Gendering Digital Entrepreneurship: From Research to Practice Using a Tensional Lens

Parul Malik, Purdue University


Technological advances in emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) are enabling many women to engage in digital entrepreneurship, a subcategory of entrepreneurship in which some or all of what would be physical in a traditional organization has been digitized (Hull, Hung, Hair, Perotti, & DeMartino, 2007). Several academic researchers and popular press columnists believe (digital) entrepreneurship can help women achieve work-life balance, overcome barriers to career advancement, lessen unemployment, realize their creative potential, and contribute to the economy (e.g., Alboher, 2007; Hytti, 2010; Patterson & Mavin, 2009; Solomon & Tomb, 2013; Wadhwa, 2014). However, entrepreneurship still remains a gendered activity. Using tension-centered approach (Ashcraft & Trethewey, 2004) and gendered career approach (Buzzanell & Lucas, 2006), I analyze data from 30 in-depth interviews with U.S.-based women digital entrepreneurs. A tension-centered approach conceptualizes tensions as endemic to organizational life and not as ruptures or anomalies. This approach does not seek to rid organizational life of tensions, but rather recognizes tensions arise from conflicts between differing ideologies, goals, structures, norms, and practices. It acknowledges irrationality, paradoxes, contradiction and the dilemmas that confront people and how they make sense and respond to such tensions. Analyzing women’s digital entrepreneurship through a tension-centered approach opens space for productively understanding businesses founded by women and generating new theoretical and pragmatic insights. The gendered career approach overcomes the limitations of traditional conceptualization of career and can provide alternative ways for individuals and organizations to frame and enact different dimensions of career (Buzzanell & Lucas, 2006). Findings reveal women digital entrepreneurs experience tensions on multiple levels as they (a) negotiate and embody dominant discourses on entrepreneurship, (b) constitute their careers, and (c) perceive opportunities and challenges in the emerging virtual landscape. On the individual and relational level, women digital entrepreneurs experience several tensions: in their creative pursuits and the pressure to have a “real job”; in making themselves available and switching off; in holding up the entrepreneur prototype and finding themselves short; and in juggling social and family obligations. These tensions were manifest not only in their talk and reported interactions but also in the ways they used the materialities in their lives. On a broader level, in constituting their careers, the participants experienced contradictory pulls that situated them within and in contestation with societal messages. In constructing their careers, they expressed desires: in controlling yet accommodating several responsibilities, in working multiple roles across public and private spaces, and in considering children and societal messages. Finally, the findings also show the constant intersections between the “real world” and virtual world in their work and lives. Here, findings provided insight into the dynamics underpinning their everyday personal and work experiences. These underlying processes were expressed as: constraints; opportunities; tensions and overlaps among entrepreneurs’ different personas. Through illustrating the contradictions, dilemmas, and paradoxes rooted in women’s journey of entrepreneurship in the emerging digital landscape, this study makes theoretical and pragmatic contributions by displaying how gendered processes are constantly shaping digital entrepreneurship outcomes. The findings highlight the need for policymakers to develop policies that support practices whereby enabling women digital entrepreneurs in their work. Ultimately this research project expands and contests the dominant view of digital entrepreneurship to afford spaces for difference.




Connaughton, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Entrepreneurship|Communication|Organization Theory

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