Overcoming the Segregation/Stereotyping Dilemma: Computer Mediated Communication for Business Women and Professionals

Overcoming the Segregation/Stereotyping Dilemma: Computer Mediated Communication for Business Women and Professionals

Natalie Sappleton (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-759-3.ch010
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Since the 1970s, there has been a swift and sizeable uptake of business ownership amongst women in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau 2002; Lowrey 2005). Women now own around 40 percent of all non-agricultural businesses – amounting to an increase of more than 25-fold since records began in 1972 (Center for Women's Business Research 2008). Moreover, the fastest recent growth in women-owned firms has been in traditionally male industries like telecommunications and construction. According to the National Women’s Business Council, the number of privately held women-owned firms in non-traditional industries1 grew by 17.5% between 1997 and 2002, outstripping the 10.4% growth in the number of women-owned firms in traditional industries 2004 (CWBR, 2008). Growth has been strongest in the construction industry; between 1997 and 2002, the number of women-owned firms grew by 35.5% (ibid).

All business owners must identify, access, and mobilize resources to put to use in their ventures, and the need for resources is highest in capital intensive, traditionally male industries such as high-technology and construction. Setting up such businesses is no easy task, and network members may be able to provide direct or indirect access to the required assistance, support, information and tangible resources (Kim and Aldrich 2005). This means that entrepreneurship cannot happen unless a business owner establishes the right connections to the right others (Witt 2004). Entrepreneurship should therefore be viewed as an inherently social activity; “embedded in a social context, channeled and facilitated or constrained and inhibited by people’s positions in social networks” (Aldrich and Zimmer 1986: 4). Little wonder, then, that having well-structured social networks is linked to entrepreneurial intentions (Ljunggren and Kolvereid 1996; Aldrich, Elam et al. 1997; Renzulli, Aldrich et al. 2000; Liñán and Santos 2007), start-up completion (Hansen 2000), odds of survival (Srinvasan, Woo et al. 1994; Uzzi 1996), opportunity recognition (Ozgen and Baron 2007), idea gathering (Birley 1985), ability to secure venture capital (Baum and Silverman 2004) and finance before floatation (Florin, Lubatkin et al. 2003), internationalization (Coviello and Munro 1995), and growth (Brown and Butler 1995; Hansen 1995; Liao and Welsch 2001; Roomi 2007).

There is evidence that women operating their firms in male-dominated industries encounter greater levels of gender stereotyping, sex discrimination and difficulty accessing established networks than women in sectors like retail and services (Weiler and Bernasek 2001; Coyle and Flannery 2005). These women are thus provided with a clearer motivation for forging homophilious networks – that is, networks comprised primarily of other women. The problem is that relying on same-sex networks for leads and information denies women access to the privileged resources held by men in the industry. The resources, information, knowledge and expertise held by men operating in these fields is likely to be of a better quality due to their longer establishment and better entrenched positions in network hierarchies. As argued twenty years ago “women must break into the ‘old boys’ network by deliberately invading male turf however possible. A ‘new girls’’ network will create strong ties and promote social support but with… most of the major corporate and financial centers of power controlled by men, sex-segregated separate networks are a decided handicap for women (Aldrich 1989: 128).

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