“This class is not for you”: An investigation of gendered subject construction in entrepreneurship course descriptions

This research considers the exclusionary nature of gendered language within entrepreneurship training and education in universities.

Research Findings

This research investigates how entrepreneurship is presented as a potentially gendered activity, through analysing university entrepreneurship education course descriptions.

It considers the exclusionary nature of gendered language and how this may present entrepreneurship as a choice for particular types of students who respond positively to masculinised language.

We analysed of 86 course descriptions from 81 universities in 21 countries, and examined the degree to which course descriptions use gendered language, how such language constructs gendered subjects, and the resultant implications.

We found that course descriptions are predominantly, but not exclusively, masculine in their language. More importantly, the distribution of feminine and masculine language is uneven across course descriptions. Context variables such as regional or national culture differences do not explain this distribution. Instead, the phenomenon is explained by course content/type; whereby practice-based entrepreneurship courses are highly masculine, compared to traditional academic courses, where students learn about entrepreneurship as a social phenomenon.
We conclude that universities and educators have not taken into account recent research about the real and possible negative consequences of positioning entrepreneurship in a stereotypical, masculinised fashion through gendered language.

We argue that critically reviewing the language used offers an inexpensive opportunity to improve recruitment of more diverse cohorts and description accuracy.

Key Recommendations

1. Raising awareness of the exclusionary power of gendered language
2. Reviewing how entrepreneurship/self-employment may be gendered (and masculinised) in promotional and training materials
3. Developing gender sensitive training/education

Implementation Examples

To inform publicity materials that are aimed at women (particularly those encouraging entrepreneurship/self-employment courses/training).

To support gender analysis of existing entrepreneurship promotional and training materials.

To evaluate whether changing the gendered language used in promotional materials impacts on applications for entrepreneurship courses/training.

It can be used in a variety of settings and organisations where gender sensitivity may be required in recruitment.

Methodology

A mixed method approach. Manifest and latent content analysis informed by a codebook, which synthesised existing lexicons of gendered language.

Core Concepts

The main concept driving our analysis the social construction of subjects within the texts i.e. how are students and entrepreneurs are talked about, and how successful learning and entrepreneurship were positioned as a result.

We were specifically interested in the Fictive Student and the Fictive Entrepreneur (i.e. the ideal student for the course and the ideal entrepreneur suggested in the course descriptions) and how these may be gendered.

Limitations

University course descriptions have limitations as a dataset, being cumbersome to revise, with long approval processes.

We only analysed course descriptions written in English derived mainly from the Global North