Are women more entrepreneurial than men? It depends what you mean

There are different ways of defining entrepreneurship.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 06 Dec 2016

Discussions on gender differences should be less intriguing than they are. First, most gender differences have to do with performance rather than potential, which means they are inflated by contextual factors, such as social norms and culture. This is why they often change with time or geography, and why they are less visible when one manages to test actual abilities. Second, even when clear evidence is presented to debunk gender-related myths, it is rarely the case that we can change people's stereotypes about men or women.

But one question that has not been sufficiently examined is the issue of gender in entrepreneurship. Lay people tend to assume that men are naturally more entrepreneurial than women. This is somewhat understandable, not least because entrepreneurship is associated with risk-taking, impulsivity, overconfidence and (at least in the tech sector) mild Asperger's syndrome. If what we mean by an entrepreneurial personality is a syndrome consisting of these qualities, not to mention narcissistic tendencies, then there is a strong probability that we encounter more men than women.

A better definition of entrepreneurship, however, should focus on the qualities that actually matter. If one defines creativity as the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, and innovation as the practical implementation of such ideas (into services, products, or businesses), then gender differences become elusive. Indeed, although men think of themselves as more creative than women do, there are no actual differences in creativity. Furthermore, most organisations have no shortage of creative ideas: what they lack is people who can turn them into actual innovations. You can think of entrepreneurship as the process whereby creativity becomes innovation. This requires persistence, networking skills, and a meaningful mission. And when it involves not just launching, but also growing a business, it requires good leadership, which is proportionately more common in women than men. In order to last, being prudent is more useful than taking risk, so women should have an advantage.

This is not to say that investors see women as equally capable of entrepreneurial success than men. Nor does it mean that they should focus on gender. But if they focus on the qualities that matter, they may end up with more women than men.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, people analytics, and talent management. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessments and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University.

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