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Social Entrepreneurship: Opportunity or Altruism?

Séverine Le Loarne, esiegnant chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management
Published on
14 December 2017

Why does an entrepreneur decide to launch a social entrepreneurship project that is sustainable and responsible? While research literature tends to suggest that social entrepreneurs are women or seniors (both male and female), research carried out by Séverine Le Loarne-Lemaire, a professor and researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management, contradicts several accepted points of view.

What are some general facts concerning men and women in social entrepreneurship?

Women are more engaged in social entrepreneurship than men. It's a fact that has been confirmed over the past 20 years. However, major institutions for social entrepreneurship are generally created and developed by men. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that women, by choice or not, tend to have more difficulty managing the growth of their company.

Your research surprisingly demonstrated that the engagement in social entrepreneurship by senior men, in particular, was motivated by altruism whereas female entrepreneurs are less focused on their social impact. You also note the specificities of French society…

I consider this to be a particularly interesting point in our research. When I questioned male and female entrepreneurs (in social and non-social entrepreneurial projects), it was clear that in France, social and environmental responsibility is equally present in men and women. Some interesting points drawn from our research:

  • Men of more than 50 years of age (seniors) were an exception as they tended to be preoccupied with what they could leave behind for future generations and were therefore motivated by altruism
  • For senior women, it’s more complicated. We did not observe this strong desire to leaving something for future generations. But there was a desire for recognition in terms of success and a desire to leave something behind for children.
  • Younger women demonstrated equal desires for social and environmental responsibility as men.

Finally, are women more present as social entrepreneurs because of education, opportunity or altruism? What are the differences between stereotypes and real motivations? Why is there such a difference in our perceptions?

You can take into account several explanations:

We general attribute "caring" to women. But you have to distinguish between working in a field related to service or caring for people AND having a highly developed sense of "caring".

In this field like many others, we have to be suspicious of stereotypes. Stereotypical “female” and “male” characteristics tend to attribute socially and environmentally responsible actions to women. But that’s not necessarily the case. This belief developed historically because of factors such as the fact women were engaged in charity work, the image of the female in the Bible, a woman’s “maternal” role, etc. These perceptions developed to their strongest point in the 17th century and the 19th century didn’t change them.

France is a unique situation because in contrast with what we might think, the French woman’s place in the economy is in fact better than in most places. And Italy is in fact not far behind us…

There are also career choices that are very gender oriented due to our perceptions of roles that are attributed to each gender.

Finally, we have to take into consideration the various economic crises that have happened recently. They are changing our economic values. What were considered “masculine” norms such as aggressive growth for companies, are no longer seen as magic recipes that will work naturally.

Social entrepreneurship, age and gender: toward a model of social involvement in entrepreneurship
Séverine Le Loarne-Lemaire, Adnan Maalaoui, Léo-Paul Dana https://doi.org/10.1504/IJESB.2017.084844

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