Ambassadors for female entrepreneurship
The project Ambassadors for Women’s Entrepreneurship was implemented by the Swedish government as part of a larger programme that was started in order to encourage women’s entrepreneurship. The purpose of the project was to change the current view of women’s entrepreneurship by making women entrepreneurs, especially those managing innovative firms in service industries, more visible. The current study is a theory-based evaluation of the Ambassador project.
Some 800 female entrepreneurs were recruited as ambassadors. Their mission was to present themselves and their companies to students in schools and universities and in other public forums. The ambassadors made some 11,000 public appearances and met around 170,000 people between 2008 and 2014. Most of the stated targets for media exposure for the ambassadors were met.
Around 14 per cent of Swedish women over the age of 16 run a business, and the management of the firm is the primary source of income for around 7 per cent of Swedish women. Between 25% and 30% of Swedish entrepreneurs and firm-managers are women, a share that has been fairly constant for the past fifty years. Women’s entrepreneurship is concentrated in labour-intensive service industries, especially in care industries. The entrepreneur as a profession has strong male connotations in both policy and research. Female entrepreneurship is described as fundamentally different from male entrepreneurship and driven by different rationales. Companies managed by women tend to have fewer employees and lower profitability than companies run by men.
The Ambassador project had the specific objective of making women entrepreneurs more visible, especially women who manage innovative businesses in service industries. The potential for successfully challenging the public image of female entrepreneurship is limited considering that these are industries where women traditionally are entrepreneurs and firm managers. Ambassadors were not remunerated for their participation in the project, which may reinforce the image of the subservient (servicing) woman who is not driven by the same economic incentives that men are. The establishment of a separate arena for women entrepreneurs reinforced the image of women as a fundamentally different kind of entrepreneur compared to the male norm.