This article was submitted by Pamela Connell, NUPSA’s Equity Representative. Pamela is a PhD student in Education exploring whether secondary school entrepreneurship education graduates nascent entrepreneurs in Rwanda. Her passion for entrepreneurship grew out of extensive experience teaching in Rwanda for many years and witnessing a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem rise up to dispel the nation’s history of genocide.


 

‘Women in innovation spaces’ is becoming as much of a buzz-term as ‘innovation’ itself.

Why should we not simply expect that women be in innovation spaces just as much as men?

I recently attended a lively event during the Hunter Innovation Festival. It provoked debate around whether women with sponsors are more likely to succeed in Australia’s innovation ecosystem. The panel of prominent Hunter women and men included:

 

  • Dr Sarah Pearson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Industry Engagement & Innovation), UON
  • Liza Noonan, Executive Manager of Innovation, CSIRO
  • Cheryl Royle, Hunter Entrepreneurship Facilitator and Managing Director, The Finer Line
  • Dr Yolanda Surjan, Senior Lecturer, UON, Founder of RadVet and On Accelerator’s ‘Breakout Female Scientist’
  • Professor Kevin Hall, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation, University of Newcastle

 

The theme of ‘credentialing’  was one significant factor that arose from the panel discussion. Credentialing is the ongoing ‘education’ of self – not just from an academic sense-but in regard to life-skills, networking,  and self promotion too. This credentialing is performed with an aim to ‘be the best you’, as well as to find that ‘sponsor’ who not only mentors but also advocates, networks and sojourns with you.

Australia has a lot of untapped potential, particularly within our aging population. Many Australians within this demographic are finding themselves on welfare. With Australia’s impending clampdown on welfare fraud, the frustration of many is reflected in a recent widely publicised comment, “I am on welfare and have completed every possible TAFE training course available to me. How can they take the payment off me? I did everything asked of me.” (Current Affair, May 2017). Is this an entrepreneurial mindset? Does educating yourself help you think entrepreneurially? This brings us back to the age-old conundrum: are entrepreneurs born or made?

My argument begins as follows: we are all born with equal capability to breathe and an expectancy to survive. The equal capability and expectation diminishes through certain socio-economic circumstances, but on the most part, in childhood we actually give away our equal capability and expectancy through certain conditionings. Can it stem from our education framework? Is it generational or due to lack of positive encouragement? The return on expecting more will always be to gain more.

I believe the paradigm of entrepreneurship, more than a mere economic activity, is a process of social change through human development and capacity building. An entrepreneurial spirit awakens to untapped intrinsic capabilities, which sadly for most we have given away.

 

Leading scholars conceptualise entrepreneurship around skills, knowledge, entrepreneurial intentions and opportunity exploitation – thus the justification for credentialing in business, accounting, communications and marketing. I believe the paradigm of entrepreneurship, more than a mere economic activity, is a process of social change through human development and capacity building. An entrepreneurial spirit awakens to untapped intrinsic capabilities, which sadly for most we have given away.

Governments are good at applying neoliberal metrics in measuring entrepreneurship through knowledge, wealth and commodities. A capabilities approach instead draws attention to that which is highly valued by individuals and communities, as it celebrates equal agency, freedoms and functionality. If all we become innovation-economies, the failure to tap into the diversity of our population is a sad loss.

A high proportion of entrepreneurial literature does not differentiate women to men in their entrepreneurial capabilities. Why then are special remedial efforts required to bring women in to parity with men? Do the very spaces and agendas, designed to create opportunities for women in entrepreneurship, enhance or hinder the achievement of equality?

The Australian government’s reframing of entrepreneurship and innovation as not simply as a social side issue (particularly for women and youth) emphasises that entrepreneurship is a multifaceted social phenomena rather than business acumen. The argument for capabilities as a crucial input into our evaluations of social change equally recognises women’s potential, and their ability to convert resources into capabilities.

 

Rwandan ex-combatant, mother, and entrepreneur Béatrice Mukankusi has overcome great odds to build a better life for herself and her family. She’s just one of many innovation success stories in a country recovering from genocide.

 

Though women make up around 50% of the world’s population, only 16% of start-up founders are female. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring Report (GEM, 2016) reported that a lower percentage of women entrepreneurs know other entrepreneurs and believe in themselves to have sufficient skills for running a business. It would seem that men have more role models or social connections and tend to be more self-assured in the perception of their own capabilities.

Fear of failure is negatively correlated to entrepreneurial activity. Interestingly, women in lower to middle income societies carry a much higher fear toward failure than men, whereas in high-income countries it is roughly equal across genders. The resources available that define one’s social position self-perception determine how women relate to, use and mobilize the resources necessary to start a business. A capabilities approach emphasizes that women and men are equally able to convert available resources into entrepreneurial activity.

I return to the opening comment: we are all born with equal capabilities and expectations. Women need to expect to find themselves in distinctly similar positions to men and with similar levels and types of preparation for the marketplace. The GEM report concluded that perceptions matter much more for predicting gender differences in business startup than social position and national development.

A case in point, during International Women’s Day this year, on talk-back radio, a female auto-mechanic discussed her challenges in not only being competent in her field but was the owner of the business. The power of perception over being self-capable and self-expectant to convert resources for the entrepreneurial economic good is significant.

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