Joan Winn

on Thursday, 03 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Issues Motivated Leadership

Joan Winn
Professor of Management, Daniels College of Business, The University of Denver
Joann Winn

Joan Winn is Professor of Management at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in competitive strategy and human resources management. Dr. Winn has conducted research on new venture development and growth, business turnarounds and strategic positioning, discrimination and harassment, international management and organizational culture. She is considered an expert in case research and has written several case studies on women-owned businesses in the US and in the Czech Republic. Her research and case studies have been published in the Journal of General Management, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Management Education, Journal of Organization Change Management, International Encyclopedia of Business and Manage­ment, Case Research Journal, Entrepre­neurship Theory & Practice, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, International Entrepreneurship & Management Journal, Women in Management Review, and several conference proceedings and textbooks.

Dr. Winn was involved in the inaugural Entrepreneurial Excellence Workshop presented by the Sonoma State University Entrepreneurship Center, “Bringing your Company to the Next Level,” in 2002 and the first three “Experiential Classroom: Lifelong Learning for Entrepreneurship Education Professionals” workshops sponsored by the Thomas C. Page Center for Entrepreneurship, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 2000 and 2001, and Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) in 2002. Dr. Winn has conducted entrepreneurship seminars and workshops in the U.S. and, most recently, in the Czech Republic where she spent the 2004-2005 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar. She has been president and served on the executive board of the Western Casewriters Associa­tion and the U.S. Association for Small Business & Entrepreneur­ship and is currently on the board of North American Case Research Associa­tion. Recent awards include the “Best Case Reviewer” award from Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice in 2007, Western Academy of Management’s “JMI Outstanding Scholar” in 2008, and the Academy of Management Public and Non Profit Division’s Carolyn Dexter Best Paper Award, 2009. 

Women Entrepreneurs - Can We Remove the Barriers?

Interview with Professor Joan Winn

In your article, Can we remove the barriers for women entrepreneurs, you clearly outline that the reasons and motivation behind entrepreneurship as a career choice for women and men differ, for example, "While women entrepreneurs allegedly seek self-fulfillment (Moore and Buttner, 1997), men claim to start their own companies because they believe that by doing so they can increase their income." What differences have you found in the perceptions of women and men as to the level of satisfaction, personal and financial, in becoming self-employed?

Research on business owners, which has been fairly consistent over time, shows that culture and expectations are the best predictors of entrepreneurial activity. In countries where entrepreneurship is not regarded as a prestigious or legitimate activity, new venture creation and self employment are low. In addition, unless a would-be entrepreneur expects to be successful, it is unlikely she—or he—will try. Women tend to be more sensitive to the local environment than men, and more drawn to non-monetary aspects of entrepreneurship such as family-related flexibility and autonomy. Where opportunities for lucrative and satisfying employment exist, or where the culture does not respect independence or originality, entrepreneurial behavior will be low. Countries with high rates of entrepreneurship see risk-taking as acceptable, if not admirable, and hold individual initiative and innovation in high regard.

Please keep in mind that entrepreneurship and self-employment are not the same. Entrepreneurship implies the creation of an enterprise, one that employs others and that, typically, has a geographical base of operations separate from one’s home. Self-employment implies the work of one person, and is usually considered “income replacement,” rather than enterprise creation. Self-employment tends to be isolating, since there is no about-the-work camaraderie among employees. The issue of isolation for entrepreneurs usually concerns the lack of support systems for the decision-maker at the top.

There is obviously satisfaction, on a personal and professional level, when a new business yields financial returns. The entrepreneurs I know are committed to creating a workplace environment that is personally supportive, employee- and customer-oriented, and financially rewarding. On the other hand, the women I know have lower expectations for financial return, and more patience for slow growth than their male counterparts. Both men and women need an environment—on the personal, community, and governmental level—that is conducive to entrepreneurial activity.

You have suggested that career models need to differentiate between the priorities and pulls that differently affect men and women. How can this be integrated into workplace structures and policies? Are you aware of any best practices attempting to do this?

While I haven’t conducted systematic interviews with men entrepreneurs or men who are self-employed, the main issues for women still revolve around issues of “family-balance”. In a nutshell, men don’t get pregnant, men can’t nurse babies. Even when childcare is feasible and available, parents of young children spend an inordinate amount of time coordinating logistics (school activities, sports and performance events, play dates) , not to mention the emotional pulls of managing home and work. Despite the best of intentions, family-friendly workplace policies create a tension between the people who have children at home and those who don’t. Employees without children often resent the special consideration given to those with children, such as release time or special assignments. Employees whose children are grown can easily forget how difficult managing a family—especially when children are young and physically demanding—can be. Even those of us who recognize the difficulties of balancing family needs with work schedules are often clueless about the added burden that a disabled, ill or troubled child or an aging parent can have on one’s ability to focus on work. We all see our own situation’s pressures more clearly than those of others.

With governments encouraging women entrepreneurship, do you see them as recognising that the combination of undercapitalization and family obligations limit the size of women's businesses?

The issue of business size becomes critical in the area of start-up capital and employee benefits (enticements). Small firms are usually self-financed. Low start-up capital may indicate a conservative approach to business initiation, but the availability of start-up capital also impacts the type and form of business that one can start or grow. Consumer-oriented, production-based and technology-dependent business have higher start-up costs than, for example, professional services or sales organizations. Women tend to start businesses alone, rather than with a team, which further limits external funding possibilities. Most venture capital firms expect fast growth and high returns.

Finding and retaining employees has a huge impact on business success. Large companies can provide benefits such as healthcare, childcare, flexible schedules, travel and/or entertainment allowances, and merchandise discounts. Small businesses operate at the margins. Governments that provide benefits dependent on employment status—such as parental leave, health insurance, retirement and unemployment compensation—discourage entrepreneurial behavior and small firm growth. Jurisdictions with overly burdensome regulations tied to incorporation, employment or operations, also inhibit new-business creation.

How do you view current discussions about work and family issues? Do you think that women's perceptions of these issues need to change so that they are integrated rather than separated and will doing this improve the situation?

In theUS, there is no stigma attached to women with children who work or who run businesses. That is not true everywhere. On the other hand, theUShas a narrow view of family involvement in business activities. In my parents’ generation, children worked in the family firm. Now we take a disparaging view of young children who clean floors or wait tables or trim garments or stitch soccer balls for their parents’ company. We seem to have no trouble sending young children door to door to sell magazine subscriptions after school, but take a dim view of children who work in the family store after hours. We sympathize with the mother who works to support her children, yet we criticize the woman who works for professional development or advancement. Despite good intentions, government “entitlements” and training programs do not encourage women to take risks and strike out on their own. Perhaps it is not women who need to change their perceptions!

In observing that "For men, work and family are complementary; for women, work and family present a dilemma," and that women entrepreneurs "openly admit to family pressures and personal relationships undermining their business dreams," what would you advise women who are considering or are involved in entrepreneurship?

As an educator, I believe the key is education. We have an increasing number of entrepreneurship programs, both at the high school and university level. We have business start-up workshops sponsored by private firms and government agencies. We teach accounting and finance and logistics and employee relations. We teach marketing and strategy. We teach team building and creativity. Where are courses in family or personal (not “personnel”) management? Our culture forgives fathers who work long hours at the expense of their families, but castigates mothers (even those whose husbands are the primary caregivers!). Our culture expects men to be ambitious and well-paid. Ambitious women are still suspect; salary gaps are greatest at the highest levels in an organization.

My best advice—for anyone, not just women—is to find a mentor, a role model, a support system. In the past, there were few successful role models for would-be women entrepreneurs. This is no longer true. In the past there were few support groups for women who seek entrepreneurship, self-employment, or the corporate executive suite. This is no longer true. In the past, women had to develop business plans and navigate legislative requirements by themselves. This is no longer true. In the past, men had opportunities for apprenticeships and internships, now these are equally open to women. The main thing holding women back is their own reluctance to take the plunge. On the other hand, no one can be successful unless their life partners—spouse, parents, children, friends—are supportive and understanding.

What have been some changes in the area of women's entrepreneurship that you have been pleased about?

Entrepreneurship is mainstream, out of the closet, in the public eye, a visible economic force. Men and women alike have opportunities for business creation and professional advancement. Technology has enabled work arrangements that allow flexibility as never before. I remember discussing with my students case studies of women who had long commutes to work, or travel schedules that took them away from home for days on end, ten-hour work shifts and draconian promotion policies. These are now the exception rather than the rule, with teleconferencing and telework minimizing jetlag and rush-hour commutes. The path to entrepreneurship, or the path to the executive suite, need not preclude the choice to have a family. I know women with children who have launched and built architecture and construction companies, IT and engineering firms, law and accounting offices, retail and manufacturing operations. Women dominate real estate and insurance sales. An increasing number of women-owned businesses engage in international trade. Changes in the general economy, changes in employment law and taxation policies, changes in the availability of healthcare, childcare and eldercare services, changes in economic policy toward market-oriented competition, affordable opportunities for education and training, and programs that offer financial and management assistance have a profound impact on women’s entrepreneurship and on economic development worldwide.