The rise of the female digital entrepreneur
Monday 26 September 2022Defined as entrepreneurial activity that takes place primarily through digital media, mobile applications and development, cloud computing and the internet of things, digital entrepreneurship is widespread and growing within our internet-connected societies.
It is posited to lower the normal barriers to entry when starting a business, reduce overheads, provide access to unlimited global customer base, and increase the flexibility of work .
Digital entrepreneurship is particularly relevant to women who are still more likely to be primary care providers for children and elders and may be more inclined to seek part-time or flexible working schedules .
Despite this, little is known about how women experience the transition into digital entrepreneurial careers, and the coping strategies they employ in order to navigate this new digital work environment. This was starting point for a new study by Queen’s University Belfast and Dublin City University which looks at the experiences of women who have changed careers to become digital entrepreneurs within the health and fitness sector.
The research undertook interviews with women digital entrepreneurs based in Ireland who previously held jobs such as nursing, accountancy, and teaching, in order to capture their lived experiences of being a female digital entrepreneur.
The findings highlight the potential of digital technology for women and demonstrates how women negotiate a new sense of self as digital entrepreneurs when occupational structures, roles, and their associated status are gone.
Interestingly, the findings shed light on the creative ways in which women digital entrepreneurs acquire and develop new knowledge, skills and relationships. It also highlighted the opportunities afforded by digital technologies as enablers of new business models for women, and working in digital spaces as sites of freedom and excitement, giving them an opportunity to have flexibility and to be more productive and creative.
The other benefits included building new networks and online communities, building knowledge and becoming leaders and authoritative figures; and the work offering a sense of meaning and purpose.
However, working in the digital space does not come without a few downsides. The women reported feelings of self-questioning, alienation and embarrassment about pursuing a digital career which was coupled with scepticism and critique from friends and colleagues. They also expressed feelings of being under scrutiny with a blurring of private and public boundaries, particularly due to the unregulated nature of digital spaces, which meant that harassment and bullying were unfortunately an endemic feature.
Women entrepreneurs make a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of society but continue to be underrepresented in digital spaces. This study shows that the digital entrepreneurship journey for women is a paradoxical cocktail of excitement, creativity, symbolic stress, perception of outsider status, and social inferiority.
By Dr Gráinne Kelly, Lecturer in Management from Queen’s Management School at Queen’s University Belfast and Professor Maura McAdam, Professor of Management and Director of Entrepreneurship at DCU Business School. The research was funded by the CHARMS Centre at Queen’s Management School.
Monday 26 September 2022