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Entrepreneurial Leadership and Resilience for Women: lessons learned and ways forward

By Katerina Nicolopoulou - Posted on 20 July 2022

Dr Katerina Nicolopoulou has undertaken research into how to foster entrepreneurial leadership and resilience for women - here, she outlines the lessons learned and some ways to progress.

A research project I recently led focused on designing the blueprint for a toolkit on entrepreneurial leadership and resilience for women. 

The project was supported by the Research Interns@Strathclyde programme, with Tommy Yen, First Class Honours graduate in Enterprise and Marketing as the Research Intern, whilst the engagement process was supported by Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation and Visiting Professor at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.

One of our key goals was to identify elements that could be systematised into a toolkit, in order to foster entrepreneurial leadership and resilience for women; we also aimed to identify ways to support the applicability and relevance of such a toolkit for contexts in the Global South, and for women entrepreneurs in the UK who might originate from Global South contexts. 

There were several important lessons learned from engaging with entrepreneurs, business advisors and researchers in the process of completing this project. 

Overall, women represent a large proportion of the informal sector in the Global South, although often their endeavours are necessity-driven or opportunistic, and for that reason self- efficacy and recognition can be a challenge. Understanding the style and role of institutions, networks and connections in the Global South is an important component in order to allow potential entrepreneurial leaders to emerge.  

The local and regional realities in various contextual factors can have a significant effect on the image of the woman entrepreneur, as there are societal expectations and perceptions that do not always favour entrepreneurship in comparison to a career in an established profession; however, the support by family systems can make resilience and leadership more multifaceted and personal meaning-based. 

Entrepreneurial leadership emerged as the potential to make a difference, to moderate action and to generate impact where most needed; people, planet and the global environment were noted as important impact areas, and importance was given to aligning with business values and having a purpose.  

Other findings of the research included: 

  • Problem solving, and a mindset focused on turning problems into economic or business opportunities, vision, and the capacity to motivate others through establishing a framework to follow were also stressed as leadership features.  
  • Resilience emerged as a combination of being able to base oneself on concrete skills focused on technical aspects of the business as well as having the confidence to pursue one’s own endeavours; developing a resilient mindset included being surrounded by the right people (eg: women's organisations), learning to receive feedback and to make the best use of it for personal development.  
  • A combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft skills’ were seen as important, especially at the start- up phase for entrepreneurial women. However, beyond that, the capacity to hire and develop, remain confident and competitive in business, knowing when and how to ask for expert advice, were seen as equally important.  
  • Creativity and emotional engagement also emerged as important, as they were seen as essential in order to facilitate impact creation and address the challenges involved in the identification as a leader or an entrepreneur.  
  • Mentoring was seen as another important component, both at start-up and development stage, for its capacity to support general business growth, technical/sector expertise, or the introduction of different perspectives/ways of working and thinking. Modes of mentoring could include personal development, sharing of stories and role modelling, but also specialist/technical expertise in order to navigate specific sectors and their challenges.  
  • Networking emerged as an important part of a relational management approach, suitable for its collective character, supporting a leaner model of leadership. Networking events were seen as promoting peer support and group problem solving as well as facilitating the emergence of different leaders. 

This research and engagement revealed, overall, the importance of revisiting attitudes to women in business; these would incorporate both policy and practice as well as mindset oriented aspects, ranging from providing support for childcare, to enhancing business agile responses, networking, peer learning and development, as well as widening the understanding of ‘the other’ as entrepreneur.  

Last but not least, they highlighted the role that institutional and multilateral agencies could play, such as, for example, through the implementation of the UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. 

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