Combating entrepreneurial stereotypes through education

Karen Williams-Middleton, Professor of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology

The popular stereotype of entrepreneurs is of heroic individuals battling against the odds.

These stereotypes are strongly embedded, but they are limiting, incorrectly framing entrepreneurship as attainable only through unique talent and exceptional skill.

Research from Chalmers University of Technology highlights how introducing identity into entrepreneurial education breaks limitations and yields greater diversity in the field.

Education to combat entrepreneurial stereotypes

“The ongoing challenges associated with the prevailing stereotypes in entrepreneurship and its education need addressing as its important for students and educators alike.”

“It helps to raise awareness of how easy it is to over emphasise the common examples, and how restricting these examples can be,” explains Karen Williams-Middleton.

Karen recently published the scientific article The relatable entrepreneur: Combating stereotypes in entrepreneurship education’ in the scientific journal Industry and Higher Education, together with Stephanie E Raible, a researcher at the University of Delaware.

“Stereotypes are prominent in entrepreneurship and therefore its vital for entrepreneurial education to be brought into the classroom by both students and educators.”

“They can be a significant limiting factor towards imagining becoming entrepreneurial. Educators should provide more varied examples of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs.”

“Key to this is training students how to practice ‘identity management’ – understanding and managing other identities they might aspire to, to learn how to ‘filter’ various social media and environmental influences for themselves,” says Karen Williams-Middleton.

Addressing entrepreneurial stereotypes

Entrepreneurship is often stereotyped as attainable only through exceptional skill and talent, and often characterised exclusively by ostensibly ‘masculine’ qualities.

The article raises discussion of stereotyping in entrepreneurship education, by using the stories of two current female entrepreneurs who themselves struggle with the issue.

The two candidates were selected for the mixture of similarities and differences they shared, and because, importantly, both had only recently entered into entrepreneurship.

Factors investigated included whether they had co-founders, children, received financial support from spouse, and whether they identified as entrepreneurs or small business owners.

“The stories mirror perspectives and reactions to social media and other environmental inputs that students may experience, thereby opening up for reflection and discussion.”

“Identity management as an important tool in entrepreneurship pedagogy has previously received only limited research attention,” says Karen Williams-Middleton.

“The important thing is to be aware of stereotype use and then to address it. Try to use a spectrum of examples and engage students in discussion about stereotypes and perceptions.”

“It is surprising how easy and quickly we all fall into different stereotypical perspectives.”

“We should and actually do know better, but it still happens, perhaps because of the lack of familiarity beyond the big names that are reified constantly in the media.”

The paper “The relatable entrepreneur: Combating stereotypes in entrepreneurship education” in scientific journal Industry and Higher Education is written by Stephanie E Raible, University of Delaware and Karen Williams-Middleton, Chalmers University of Technology.