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Case Study

Entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial intention: Do female students benefit?

Professor Paul Westhead, Durham University Business School, UK; and Professor Marina Z. Solesvik, Stord/Haugesund University College, Norway.

Research and critical thinking suggest that women are viewed, by both policy-makers and business people, as having huge potential in the entrepreneurial field. Although women in business are no longer the curiosity that they have been in the past, they continue to face a significant number of barriers – social and otherwise – which combine to deter them from embarking on business careers.

One method of combating this is education – specifically, entrepreneurship education (EE). Formal EE is aimed at both male and female students, although it is hoped that it will also teach skills which can persuade women that their gender need be no barrier to a career as an entrepreneur. The extent to which this works in practice, however, is unclear. In a new study, Professors Paul Westhead and Marina Solesvik have explored what they term the “relatively neglected view” that EE does not benefit female students as much as male.

Examining the Problem: The Study Method

The researchers focused on two research questions: addressing whether female EE students are less likely to show a tendency to follow an entrepreneurial path; and whether those who do so display the same characteristics as their male counterparts. The hypotheses underpinning these questions assumed that EE is not, after all, equally beneficial to both genders.

Their method was based upon a survey conducted among students in Ukraine, where there is a relatively high proportion of women in higher education but also a relatively low proportion of female business owners. EE is a key element of business education and the study compares male and female students who had taken EE modules with those who had not – in the latter case, a group of engineering students.

The EE Gender Gap: The Study Findings

The results demonstrated that, on the one hand, those who had taken EE modules were more likely than engineering students with no entrepreneurship education to report the ‘the intention to become an entrepreneur’; while, on the other hand, the intention to become an entrepreneur was significantly lower among women than among men. The study also showed that women were less likely to be risk-takers and that this was not changed by their engagement in EE — although raising the alertness skill did increase the intention to become an entrepreneur among female EE students. These results challenge the prevailing view that EE is equally beneficial to both genders.

While recognising that their study has its limitations (most significantly that the study was undertaken in Ukraine and that the results are “generalisable to that context but they may not be generalisable to the UK context”), the researchers are explicit in their conclusion. It cannot be assumed that EE, even where its impacts are positive, is of equal value to both men and women, they say, emphasising that “the case for customised EE is made”.