A Qualitative Exploration of how to improve mentoring for women entrepreneurs

Alison Theaker

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Whilst the number of women-owned enterprises has been increasing substantially in recent decades, women still lag behind men in the creation of new enterprises. This is especially so in rural economies, despite the possibility that entrepreneurial activities would increase women’s economic activity in rural areas. Mentoring is a form of support that is suggested as particularly relevant to women entrepreneurs as it could tackle the problem of the under-representation of women.
This paper aims to examine whether mentoring is effective in supporting women in a rural context to engage in entrepreneurial activity. It addresses the lack of knowledge of developed economies through undertaking a study of mentoring of female entrepreneurs in Devon, UK. It seeks to contribute insights to the development of institutional support programmes, and thus bridge the gap between policy and practice as well as creating value, employment and community involvement.
An interpretivist approach was adopted using a qualitative research design. One-off in-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of women who operate in some of the most common areas for women entrepreneurs identified by The Federation of Small Businesses in the UK: namely real estate; health and social work; community, social and personal services; wholesale and retail. In addition, as the major industries in the location are farming, food and drink production and tourism, women entrepreneurs were sought in these areas. Participants were found through some of the local business networks that the researcher attended, as well as through LinkedIn.
Quota sampling was combined with a purposive approach to select those who had had experience of mentoring. Drawing on justification in the literature that 12 interviews should be enough to reach data saturation in a qualitative study, twelve women native to the rural context and twelve who were incomers were selected, with a further six interviews with mentors. Data was analysed using thematic analysis.
Some participants found that there was more expectation to run one’s own business in a rural environment. This was also connected to the lack of employment opportunities. The majority were either sole traders or used manufacturing capability outside the area.
Upbringing was found to be a major influence on whether women engaged in entrepreneurship. Most stated that there had been no expectation or suggestion that this was a possibility from their schooling.
With regards to mentoring, most expressed the view that it was “vital”. Most were very pragmatic about seeking out practical advice, and gender was not an issue. The most significant form of mentoring was found to be peer mentoring, from women’s business networks and from professional associations and online networks. This form of mentoring has been neglected in the literature. Bearing in mind the small sample size, the findings indicate a more targeted approach to mentoring programmes should be taken. Peer mentoring has not been explored in depth. In addition, the curriculum in the UK could be broadened to include recognition of entrepreneurship as a valid career path.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2022
EventInternational Conference on Women's Entrepreneurship and Leadership - Rome, Italy
Duration: 13 Dec 202214 Dec 2022


ConferenceInternational Conference on Women's Entrepreneurship and Leadership


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