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Many women quit businesses due to gender roles

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Staff Reporter

10 June 2024, 8:04 PM

Many women quit businesses due to gender rolesDr Janine Swail, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation, University of Auckland. Photo supplied.

Entrepreneurship, often hailed as a pathway to flexibility and work-life balance, has proven to be a challenging road for many female founders.


A recent study by Dr Janine Swail of the University of Auckland and Dr Susan Marlow of the University of Nottingham reveals that gender roles and caregiving responsibilities heavily influence why women leave their businesses.


The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 16 female founders. All participants reported leaving their businesses due to personal reasons, specifically related to gendered caregiving responsibilities, rather than financial or performance issues.





Many of the women cited caring for children or elderly parents as their primary reason for exiting their businesses.


Dr Swail, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation, highlights the global relevance of these findings.


“Although the study participants were from the UK, the implications extend to Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond,” she says.


The study reveals that while the women viewed their business exits as personal and voluntary decisions, they often felt forced to leave due to the competing demands of household and business responsibilities.


“The evidence presents a picture of the participants being pushed into exiting from or closing their businesses, often without the pull toward another career opportunity, such as secure employment. This undermines the so-called choice and agency that supposedly encompasses an entrepreneurial career,” says Dr Swail.



Many participants described the financial and emotional penalties of using entrepreneurship as a route to flexible working and work-life balance.


“Basically, I wanted to do something that was flexible. I was told that [business ownership] would be flexible. I wanted something where I wouldn’t have to work full time, but I was completely wrong about that – especially with setting up your own business. It takes over your life and just becomes another baby, I suppose,” said one interviewee.


Dr Swail notes that nearly all study participants experienced strong negative emotions, including feelings of failure, immediately after exiting their businesses.


“There needs to be a more nuanced view of entrepreneurship and self-employment, and people need to have difficult and realistic conversations in their households about what it takes to set up and run a business, especially when you have, or are considering, a family,” she says.


The researchers argue that support organisations and government policy initiatives should avoid portraying self-employment in an overly optimistic manner.


“Governments have a responsibility not to reproduce arguments that entrepreneurship is beneficial for all because it’s clear that for some women, who are at a certain point in their lives where caring responsibilities are large, there’s the potential for this route to be financially and psychologically damaging,” says Dr Swail.





Additionally, Dr Swail and Dr Marlow suggest that networking sites for female entrepreneurs should provide platforms for sharing negative experiences alongside success stories.


“Entrepreneurs, particularly women, need to be in relationships where they feel supported in terms of caregiving and finances. This is a conversation we don’t often have openly in start-up ecosystems,” says Dr Swail.


This study calls for a broader, more realistic conversation about the challenges of entrepreneurship, particularly for women balancing business ownership with caregiving responsibilities.