USC research audits minds of business women

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USC research audits minds of business women


Published on 27 September 2012

27 September 2012

In a new take on “what do women want”, a University of the Sunshine Coast academic has targeted a question just as mystifying: How do women think?

USC Lecturer in Entrepreneurship Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers has examined the decision-making logic used by successful female entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (individuals who implement initiatives within organisations).

Her research found that women complemented rational planning with a less structured, more relational process known as effectuation.

“That’s when experienced entrepreneurs create their own chances for success by taking incremental steps that move them closer to where they want to be,” Dr de Villiers Scheepers said.

“Taking action reduces their risk because they start collecting real information from the market, rather than waiting for business plans and market research.”

Effectuation theory was coined by University of Virginia researcher Saras Sarasvathy after she studied dozens of top international entrepreneurs.

Dr de Villiers Scheepers said the 269 women in her South African study used self-confidence, belief in their abilities, connections and relationship skills, building valuable social and professional networks.

“We have since conducted exploratory research with small firms on the Sunshine Coast and found many similarities between those firms with growth aspirations and the way in which the entrepreneurial South African women react,” she said.

“My study confirmed that female intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs both were very good at being flexible and ‘rolling with the punches’.

“They limit their risk by understanding what they can afford to lose at each step. They do not fully commit until they see what opportunities have emerged from their actions, allowing their projects to develop and grow.”

She offered four tips for success, based on the research:

1. Business people should feel comfortable using both types of decision-making logic. The planned approach and the effectual, action-driven approach both have merit.
2. Small business advisors such as accountants and financial institutions should not over-emphasise business planning at the expense of taking action, because valuable market information often can be gained by taking incremental steps forward.
3. Small business owners/managers should create opportunities for staff to implement new, value-adding initiatives to build employees’ confidence and commitment to projects.
4. Business people should purposefully build and develop networks with stakeholders who could potentially enrich future projects.

Dr de Villiers Scheepers recently reported her findings at a seminar at USC as part of a 13-week series on various topics presented by USC’s Faculty of Arts and Business each Wednesday until 31 October.

In addition, a paper she delivered on her research at the 2012 International Council for Small Business (ICSB) Conference, held recently in New Zealand, won the top award in the category of Corporate Entrepreneurship.

Before joining USC Dr de Villiers Scheepers lectured in South Africa and Namibia.

Julie Schomberg

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