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Meredith Woodwark, PhD
Meredith Woodwark, PhD

Are women-only networks helpful or harmful for women technology founders?

The importance of social connections is well established as vital to entrepreneurial success. But if you are a woman technology entrepreneur, will joining a women-only network help or hinder your success? To find out, authors Meredith Woodwark, Alison Wood and Karin Schnarr investigated how women founders use formal external entrepreneurial networks to build their companies.


While women’s entrepreneurship is growing quickly, women founders remain underrepresented overall, particularly in technology. Women-only entrepreneurial networks (WON) have become popular, but critics argue that a single gender approach limits budding women entrepreneurs by narrowing their access to the connections and resources they need to grow their firms. Prior research has shown that entrepreneurs need to build social capital to access resources and benefit from mentors in order to succeed. But when it comes to women entrepreneurs, existing research has been unclear whether joining a WON means being relegated to a women’s enclave, or whether it is beneficial overall by supporting the unique needs of women founders.


What Did the Researchers Do?

The research team conducted in-depth one-on-one interviews with women technology firm founders and with leaders of formal entrepreneurial networks. Participants primarily resided in Canada with an average age of 40 and whose firms had been running for three or more years. Network members and leaders discussed their experiences running their ventures and how those networks influenced their venture success. We analyzed the interview transcripts using open coding to first identify themes, followed by focused coding to examine the role of WONs specifically.

What Did the Researchers Find?

The study results indicated that the impact of WONs on women technology founders has been overwhelmingly positive, by providing access to financing and sponsorship, enhancing founder credibility, and encouraging greater entrepreneurial diversity. While most founders in the study benefitted from both mixed gender networks and WONs, Woodwark and her co-authors found that WONs provided important developmental opportunities that helped founders to participate in mixed gender networks more effectively and to build and become confident in their identities as women entrepreneurs. The authors thus argue that WONs play an important role in challenging and changing traditional gender structures in the entrepreneurial field.


For women founders, these findings suggest that WONs should not be underestimated or overlooked. For those looking to support women entrepreneurs – including policy makers – this research shows that WONs should be encouraged both as a unique space where women entrepreneurs can do the important identity work of developing as an entrepreneur, but also as a way to promote gender parity in the entrepreneurial domain and lead to positive change in social perceptions of women founders.


Contact: Meredith Woodwark
Article citation: Woodwark, M., Wood, A. and Schnarr, K. (2021), "Standing on the shoulders of giantesses: how women technology founders use single and mixed gender networks for success and change", International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship.

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