Study Shows How Women Students in Entrepreneurship Overcome Obstacles to Success

A new study by Sara Cochran of the University of Missouri has found that despite facing adversity, women entrepreneurship students take on heavy course loads and extra responsibilities to compensate for their gender. Through interviews with students and faculty as well as classroom observations, the study found that women preparing for entrepreneurial careers shared three common characteristics: they were high-achieving “super women,” they face real adversity, and they benefited from close relationships with mentors, family, and friends.

“One of the biggest takeaways was that entrepreneurial women were ‘super women,'” said Dr. Cochran, director of entrepreneurship initiatives at the University of Missouri System and interim director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the university’s College of Business. “They were more likely than men to perform leadership roles despite being outnumbered in their classes, and they were often compelled to take on more responsibilities in group projects when men were less prepared. These were highly successful women with heavy course loads and multiple responsibilities in and out of class.”

During her classroom observations, Dr. Cochran noted that many women, despite strong competence and preparedness, were often reluctant to participate unless called upon directly. After a woman was called upon, however, other women were more likely to voluntarily participate. These students reported that they felt pressured by gender-based expectations, such as needing to dress nicely or defer to confident men during class discussions.

“Not only did gendered expectations pressure women to outperform in an environment dominated by men, but that same environment fostered a sense of belonging with their entrepreneurial peers,” Dr. Cochran said. “Taken together, this describes a unique academic environment where women thrive despite the challenges.”

Dr. Cochran said instructors can help women succeed by varying the roles assigned in group projects and leveling the dress code so as not to conform to stereotypes. Academic programs can also prioritize providing mentors and encouraging peer relationships to help women build a strong support network.

Dr. Cochran holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in communication from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. She earned a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Missouri.

The full study, “What’s Gender Got to Do With It? The Experiences of U.S. Women Entrepreneurship Students,” was published on the website of the Journal of Small Business Management. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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