Communicatively constituting careers: paradoxical design processes of women entrepreneurs in China, Denmark, and the United States

Ziyu Long, Purdue University


Gender inequality is still largely a reality in entrepreneurship as evident in women’s lack of representation in the high-growth, high-potential start-ups and consistently lower entrepreneurship participation rates compared to those of men (Jennings & Brush, 2013). Situating communication as a central explanatory lens to address this and other issues, this project contributes a dynamic and embodied design-driven career theory that captures women’s organizing processes and goes beyond static models of entrepreneurship stages, successful entrepreneurs’ characteristics, and start-up activities. Drawing from gendered work and career communication theory (Buzzanell & Lucas, 2006, 2013), Communicative-As-Design (CAD) (Aakhus, 2007), and the Communicative Constitution of Organizations (CCO, see Brummans, Cooren, Robichaud, & Taylor, 2014), this project investigated how women entrepreneurs from three different political-economic systems—China, Denmark, and the United States—communicatively design their entrepreneurial careers. This mixed method project utilized both qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews (n = 40) and two “passing” organizational ethnographies, as well as quantitative analysis including semantic network analysis of women’s interviews and statistical analysis of survey data from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the largest annual research project investigating hundreds of thousands of individuals’ entrepreneurial activity and attitudes around the world. The findings revealed three processes that constituted women’s entrepreneurial career design: (a) framing, whereby career choices were discursively (re)constructed by women entrepreneurs and a variety of other agents in specific locales; (b) prototyping, whereby abstract ideas were materialized into tangible career prototypes; and (c) envisioning, whereby career designs were analyzed and evaluated by women entrepreneurs to distill design rules to guide future actions. Regarding framing, a ventriloqual lens to career design surfaced how multiple non-human agents, such as cultural values, institutional contexts, and female body, co-constructed entrepreneurial career choices with women entrepreneurs in tensional interactions. Women entrepreneurs yielded and (re)directed forces of various design agents to transform the constraining forces into facilitating ones—mirroring the transformation of tensions of Yin/Yang energy during tuishou (pushing hands) routine of Tai Chi practice. Regarding prototyping, women entrepreneurs engaged in boundary work to make their entrepreneurial career tangible in material-symbolic intersections of space, time, object, body, and sound. The temporal spatial aspects of their career prototype also made women say or do certain things and co-constructed the work-life/personal-professional boundaries with women entrepreneurs. Regarding envisioning, findings suggested that the everyday doing of entrepreneurship could be considered as practices of resilience as it required constant negotiations of risks, ambiguities, challenges, and setbacks inherent to venture creation processes. Women also actively worked with their customers, employees, and investors to constitute responsible entrepreneurship that aligned with their vision and moral standards. This cross-national, multimethodological, and multitheoretical examination of women entrepreneurs’ careers contributes to communication scholarship by capturing the politicized interactions of career design and paradoxes that are embedded in particular political-economic and cultural dynamics and evidenced within the interplays of individual, relational, occupational, national, and global processes. The theorization of entrepreneurial career design extends research on CCO and CAD, and bridges interdisciplinary inquiries on entrepreneurship, organizing, resilience, and ethics. Practically, this project responds to calls to explicate the complexities and nuances in entrepreneurship and understand women’s everyday entrepreneuring process in diverse social-material settings. Insights gained from this project advocate for change in entrepreneurial scenes on behalf of women and shed light to improvements of policy and regulation, educational programs, and career support for (women) entrepreneurs.




Buzzanell, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Entrepreneurship|Communication|Gender studies

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server