Published 26 November 2015

A warm welcome or a cold shoulder?

– How men and women are treated in the business promotion system

Inclusive entrepreneurship, including promoting women’s entrepreneurship, requires equal access to resources for enterprise development such as advisory services and access to finance. This study, A Warm Welcome or a Cold Shoulder?, takes a novel approach in that the study focuses on the delivery of business promotion services while previous studies have focused on the demand for and supply of different types of services.

The data in the study were collected from a field experiment, where identical email requests were sent to actors in the publicly financed enterprise promotion system. The purpose was to test whether the frequency and response times differed depending on whether the request came from a man or a woman. The replies were also categorised according to whether they contained a suggested time for an appointment, an explicit invitation to book a time slot with a phone number or other contact details provided in the main email body, or if the reply mainly confirmed that they were an appropriate service provider. We also counted the number of words and the number of positive words in the replies.

The results indicated that response frequency and response time were the same irrespective of whether the email came from a man or a woman.  Men were given a suggested appoint­ment time or an explicit invitation to book a time slot more often than women were. Replies to women contained more positive words than the answers to men. The length of the responses mainly depended on the gender of the respondent.

We interpret the results as meaning that there is no difference in access to business counselling and other business promotion activities. However, there are differences in how the request for assistance is perceived. When the sender of the email is a man, it is more often interpreted as a request for the provision of a service, and the response includes a suggested time slot or a suggested plan of action. If the sender is a woman, the email is more often interpreted as a request for validation that a service is available, confirming that the responding organisation is an appropriate service provider.

It is recommended that professional training for advisory staff includes training on implicit associations and how to structure work to minimise the consequences. Training should also be compulsory and not limited to a self-selected group comprised of those most interested in the question of gender equality.