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Understanding the Experiences of Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs: A Portraiture Study Open Access

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While women entrepreneurs have significantly contributed to the U.S. economy, their enterprises have been depicted as being smaller, having less profits, concentrating in low-profit sectors, and generating fewer jobs than their male counterparts (Blank et al., 2010; Hughes, Jennings, Brush, Carter, & Welter, 2012; Marlow, 2014; Minniti & Naude, 2010; U.S. Department of Commerce Economic and Statistics Administration, 2010). Thus, the portrayal of women and their ventures as disadvantage is prevalent in the women entrepreneurship literature and there is a need for research that presents a perspective that does not perpetuate this discourse (Marlow, 2014).The purpose of this qualitative portraiture study is to understand the essence of U.S.-based, growth-oriented women entrepreneurs’ experiences in growing their businesses by centering women’s ways of knowing in the male normative environment of entrepreneurship. The study explores the following research question with two sub-questions: How do growth-oriented women entrepreneurs understand their experiences in growing their organizations within a male-normative environment of entrepreneurship? How do women entrepreneurs identify and use facilitators to grow their businesses? How do women entrepreneurs describe the experience of acquiring knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to grow their businesses?An appreciative inquiry perspective, a key tenet of portraiture methodology that was selected for this study which is a blending of art and science (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997), guided the examination of growth-oriented women entrepreneurs’ experiences in this study. Rather than looking for the deficiency in the women entrepreneurs’ experiences, this perspective allowed a search for ‘the good’ (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2008). The ontology that guided this study was social constructivism (Creswell, 2013; Crotty, 1998; Guba & Lincoln, 1989) and the epistemology was based on women’s way of knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Golbert, & Tarale, 1986). The portraits of the three women entrepreneurs selected for this study were assembled into a gallery with their artifacts and stories organized and presented in a consistent way. My interpretation of each participant’s story was presented in a poetic form which depicted the essence of each woman entrepreneur’s experience in growing her businesses.The findings of this study revealed the following six themes: women’s entrepreneurial experiences, perception of their entrepreneurial characteristics, entrepreneurial learning, entrepreneurial reflections on gender, entrepreneurial knowing, and entrepreneurial self as knower. Conclusions are presented on the experiences of women entrepreneurs’ growth within the normative environment of entrepreneurship, facilitators that women entrepreneurs use to grow their businesses, women entrepreneurs knowing along with implications for research and practice.

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