Overview

Gender and Entrepreneurship: An Ethnographical Approach (Bruni, Gherardi, & Poggio, 2004) seeks to look at how gender and entrepreneurial activity are related. This study observes five small firms to discover how gender effects the roles of the entrepreneurs within these organizations. In addition, it looks at how entrepreneurship has taken on a masculine gender in a way that normalizes masculine culture and highlights feminine expressions as the “other” or the non-normative approach.

Introduction

For the purposes of this review, I focused on the ethnographical portion of the study which is contained mostly within Chapter 3 (methodological framework), Chapter 4 (ethnographies), and the appendix (ethnography of practices and ethnographies practice).  Chapter 1 through 3 provide a solid background into the theories of a gendered approach to entrepreneurship, gender as a social practice, entrepreneurship as a form of masculinity, and the methodological framework of ‘doing’ and ‘saying’ gender.  Chapter 5 and 6 look at gender and entrepreneurship as discursive practices and ‘doing family’ while doing gender and business.

While some of the theory and methodology presented in chapters 1, 2 and 3 was often difficult to read due to layers of academic terminology, it seemed to be soundly based on previous peer reviewed research.  The ethnographic portion of the study “sought to describe how enterprise cultures are gendered and how gender is produced by a social practice, that is, by ‘doing’” (Bruni et al., 2004, p. 6).   The methods selected seemed to be appropriate for the questions asked.  Where I questioned the methodology was in the choice of a gay/homosexual male led company as a comparison to the masculine influence on entrepreneurship. 

Cover Image of Gender and Entrepreneurship: An Ethnographical Approach by Nancy Harding

Critique

For the company ethnographies, five small firms were chosen. They are Asie Welders, a welding equipment manufacturer, Erba Shirts, a men’s shirt manufacturer,  Frau Kitchens, a custom kitchens designer, LeCo’ Fashion, a leather clothing manufacturer, and Atlantis Magazine, a Gay/Lesbian culture magazine.  All firms are located in Italy, but chosen to represent both north and south industrial cultures.  In all of the firms there were multiple individuals, of mixed genders, involved in the entrepreneurial process.  Two of the firms were multi-generational family businesses, two were first generation start-ups, and one was a split off of a collective.  Two were owned by women, one by three brothers and a sister (who was the leading figure in the business), one by a husband and wife team, and one firm was chosen because the entrepreneurs were male homosexuals (to include the variable of ‘sexual orientation’ into the study).

The ethnographic study was conducted using a shadowing methodology in which the researcher spent an entire working week in each of the five organizations.  One principle entrepreneur was chosen at each location for shadowing, and other partners/family members were included in the observations when the principle entrepreneur interacted with, or consulted with them in the course of their day to day operations in the company. The researcher maintained notes containing observations of the environment and interactions with other entrepreneurs, family members, employees, clients, etc. In addition, a daily (recorded) interview was conducted to inquire about the history of the firm, entrepreneurial risk, innovation, the money factor, and future prospects. 

The study concentrated on observing how ‘doing’ gender and entrepreneurship affected their day to day activities.  It evaluated the fluidity by which individuals moved back and forth between the demands of the business and the normality of gender.  In some of the firms, the issue of family, and family responsibilities, came into play.  There were five main processes evaluated.  They include: handling the dual presence, performing remedial work, boundary keeping a, footing and gender commodification.  Each of these process were fully discussed in the text and their construction was based on previous peer reviewed research.

Two areas I found interesting were the selection of a male researcher and the selection of a ‘gay’ business. The male researcher was chosen in order to eliminate any affect the presence of a woman asking questions about gender might have on the results. As a counter balance, it was determined that a female researcher would be used to conduct the analysis of the data. This would allow the study to maintain a distance between the person conducting the ethnography and the interpretation of their meanings.

As for the selection of a ‘gay’ focused and managed business, I felt there may be some external validity issues here. The best I could tell, this selection was based on the question of whether or not gender norms were expressed differently by homosexual entrepreneurs.  At first reading I took offense with this, as gender expression and sexuality are generally two separate issues.  In fact, I suspect the presence of an all-male homosexual management team, particularly in the absence of any children or family responsibilities, might actually represent the ultimate in male privilege.  At minimum, I felt some of the assumptions made in this section were influenced more by a business focused on gay culture vs. a businesses whose entrepreneur team was homosexual.

Discussion/Conclusion

In conclusion, I felt this study was well designed and well presented.  It raised some critical questions about the gendering of an industry or business model.  I think we can use these theories and methodologies to look at other industries such as Information Technology where women cite examples of a restrictive and often repressive masculine culture.  Ethnography was a good choice for telling the stories of these entrepreneurs, however, it is limited in scope, as there are many other differing stories to be told.  I believe that to truly be effective and to have impact, we need more evidence of how gendering issues are present in a wide range of entrepreneurial organizations.

References:

Bruni, A., Gherardi, S., & Poggio, B. (2004). Gender and entrepreneurship: An ethnographic approach: Routledge.