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Opportunity to make a difference key to business

WHILE the reasons why men and women enter small business are |similar, there some significant differences between the genders.

Research by Professor Leonie Still and Dr Wendy Timms with WA small business owners suggests that, while men emphasis economic reasons – such as creating wealth and wanting to “leave something for the family” – women tend to nominate the notion of “making a difference”.

This does not mean that women are not interested in economic or family issues.

Rather, because they are tired of trying to build careers in the corporate world, are frustrated

at not being able to put their ideas into practice and are locked out of important decision-making areas, they view small business as an opportunity to employ their creativity and to put their trust in their judgements and skills.

Professor Still is the director of the Centre for Women and Business, Graduate School of Management at the University of Western Australia and Dr Timms lectures at Curtin University of Technology.

The research revealed that “making a difference” was seen by women as a fundamental shift in the way they run their businesses.

While this shift can translate into many forms, fundamentally it means combining social and economic goals and outcomes in the business rather then being focused primarily on

economic goals and outcomes.

The dimensions of “making a difference” include operating a business with integrity, making values an integral part of the business and its philosophy and building a good working environment for employees.

Other aspects nominated were treating customers as people, providing quality to clients, making a difference to a community, implementing a creative vision that would make a difference, being concerned for customers and being honest, moral and ethical in business.

That is not to say that male-owned businesses do not have some of these qualities.

However, the researchers found women were prepared to put these ideals into practice and to keep their business small if growth meant sacrificing the fundamentals of their operating philosophy.

The work would suggest success may mean something different to women in small business.

Instead of building large businesses and accumulating wealth, power prestige and status, the research revealed that women tended to define success as helping communities, maintaining the freedom to implement their beliefs and values, being in control of decisions, successfully helping clients and being able to test and using their creative abilities.

Because of this, their businesses, while making a contribution to GDP, also make a less tangible contribution to the community.

The research suggests that women are prepared to experiment more in their business modus operandi, suggesting that there is more than one way to do business and still be successful.

It appears that women tend to view their business as an interconnected system of relationships instead of a separate economic unit in a social world.

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