Title

The Networking Behaviour of Women Small Business Owners

Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Business

Faculty

Business and Law

First Advisor

Professor Elizabeth Walker

Second Advisor

Professor Alan Brown

Abstract

Businesses are not isolated entities - they expand and grow through links with others. Like all business owners, women small business owners (SBOs) need social and business networks that support the establishment and growth of their business. This thesis presents an insight and increased understanding of the networking behaviours of women SBOs in Western Australia. It was aimed at determining whether women business owners’ motivations for starting a business were linked to their networking strategies.

Although there is substantial literature on “entrepreneurship”, “women entrepreneurship” and “small business”, the researcher could not find any literature in the field of Australian women small business ownership that integrates motivations and networking studies Much of the previous literature on SBOs has concentrated on demographic and psychographic characteristics such as gender, age, motivation, and family responsibilities. Only one previous study was identified (Curran, Jarvis, Blackburn & Black, 1993), which specifically looked at the link between motivations and networking. This research aimed to contribute and address some of the existing gaps identified in the literature review on this topic by examining the potential link between business start-up motivation and networking of Australian women SBOs, and comparing their networks and networking behaviours, the research introduced an added dimension to women SBOs and their networking behaviour, not previously available in the literature.

This research adopted an exploratory approach and was guided by social network theory (SNT), as little was known about the subject area. The research was qualitative, as interviews were the main source of data for answering the research questions. Qualitative data was collected through 28 semi-structured in-depth interviews. The data sets were then analysed to determine the networking behaviour of women SBOs with different motivations for starting their own businesses.

This study sought to explore the following primary question:

How do women’s motivations for starting a small business influence their networking behaviour?

In addition to the primary research question, there were three secondary questions:

1. How do women’s motivations for starting a small business influence their network structure?

2. How do women’s motivations for starting a small business influence their network interaction?

3. How do women’s motivations for starting a small business influence their network content?

The research framework was based on the research questions and the outcome of the preliminary literature review. This study drew upon earlier work by Hughes (2006) who used women SBOs’ start-up motivations to categorise them into three types: classic SBOs, forced SBOs, and work-family SBOs. It expands upon Hughes’ (2006) study by further comparing the networking behaviour of these three types of women SBOs. The target population was metropolitan Perth, Western Australia.

This research examined the networking activities of women SBOs in their pursuit of resources for three main activities: obtaining general assistance for overall business strategies; obtaining assistance with daily business operations, such as advice and resources for legal, financial, technology and marketing; and emotional support through mentoring and socialising. The findings highlighted many similarities and differences between the three types of women SBOs (CSBO, FSBO and WFSBO) and concluded that there are two different networking cultures: “entrepreneurial networking culture” and “non-entrepreneurial networking culture.” The study found that women SBOs chose the networking strategy that best suited their business, lifestyle and future business plans. Those who started their business for financial reasons hoped to expand and grow, and had an entrepreneurial networking culture with a diverse network of strong and weak ties. Women SBOs who started their business for family and domestic reasons chose to keep their business small, did not plan to expand or grow, were non-entrepreneurial by definition, and had a small homogenous network. One networking strategy was not necessarily better than the other. The best type of networking was that which allowed business owners to achieve their goals and purpose for starting the business in the first place.

The research revealed that the networking behaviour of women SBOs was based on their motivation for starting their business. Recommendations for future research include an examination of these phenomena at a national level, and further scrutiny of differences in networking behaviours between genders.

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