Male & female entrepreneurs are different, or not?

comparison between male and female entrepreneurs with staff
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It goes without saying that men and women are different. Books like John Gray’s “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus” help visualize that statement. But does that hold true when you make a comparison between a male entrepreneur and a female entrepreneur?


Of course, it is easy to believe that there is a major gender gap. Biased or not, people quickly assume gender stereotypes. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab did an online survey among 840 European business creators and asked for their opinion on entrepreneurship-related topics. Still, that doesn’t explain if men and women differ entrepreneurially.

Other researchers found no differences in the propensity to innovate between 1,405 Spanish men and women entrepreneurs. In their article “CEO gender and SME’s innovativeness: evidence for Spanish businesses,” they conclude: “there are no significant differences in the propensity to introduce innovations between male and female-run businesses.” However, they do find Spanish male entrepreneurs to be more prone to process innovations than their female counterparts. Which is not the case for product and organizational innovations. Again, little to no differences between the male and female firm owners.

Now we are talking about running a company. Being a business owner. So, why should they be different in gender? Only because we believe that men and women are so distinct? Last time I checked, both types of small business owners are from earth.

Since 2002 the gender gap has been slowly shrinking across all age groups. However, this decline is due to less male self-employment than the growth of females venturing into entrepreneurship. Still, this does not clarify why female entrepreneurs should be less entrepreneurial than male venture owners.

In the article: “Are male and female entrepreneurs that different?”, Erin Kepler & Scott Shane found no effect on new venture performance between male and female entrepreneurs. Vivek Wadhwa, a former entrepreneur and now academic, found almost no differences between men and women tech company founders. 

Time to take a deeper dive into gender differences and make a comparison between male and female entrepreneurs. Especially the entrepreneurial competencies of those who run businesses with staff. Maybe this article can add valuable insights to female entrepreneurship statistics. 

Male & female entrepreneurs are different, but not where you would expect

A good way to compare differences between male and female business owners is by looking at what makes them entrepreneurial in the first place, their entrepreneurial competencies. It’s often stated that male entrepreneurs take more risks and have more self-belief and that this sets them apart as a successful entrepreneur. Let’s have a look.

In a recent study, we compared a group of 1638 female and 1882 male entrepreneurs with staff, in a total of 3520 business owners, in the Netherlands. These employers received entrepreneur coaching. The very first step of the coaching was doing an E-Scan, an entrepreneurial mindset tool, and discussing their entrepreneur profile. It gave them a clear sense of what their stronger and weaker skills are as an entrepreneur and what to work on in conjunction with their coach to improve business performance. 

The scan generates the Entrepreneurial Index, which ranges from 0-100. It is an indication of how entrepreneurial someone is. It is based on the Entrepreneur Scan. The E-Scan is a data-driven and research-based scan in which you can compare yourself with other entrepreneurs and see and read how you score on essential competencies as an entrepreneur and what type of small business owner you are.  

Men (55,1) score slightly higher than women (54,6) on their Entrepreneurial Index. But the difference is not enough to call it significant. So, female founders demonstrate the same entrepreneurial activity as their male counterparts. When we take a deeper look into their entrepreneurial mindset profiles, there are differences between men and women, but not where one would expect them to be. 

A comparison between male and female entrepreneurs
Image: comparison between male and female entrepreneurs with staff on their E-Scan scores

No gender differences in competencies where you would expect it

1. Male and female owners score equally high on their risk-taking attitude. 

The general idea is that men have more guts and dare to take more risks, but not according to our data. Women do business differently, not more or better. 

Vanessa Loder found that women invest their own savings. They put up the cash themselves, but that doesn’t make them more or less risk-averse. Adi Gaskell confirms the similarity with research done by Michael Frese that women are just as capable of taking risks as men. 

In their article on the differences between men and women founders, Erin Kepler and Shane Scott found that women were more likely to prefer lower risk/return businesses. On top of that, male entrepreneurs were more likely to found technologically intensive businesses, businesses that lose their competitive advantage more quickly. But that is more a result of their need for achievement (see below) than of their risk appetite.

2. Female and male entrepreneurs have the same amount of self-belief

Self-belief is another commonly mentioned trait that male business owners are supposed to possess more than their female counterparts. According to our data, no significant differences were found between men and women.

Vanessa Loder report that there is one area where most women struggle. They appear to display a greater tendency to be self-critical than men when faced with failure. Men are much more likely to blame market factors, the economy, or even employee issues for any kind of setback, while women often internalize the failure, blaming themselves. 

That may be true. Still, this doesn’t mean women entrepreneurs have less self-belief than men. 

3. Male and female firm owners with staff score equally on their creative mindset

When entrepreneurs are asked to list their strongest competencies, women were 10 percent more likely to list creativity. 

Still, that doesn’t mean they would score higher than men. Although creativity is found to differ between entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, some expect men to be more creative than women. But according to our data that’s not the case. Women and men entrepreneurs are equally creative. Creativity is fundamental for innovation.

Gender differences in competencies where you would expect it

1. Male entrepreneurs have a stronger achievement orientation than female

You would expect a strong achievement orientation with men. Maybe because it is so related to entrepreneurship, that people expect men to score higher than women. 

It is not so different in time spent on their business. Kepler & Shane report that men spent slightly more time on their (new) ventures than women. Brittney Morgan, who wrote the article: “Male vs. Female Entrepreneurs: How Are They Different?”, concludes it aptly: “…women are more likely to sacrifice time for themselves and their social lives for their businesses, whereas men are more likely to sacrifice time with their spouse and time with their children.”

Another exciting research in the Journal of Small Business Management demonstrated the differences between male and female high growth entrepreneurs in high-technology incubators. High growth entrepreneurs, in general, show self-leadership strategies due to the innovative nature of high tech entrepreneurship. Three methods were measured:

  • Self-goal-setting (specific tactics for managing one’s behavior, like setting smarter goals)
  • Self-cueing (notes, reminders, to-do-today lists, etc.)
  • Self-dialogue (also referred to as motivational self-talk)

All strategies correlate significantly with innovation measured through increased intellectual proprietary. Men may exhibit more ambition. On the other hand, women appeared to use self-goal-setting to a greater extent than male entrepreneurs. Male entrepreneurs use self-cueing more than females.

2. Male entrepreneurs demonstrate more dominance than women do

This difference is something you would expect too. It may reinforce the idea of the ultimate entrepreneur: strongly knows what they want and is decisive. 

The flip side of this powerful behavior is that men don’t ask for help. Vanessa Loder reports that women are less afraid to ask for help when they need it. Men think they need to go on their own, making it much harder to ask for help. 

3. Male entrepreneurs tend to be more of a Pioneer than the female ones

An entrepreneurial mindset is strongly associated with being creative and a pioneer who easily comes up with multiple ideas and business opportunities. Our data confirm that male business owners demonstrate a stronger Pioneer thinking style than women do. Creativity is strongly related to that of the Pioneer, as one might imagine. 


Women business owners do business differently but are no less enterprising than men

It is all the more interesting to note that men and women are not inferior to each other when it comes to creativity or business creation. Women do business differently than their male counterparts, but they are certainly no less enterprising than men. All the more reason to promote female entrepreneurship and perhaps to stop treating them as a different kind of species?

Maybe you’re curious about your own Entrepreneur Scan score? If so, you can take the scan for free here.

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