Why are there fewer young women in entrepreneurship than young men?

The French lagging behind

There are more than fifty highly reputable journals on gender and economics in the world. They are supported by strong collectives, such as the Women’s Business Council established in the UK in 2013, which publishes an annual report on businesses owned and run by women.

French academic rankings show only two, including the leading journal Feminist Economics, which is not well regarded for its alternative approaches to orthodox economic theories. Orelig therefore offers a gender-focused perspective on entrepreneurship by young women in France. These surveys and analyses will be carried out annually, based on a particular theme or focus and expressed by the respondents.

An initial study was carried out in the first quarter of 2021 in 29 Student Centres – aka “Pépites” – among its population of female student entrepreneurs. The analysis involved crossing quantitative and qualitative data.

Out of the 245 valid responses, Generation Z (young women under 26) made up the majority (78.8 per cent). Three quarters of these student entrepreneurs had already had professional experience through internships or significant experience in non-profit organisations.

An appetite for independence and freedom

Of the students surveyed, 93.1 per cent said that they had registered with Pépite in order to set up their company, association or organisation. However, commitment to an entrepreneurial project was not the only reason given by the respondents.

For 27.8 per cent of them, the purpose of the initiative is professional development. Indeed, it enables them to acquire skills that will be useful even if they do not start a business.

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For more than 80 per cent of the respondents, entrepreneurship allows for personal and professional fulfilment. This quest takes shape through three major dimensions: fulfilment through writing your own life story, beyond the simple act of taking part; fulfilment through creating a business that meets a need for others; fulfilment through making innovations or a contribution that can change society.

One woman expressed this search for fulfilment in the following way: “What motivates me is to be able to do something that satisfies me, makes me proud and allows me to be fully independent”.

This is not a way to get around the difficulties encountered in the labour market. Nor are they aiming for wealth or a form of elitism. Only 20 per cent of the students linked entrepreneurship to social prestige and for 30 per cent of them it was a way to create their own job and earn money.

In fact, these student entrepreneurs see entrepreneurship as a way to gain independence and real freedom. It is both a means and an end, as they do not envisage a return to the workforce.

More than half of the respondents associate entrepreneurship with working without a supervisor and the vast majority of them link it to the possibility of organising their own time. This is their vision of work, both as a commitment in terms of value but also as self-fulfilment through creation and their own creativity. One entrepreneur listed the facets of her entrepreneurial vision:

“Creating my own company means meeting a need, creating delight, choosing my profession, putting my skills at the service of the environment, being independent, being happy to get up in the morning, choosing my hours, choosing my partners, working in harmony with my vision, my ethics and my desires.”

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