a kind of cultural sex assigning where women are painted as feminine and men are portrayed as masculine.

Social gender role profiling expects men to learn and practice the assigned male gender roles while women are expected to learn and practice the assigned feminine roles. Vogel (2003) agrees that from an early age, boys are taught that masculinity is superior to femininity while girls are taught that femininity is about being submissive. The society expects men to be aggressive and show a sense of control in all matters they undertake while women are expected to be supportive to men but should not take leading roles in mainstream activities such as politics and entrepreneurship (Appelbaum, Audet and Miller, 2002). Any deviation from these held cultural sex assigning is usually met with outright societal condemnation and the responsible persons are referred to as rebels.

Interestingly, masculine and feminine gender roles strengthen each other in a mutual manner. Since gender role is a psychological profiling system, persons who embrace masculine and feminine roles indirectly perpetuate societal inequality – even some employment opportunities are referred to as girlish (Blessings, 2010). It is interesting that every woman wants to be perceived as feminine through dressing, behaviour and even through the employment opportunities they take (Vogel, 2003). On the other hand, every man wishes to be perceived as true man by way of dressing, behaviour and the nature of economic activities they undertake (Appelbaum et al, 2002). Though there are significant cases of people transgressing into another gender role as is the case with gays and lesbians, the mainstream society is generally considered “straight” (Vogel, 2003).

1.2 Rational of this Research

Entrepreneurship and leadership among women is an interesting topic that has attracted many research studies. Specifically, a lot of research has been carried out to study the relationship between women entrepreneurs, social gender roles and leadership effectiveness. Appelbaum et al (2002) and Vogel (2003), for instance, find that women are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing leadership opportunities. Blessing (2010) on the other hand finds that in most countries of the world, women are marginalised despite their large numbers – they are not proportionately represented in both the public and private sectors. However, Kent et al (2010) find that considerable improvements have been made in terms of incorporating women in the mainstream leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities.

On the other hand, Anderson et al (2006), Chemers et al, (2000), Kim and Shim (2003), Morgan (2004), and OECD (2004) finds that though women are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing entrepreneurship opportunities. However, OECD (2004) clarify that women create entrepreneurship opportunities and are capable of ascending to management and leadership positions and can perform excellently just like men or even better than men. However, the study also finds that women have limited choices when it comes to venturing into business – they normally venture into less popular and less lucrative business that are considered feminine such as retail, education, and catering. Overall, these studies seem to take a general view of the situation women goes through in terms of getting entrepreneurship opportunities and demonstrating effective leadership qualities.

However, there is a shortage of empirical research on the impact of social gender roles have on leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities among women living in emerging economies such as China. Specifically, there is no empirical literature on the relationship between women entrepreneurship, gender roles and leadership effectiveness among women living in Beijing. Zhe (2007) does a tremendous work in chronicling the development of women entrepreneurships in China but still does not give much credit to social gender roles and leadership effectiveness.

Beijing is a world’s leading urban centre in terms of its contribution to the global economy and culture. The city is home to as many as 20 million people, a big chunk of which are women (Forbes, 2011). It is therefore important for a study to be carried out on how women in Beijing fair in terms or accessing entrepreneurship and as well applied leadership skills when running enterprises.

1.3 Research Aims and Objectives

Women entrepreneurs often play an important role in business development. They make efforts to access opportunities through making full use of the specific characteristics, and have reached some certain successes. However, McClelland et al (2005) there are still some obstacles that bar women from accessing entrepreneurial opportunities. While basing on the previous studies outlined above, this research aims at exploring the influence of women’s social gender role on leadership effectiveness as demonstrated in enterprises managed by women in Beijing, China. In addition, the study will also pursue the following objectives:

1. To explore the social gender role of women entrepreneurs operating in Beijing, China.
2. To explore the leadership effectiveness of women entrepreneurs in Beijing, China.
3. explore the relationship between women entrepreneurs’ social gender role and
4. To provide some suggestions on improving management effectiveness for Beijing women entrepreneurs.

1.4 Outline of this Research

The research is structured into five core chapters: Introduction, literature review, methodology, findings and discussion, and conclusion and recommendations. Other sections in this study include a list of appendices that support key arguments and pertinent captions gathered from the study participants. In addition, the study is accompanied by an executive summary as the first section, that captures the aims and objectives of the study as well as the findings and the recommendations made thereof. For purposes of clarity and as Creswell (2003) advices, each of the five chapters is structured into various sections and subsections. These sections and subsections are guided by the study aims and objectives as outlined above.


This chapter mainly covers a critical review, summary and analysis of the relevant literature. Literature covered in the chapter include female entrepreneurs, social gender role and leadership effectiveness. In addition, the chapter discusses the influence of Beijing women’s social role on leadership effectiveness of women entrepreneurs’ development. Overall, the chapter provides a deeper understanding of the social gender role and the related information so as to provide better suggestions for female entrepreneurs’ development.

2.1 The Development Status of Women Entrepreneurs in China

2.1.1 Entrepreneurship

To understand the concept of female entrepreneurs well, it is important to define the idea of entrepreneurship in an operational manner. The term entrepreneur was lifted from the French language and its original meaning is adventurers or brave persons who were respected for their ability to lead military expeditions (Erve, 2004). This idea was gradually extended to sociology, economy, operation and management, as well as other sectors during the early days of the 19th century (Reynolds, 2007). From an economic perspective, entrepreneurs are usually innovative persons with a business acumen and capable of leveraging resources in pursuit of new opportunities that may not seem commercially viable to other people (Shane, 2003).

While drawing from Wang and Zang (2005), entrepreneurship can broadly be divided into three main branches. These are entrepreneurship, entrepreneur function, and entrepreneurship human capital. Entrepreneurship is mainly represented by entrepreneur spirit of adventure (Marshall and Knight, 1930), and entrepreneur innovation spirit (Schumpeter, 1942). The entrepreneurship function is the major school of entrepreneurship which include entrepreneur management and value creation functions. Entrepreneurship human capital on the other hand mainly covers the differences between enterprises and posits that the strategic differences are responsible for differences between firms (Reynolds, 2007).

Different research views and researchers, different schools of researches have different views on the concepts of female entrepreneurs. According to Marshal and Knight (1930), Reynolds (2004) and Schumpeter (1942), it can be realised that entrepreneurship is the combination of enterprises’, production factors such as decision makers of production and management, guiders of company management and undertakers of risks. In addition, entrepreneurs’ innovation has a certain relation with risk venture (Shane, 2003). Supported by innovation and risk venture spirit, entrepreneurs can continuously develop new markets and provide new products.

Moreover, entrepreneurs induce meaning through innovation and venturing into risky endeavours. Praag (1999) argues that innovation and risk venture spirit makes the expansion of economic activities and acceleration of social developments very easy. However, for purposes of this study, Kang (2007) definition of entrepreneurs as persons who own and manage businesses in an innovative manner while leveraging scarce resources to create value will be employed.

2.1.2 Entrepreneurship in China

So to effectively understand the development status of women entrepreneurs in China Beijing, China, it is important to conduct a brief overview of the history and development of the entrepreneurship in China. Until 1978 entrepreneurship in China was thriving at a small scale level. The socialist regime acted as a barrier to large scale entrepreneurship – agriculture and related industries were collectivised while other major industries were nationalised and the private sector was not operational (Liao and Sohmen, 2001; Pomfret, 2000). The state determined where to distribute inputs and outputs and national corporations were required to provide housing and other amenities to the population (Wong, Rong, & Mu, 1995). However, things changed for the better after 1978 upon a new leadership revolution orchestrated by Deng. This started by the de-collectivisation of the agriculture sector as well as the inception of township and village enterprises that were owned by the local governments. Until 1978 all enterprises in China where owned by the central government (Oi, 1999; Pomfret, 2000). Arguably, 1978 could be associated to the birth of Chinese entrepreneurship.

Nevertheless, Chinese entrepreneurship did not change until 1987. This year is associated with major change into entrepreneurship-friendly laws that vouched for the resurrection of the private sector. Since then, China has experienced a huge growth in entrepreneurship. Such high of entrepreneurship has helped the country to grow from a developing nation struggling to uplift the lives of its large population to the world’s fastest growing economy for the last 30 consecutive years – over 10 percent growth rates (Knight and Ding, 2012; Liao and Sohmen, 2001). The country is also the world’s leading exporter, the world’s second largest importer, and the world’s second largest economy after the United States in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (Huang, 2008; IMF, 2006). Arguably, this notable economic growth is attributable to the strong entrepreneurial culture that prevails in the country.

2.1.3 Women Entrepreneurs in China

While drawing from literature on entrepreneurship reviewed above (Shane, 2003; Kang, 2007; Reynolds, 2004), this study defines women entrepreneurship as the process of owning and managing a business in a way that facilitates constant innovation and utilisation of scarce resources to create value. Like in many other economies, women entrepreneurship in China has gone through a period of transformation – from low scale labour ventures to large scale capital intensive ventures (Zhe, 2007). Nevertheless, this shift is slow when compared to the case of men entrepreneurs who by virtue of their “superior” gender roles (masculinity) can venture into any industry of their choice as they have the financial resources and the necessary skills to do so (OECD, 2004).

Specifically, Billing and Alyesson (2000) find that even after efforts made by the United Nations through various gender equality awareness campaigns including the 1995 Beijing Conference on Gender Equality, lucrative entrepreneurship and top leadership opportunities are still awarded along social gender roles. Moreover, Chemers et al (2000) find that even the most successful women entrepreneurs start their businesses often as a second or third profession. On its part, OECD (2004) posits that most successful women entrepreneurs operate in sectors considered to be “naturally” advantageous for women.



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State University of New York at Stony Brook




Title: An Examination of the Relationship between Women Entrepreneurs, Social Gender Role and Leadership Effectiveness