Fairly assessing unfairness: an exploration of gender disparities in informal entrepreneurship among academics in business schools

Have you ever wondered why persistent disparities exist between female and male scientists? Well, a part of the answer relies in the way we assess disparities, like comparing Apples with Oranges! For example, there is no point in comparing males and females at different stages of their careers or coming from different disciplines.

It is with this quest, we decided to use one of the most powerful strategies the comparability of independent groups of respondents inspired by methodological designs in the medicine: the “pair-matched” technique. Thus, we isolated 406 female and male academics in business schools (203 of each gender from a sample of 729 academics) who share common characteristics regarding academic position, sub disciplinary affiliation, and experience. We compared and contrasted their engagement in research and non-IP based entrepreneurial activities.

The findings suggest that a comparison of female and noncomparable male academics could lead to a biased judgement of female academics’ performance in terms of publications that are used as the knowledge base to progress to entrepreneurial engagement. However, even compared to comparable men, gender disparities exist regarding research outcomes and entrepreneurial engagements, but the reality is more nuanced than previously stated in the literature. For example, we found that the gender gap of research productivity is smaller than previously measured and that differences between female and comparable male academics tend to decrease drastically over the career stages. We also found that women are less likely to be involved in remunerated consultation, to generate a higher proportion of their revenue from consulting services or to engage in the creation of consultancy companies.

While studies on female academic entrepreneurs have been dominated by technological science areas, we also offer new insights into the entrepreneurial path in nontechnological, knowledge-intensive areas, moving from publications to nonremunerated consultancy, then to remunerated consultancy and finally to consultancy company creation, including a very small minority skipping some steps. We found that most women follow a progressive path in their entrepreneurial journey, but a majority of them struggle to move from nonremunerated to remunerated entrepreneurial engagement.

We thus argue that failure to understand the female faculty’s involvement in entrepreneurship would result either in the underutilisation of women’s human capital or in a “leaking” of women, “at the culmination of their academic career”, where they are already underrepresented. Furthermore, the method we used could also be useful for the identification of disparities regarding other underrepresented academic groups, such as members of minorities or Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), whose literature suffers from the same limitations on the comparison of populations with an unbalanced nature.

Finally, the gender mix policy should address the barriers that female academics in Business Schools face when moving from non-remunerated to remunerated consultancy often at the beginning of their career to reduce their negative impact over time.

Norrin Halilem1a, Muthu De Silva2b and Nabil Amara1c

1Department of Management, Laval University, Quebec, Canada

2 Department of Management, Birkbeck, University of London

For more details: Halilem, N. and De Silva, Muthu and Amara, N. (2022) Fairly assessing unfairness: an exploration of gender disparities in informal entrepreneurship among academics in business schools. Technological Forecasting & Social Change: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2021.121295