Entrepreneurial Passion Differs Between Men and Women

ALTHOUGH A GROWING body of research demonstrates that passion is a key factor in entrepreneurial performance, few researchers have studied what sparks this passion. Recognizing the social context of entrepreneurship, Melissa Cardon, Nestlé Endowed Professor of Business Administration in the Haslam College of Business, investigated how social consid-erations such as gender drive passion among entrepreneurs.

The study, “Fueling the fire: Examining identity centrality, affective interpersonal commitment and gender as drivers of entrepreneurial passion,” which appeared in January in the Journal of Business Venturing, found that the origins and types of passion entrepreneurs experience differ markedly along gender lines. Charles Y. Murnieks, of Oregon State University College of Business, and J. Michael Haynie, of Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, co-authored.

The researchers note that due to societal gender norms, male and female entrepreneurs may encounter different obstacles when forming companies, take different approaches to identifying opportunities, and have different priorities for their businesses. While society tends to expect women to focus on care, empathy, and relationship formation, popular accounts of entrepreneurship typically portray it in terms of a desire for power, independence, and autonomy–characteristics often associated with men.

Using a seven-point scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” the researchers asked 166 active American entrepreneurs in a variety of industries to respond to statements such as: “Being an entrepreneur is an impor-tant part of who I am,” and “It is important to me that my best friend(s) view(s) me as a good entrepreneur.” The study then looked at harmonious entrepreneurial passion, in which an entrepreneur participates “willingly, free of contingency or constraint,” versus obsessive entrepreneurial passion, in which an entrepreneur feels a compulsion to engage.

Because prior studies had shown that when deciding whether or not to start a firm, women tend to rely on social support more than men do, the researchers expected relationships to be equally important in fueling female entrepreneurs’ obsessive passion after founding their firms. Contrary to their predictions, the authors observed that the role of relationships was significantly linked to obses-sive passion for men, but not for women. In terms of harmonious passion, the importance of identifying as an entrepreneur appears to motivate men, but not women.

Cardon finds it interesting that although men  and women reported experiencing the same amount of entrepreneurial passion, the factors that sparked men’s passions did not seem to drive passion for women.

“This means we need more research into how passion evolves for women,” Cardon says.

She emphasizes that societal influence affects  identity evolution and can determine whether someone experiences entrepreneurship as an  obsessive or harmonious aspect of their lives. For example, the study indicated that although male entrepreneurs may rely on social support to help them through adversity, this encouragement can create additional stress. When male entrepreneurs fear that stopping their entrepreneurial endeavors will cause them to lose prestige and relationships, they may feel obligated or compelled to continue.

“Entrepreneurs should think carefully about who they include in their social environment,” Cardon says. “Identities and passions do not get created in a vacuum.”

“Fueling the fire: Examining identity centrality, affective interpersonal commitment and gender as drivers of entrepreneurial passion” is available in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Business Venturing and online. 

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