Co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union
The United Nations (2020) warned that the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis will negatively affect women entrepreneurs more than men when social protection plans, and emergency schemes neglect constraints women face.
There are programs helping women entrepreneurs implementing digital tools. Still the problem remains and is getting worse according to the European Commission 2018 study on Women in the Digital Age and the 2019 Digital Economy and Society Index report. Programs need to be improved by:
Our goal is to help women entrepreneurs because they are skilled at using digital tools for social purposes, but they need help digitalizing their businesses (Aerts, 2019) and since they are less in formal ICT classes (European Commission, 2018 and 2019) and more in micro firms that are less digitalized (United Nations, 2020), there is lots of potential for improvement.
Therefore, we wished to engage in a large-scale understanding of female user needs and influence or adapt training in current and new digital tools. The overall objective was to develop a training program that will train experts by taking the above-mentioned requirements into account in order to offer trainings and mentorship sessions that are tailored to the needs of the female entrepreneurs digitalizing their business and help them overcome the obstacles they face in digitalization.
Our methodology consisted of the following steps:
1. Understanding the scope of the situation via literature and best practice analyses, as well as extra field research with participation of women entrepreneurs and IT experts;
2. Developing a prototype curriculum for training experts;
3. Writing a recommendation report for improvements;
The final objective is to evaluate the project and to disseminate the prototype and recommendations to other organizations so they can implement it to reach more women entrepreneurs and train additional experts. Information will be available to everybody free of charge.
DigiWomen project included two target group categories:
1. Women entrepreneurs of SMEs and/or unemployed women starting a business, with an emphasis on women facing difficult circumstances because they have no income or an income under the poverty threshold of the country; &
2. Trainers who are experts in digital tools but need additional skills in helping women entrepreneurs. The experts in business digitalization were trainers from universities, institutes of HE programs for start-ups, unemployment offices focused on education, the Digital Innovation Hub Network (DIHnet.eu).
The main result of the project was the development of a prototype of a unique training program for experts in digital tools that can help women entrepreneurs with digitizing their business.
DigiWomen project has the following short and long-term impacts:
There is a persistent shortage of trained ICT personnel due to the rate at which the digital economy is expanding. Initiatives in the European Union to address this skills gap stress the necessity of empowering women through ICT-focused training. Technology-related jobs have historically been tied to skills that are not typically associated with women. In the majority of developed nations, women make up about 50% of university students, yet they are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There is no gender difference in computer use for younger children, but by the time youngsters are 16 or 17, the gender disparity widens. Boys normally find computers more appealing and more easily gain confidence in using them, which may be due to the fact that computer software is typically built for and by men. Additionally, women believe that their skills are inferior to those of their male counterparts, even when gender disparities in skills are negligible.
Girls with better math aptitudes are allegedly less likely to pursue STEM careers in higher education than boys with lesser aptitudes, which is evidence of "leaks" in the pipeline for women's education. According to cultural expectations, computer science is even considered as a career for men, and some men have been found to "chase" girls and women away from it in response. As a result, only 30% of ICT workers in Europe are women, and only 9% of ICT apps have been developed by women. Research shows that women are more creative than men, and a strong female presence in company results in more sensible decisions, therefore this is a contradiction.
Women typically receive less compensation and promotions than men, and they are underrepresented at the top levels of corporations. Only 35% of managers in the European Union in 2021 were female. Additionally, female managers in Europe make less money than their male counterparts: among the various professions, managers had the biggest disparity in hourly pay for women (23% less). Both the "glass ceiling" and the "sticky floor" issues affect women; the glass ceiling affects highly educated women, while the sticky floor affects less educated women. Although having more schooling may not always provide women with the same advantages as it does males, it has been suggested that being more qualified may be a woman's best chance.
Additionally, because they do not "fit" the stereotypes when they pursue careers that are dominated by men, women may experience bias because they are perceived as being less competent or efficient than men. Peers or superiors may also undervalue the work of women. Recent research showed that gender-based variations in organizational rewards were nearly 14 times bigger than gender-based differences in performance assessments in their research covering several industries and occupations. It has also been asserted that the widespread belief that women are less risk-averse than men result in a negative perception of women who take chances as being "cocky" or indifferent. Given everything said above, women who hold the few high-ranking positions in organizations have a significant symbolic significance for other women.
In the European Union, women make about 16% less money than males do on average, but computer skills have a big effect on income, which is somewhat higher for women (5.3% for men, 6% for women). Learning digital skills can therefore be considered as particularly advantageous for women in terms of their jobs.
Female entrepreneurs make up roughly 30% of business owners in Europe, according to the Statistical Data on Women Entrepreneurs in Europe. As a means of circumventing the "glass ceiling," it has been claimed that more and more women are starting their own businesses. Women establish around 60% of new enterprises worldwide, thus countries like Canada and Norway are good examples of where this effect is present. In addition, women make up the vast majority (78%) of European one-person enterprises. Business practices are changing because of digital technologies, providing chances for entrepreneurs, including women entrepreneurs, to join global value chains. Therefore, the use of ICT and digitization create opportunities for women entrepreneurs to grow their firms, themselves, and access opportunities that are equal to those available to males in company development.
In their professional lives, however, women do encounter some obstacles. It has been reported that female business owners more frequently than their male counterparts struggle to find funding, such as start-up capital, due to a lack of time or human resources. Additionally, compared to men, women tend to be more focused on their families. According to EIGE's report Gender inequalities in care and consequences for the labour market, on average in the EU, almost all employed women (94%) are involved in at least one unpaid care work activity at least several times a week, compared with 70% of employed men. Housework tasks are the most unequally shared, with 93% of women and 53% of men regularly undertaking such work. Carrying such a disproportionate share of care responsibilities prevents millions of women from entering the labour market and even more from pursuing an entrepreneurial career.
Additionally, part-time employment is a pitfall for women, since in 2021 it was much more common among women (28 %) than among men (8 %) in the EU. This rate is significantly increasing for women with three or more children compared with men in the same situation. Other "non-standard working arrangements," including hybrid entrepreneurship, which combines employment and entrepreneurship, have also been touted as appealing to women.
Digital technologies have made working more flexible in general, blurring the lines between work and leisure time. For women, this presents both opportunities and obstacles when attempting to balance career and family obligations. Work-life balance for women may benefit from flexible work arrangements and the growing use of digital technologies. For instance, it has been observed that women are better able to arrange and manage their household issues while working thanks to the use of mobile phones. However, people are expected to be able to define and arrange their own work as well as draw the boundary between their personal and professional life in our contemporary flexible workplaces.
Unfortunately, the working world of today has not yet been adapted to the demands of modern women, according to research, which also indicates that women really have less power than males over their work and schedules.
Technologies must fit into social contexts, which are frequently dynamic and gender-related, and can be thought of as instruments or techniques to carry out specific tasks. As such, they do not have any inherent value. Women must be persuaded that ICTs are beneficial to them. The fact that today's ICTs are not gender neutral also means that, barring sufficient adaptation, they may not always be suitable for women's requirements.
Innovation is largely driven by technology. The diffusion of innovation, or the process by which innovations are adopted via a network of organizations, has been examined, among other things, in innovation research. Typically, this process has been depicted as a curve, with various user types embracing innovations at various stages. However, because new technology must be integrated with the organization's existing operations, the adoption of technologies may not always result in improvements for the adopting businesses. For innovations to be adapted to the organizational contexts, it is necessary to have an appropriate cultural foundation in addition to technical expertise.
The diffusion theory is criticized for excluding users' contributions to the development of new technology. The social construction of technology hypothesis contends that technology is socially constructed to fit various social settings rather than just being "trickled down" or distributed, and that technology is also reshaping society and its circumstances. For instance, gender influences how technology is created and what it means, but technology also influences how gender roles are created. For instance, the use of computers was historically firmly linked with men, but when women began to use computers, the situation started to alter. As a result, by the late 2000s, the gender difference in total computer and Internet use that first became apparent in the late 1990s had decreased.
The theory of technological domestication is based on the concept of contexts and emphasizes the role of users in innovation and their efforts to make technology usable in their daily lives. Domestication theory describes the process by which users "tame" or reform innovations, particularly new technology, to better suit their needs. Domestication occurs in four stages: appropriation, objectification, incorporation and conversion. When a technology is sold to a user during the appropriation phase, ownership is crucial. The user attempts to capture the value of the new technology during the objectification phase, which involves spatial and temporal fittings (e.g., finding a place and time for the technology object in their home and life). The incorporation stage focuses on how the object is used. The conversion phase is concerned with the user's interpretations of the technology, specifically how the user describes their relationship with the technology.
Constructive and domesticated techniques demand a deeper comprehension of how technologies are developed, adopted and utilized, as well as how they change over time. They also challenge the traditional roles of the active producer against the passive user (Harwood, 2011). These theories contend that using technology entails social interactions as well as knowing how to utilize it. There is some innovation involved in the "battle" to make the technology operate in the first place.
According to an analysis of a research on small business owners, entrepreneurs typically have to adopt technologies during their otherwise busy days. This is problematic because there are numerous crucial activities that frequently obstruct the domestication process, forcing entrepreneurs to put the task on their to-do list for the following day. As a result, they must also accept workable solutions because the "taming" cannot always be totally accomplished. Furthermore, during hectic times for small business owners, business and private places may frequently merge together.
Preliminary data on labour market trends shows that the impact of the pandemic’s first and second wave on the labour market was more significant for women than for men. While the decline in employment in 2020 was identical for women and for men (by 2,4%), women had more difficulties re-entering the labour market during the partial recovery in 2020 and 2021 with employment rates rising by 1.4% for men but only by 0.8% for women. The longer lasting negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women will have to be verified with data on the future evolution of labour market indicators. If further maintained, they risk yielding lower pensions for women in the long run, widening the gender pension gap and other gender inequalities for decades to come.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has had uneven impacts in entrepreneurship. Women entrepreneurs have been again disproportionately affected. Research highlights the fact that there is a huge risk that COVID-19 will undo decades of progress in advancing female entrepreneurship.
According to statistics, businesses run by women are more likely to be found in the industries that suffered the most from the pandemic. For instance, the wholesale/retail sector, where more than 50% of female entrepreneurs work, saw a significant decline in demand as a result of shutdowns. Quarantine restrictions prevented in-person shopping, which decreased the likelihood of making transactions. Additionally, because of the pandemic's overall economic effects, potential customers were less likely to have extra money to spend. Previous clients frequently had to re-evaluate their financial goals as a result of the widespread use of layoffs and wage reduction.
Other industries with strong female representation also experienced significant losses. During the lockdown eating places, health clubs and hairdressers had to close for extended periods of time. This begs the question, "Why do women disproportionately labor in these industries?" This is explained by structural factors. It is easier for women to enter than many other commercial professions due to the lower admission requirements.
According to a new OECD survey, women entrepreneurs start their enterprises with less cash and finance them with their own funds. According to Forbes, only 25% of female business owners seek finance, compared to 34% of men. Women should be wary about asking for this financial assistance because they are less likely to get it. When loans for women entrepreneurs are authorized, they are typically for a third less than those granted to male entrepreneurs. Because they are less likely to have capital reserves to rely on when income is low, enterprises managed by female entrepreneurs may be more vulnerable during crises.
Given the industries where female entrepreneurship is most prevalent, there is a good possibility that the pandemic pushed women-owned enterprises to close for a prolonged period of time. In contrast to other businesses, the business strategies in these areas typically include direct consumer sales, and they must contend with fierce competition to win clients. Even in the best-case scenario, all of these elements would leave a company reasonably vulnerable. Of fact, COVID-19 in many respects exemplified the worst-case scenario. Due to this, female-owned enterprises were more likely to face an existential threat during this crisis.
Many schools also shut down when businesses did. This meant that, even if a female business owner could keep operations digitally, she frequently had to handle an additional task at home. Although being able to skip a commute and approach their work with more flexibility, working from home can be a welcome move for many people, it can also present new obstacles for female entrepreneurs, especially if they have children. Due to the disruption of classes, working women had to balance full-time childcare and their jobs, which had a negative effect on their ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
According to the OECD, women work at home for free an additional two hours per day on average than men do. Additionally, they are more likely to provide care for both young children and elderly parents. Women have been obliged to fill in the gaps where services have been cut off due to the virus since the pandemic poses a particularly dangerous threat to older people. Female entrepreneurs who lost or had their revenue cut due to the pandemic also had to run their households on a tighter budget.
Only 25% of female business owners have workers. As a result, the majority of women-owned enterprises are run by a single woman. It's already challenging to keep clear boundaries between work and family life with this business strategy. For female entrepreneurs seeking to strike a healthy work-life balance, the demands brought on by the pandemic at home provide an added challenge.
Although the majority of female-owned firms are more likely to be particularly exposed to unfavorable conditions due to their nature, their business strategy also makes them more adaptable and flexible than many larger companies. They can be more easily modified to the new pandemic conditions since (often by necessity) they are intended to require less capital to function. Numerous small businesses were able to alter their course or introduce new services. For instance, fitness instructors switched to offering online sessions, while clothing manufacturers started specializing in protective facemasks.
Female entrepreneurs have traditionally had to overcome institutional and social barriers, such as the social assumption that they will do the majority of household caregiving while working or the fewer options they have to obtain enough bank financing. They have therefore had to be more resourceful and adaptable to flourish. These traits have proven essential in handling the pandemic's ever-changing situations. In this way, female business owners have derived their resources for growth, learning and survival from the difficulties they experience.
It is unclear whether and how female entrepreneurs would "bounce back" after the pandemic. The length of the recuperation process is also unknown. The current economic climate is undoubtedly difficult, but women are used to encountering greater difficulties when starting a business. It is obvious that adjustments could be made at all societal levels to better support their efforts. Their continued performance might be greatly impacted by a more equitable distribution of family duties, increased financial support from banks, and encouragement to diversify into more sustainable sectors.
The material for this report was gathered through online surveys with digitalization experts and local roundtables that should be attended by 70 relevant stakeholders in all partner countries (by 10 stakeholders in each country: Greece, Italy, Austria, Latvia, Ukraine, Croatia, Bulgaria). The total sample was 105 stakeholders. Furthermore, the report includes presentations of the local ecosystems of female entrepreneurship in partner countries followed by best practices examples of successful women entrepreneurs that make the most out of their business digitalization. The materials were gathered by the project partners in 2022.
The report followed a multi-staged data analysis process, including coding of the data and theorizing the codes to link the collected data with theory. The surveys and roundtables included digitalization, skills, career, working patterns and work–life balance.
DigiWomen project investigated the problems female entrepreneurs face when employing digital technologies in their working and private lives with the aim to help them towards digitalization of their businesses following an innovative training programme.Furthermore, the project studied the relationship between digital skills and career development and the wellbeing of women. In particular, we examined the challenges and opportunities women encounter when applying digital technologies at work.
An entrepreneurial ecosystems or entrepreneurship ecosystems are peculiar systems of interdependent actors and relations directly or indirectly supporting the creation and growth of new ventures. (Liguori, Bendickson, Solomon, McDowell, 2019-01-01). "Development of a multi-dimensional measure for assessing entrepreneurial ecosystems").
Worldwide, entrepreneurship is generally considered a masculine‑type activity, especially in certain industries and at the highest levels of growth. As a result, men and women entrepreneurs tend to face very different realities when it comes to accessing and mobilizing the types of resources required for starting and growing a business. As women are increasingly engaged in Entrepreneurship globally, it is crucial to understand what business models, practices, and enabling conditions can support the dual goals of scaling entrepreneurship access and empowering women. To understand gaps in the women's entrepreneurship ecosystem in each partner's country, we will draw from recent theories of gender and entrepreneurship and literature sources on entrepreneurship and development.
Key challenges in women's entrepreneurship and potential programme supports to the women's entrepreneurship ecosystem are identified from a resource-based perspective, focused on four primary sources of capital – economic, social, time and cultural.
Women entrepreneurs, and especially women in difficult circumstances, continue to face the multitasking whirlpool, along with the lack of financial resources, marketing skills and support services, including poor access to business networks, technology, and digital markets. Competing successfully in today’s global economy requires innovation in addition to enabling technological development within industries, organizations and companies (Carayannis & Campbell, 2018; Carayannis & Meissner, 2017).
Following we will find some examples of successful women entrepreneurs from Italy, Austria, Latvia, Ukraine, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Greece.
Greece: Anna Maria Mazaraki
Italy: Paola Marzario
Austria: Theresa Imre
Latvia: Lotte Tisenkopfa-Iltnere
Ukraine: Karina Loshmanova
Croatia: Ines Poljak Aritonović
Bulgaria: Stanislava Pavlova
To supporting organisations, mainly associations, chambers, clubs, etc. that provide training or could play intermediary role between training providers and women entrepreneurs
To policy makers – usually local and central authorities, and also EU-level bodies, engaged with policies towards female entrepreneurship and business digitalization