Gender and entrepreneurship: Advancing debate and challenging myths; exploring the mystery of the under‐performing female entrepreneur

Susan Marlow, Maura McAdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

159 Citations (Scopus)



Women‐owned businesses are frequently described as under‐performing in that the majority remain small and marginal. The authors dispute this description; within this paper, it is argued that such performance profiles reflect the constrained performance of most small firms. The assertion that women owned firms under‐perform reflects a gendered bias within the entrepreneurial discourse where femininity and deficit are deemed coterminous. In addition, women‐owned firms are expected to under‐perform given expectations of female weakness in the context of male normativity and superiority. Accordingly, the aim of this paper is to critically evaluate the association between gender and business performance suggesting that this critique has implications for the broader development of our understanding of entrepreneuring behaviours.


This is a conceptual research note which explores the notion of performance and under‐performance in the context of gender.


It is argued that gendered socio‐economic positioning ensures that women‐owned businesses demonstrate constrained performance but this is not synonymous with under‐performance. Furthermore, ingrained epistemological gendered biases persist which portray women as flawed entrepreneurs despite the absence of convincing data regarding essential gendered differences between the performance of male and female entrepreneurs.

Research limitations/implications

The paper suggests that far greater reflexive criticism is called for regarding epistemological assumptions which shape the current research agenda.


This discussion develops a critical analysis of the association between gender, performance and entrepreneuring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-124
JournalInternational Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)

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