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1For both economic and political reasons, governments in developed countries design and implement an array of public policies to support entrepreneurial activities. On an economic level, government intervention is justified through the need to respond to market failure given the ostensibly major difficulties faced by entrepreneurs in succeeding to bring their products or services to market. On a political level, entrepreneurs and small firms represent a potential voting ally for governments in place, requiring the latter to pay attention to their needs by positively influencing the creation and sustainability of their ventures. And yet, the cost effectiveness following delivery of these policies is rarely examined, leaving businesses, the taxpayer and society as a whole in the dark (Storey, 2008). To better understand how public policy designed and delivered for novice entrepreneurs is enacted and perceived, we have chosen a specific French entrepreneurial population. This paper explores the way in which public policy support for French women entrepreneurs is produced, disseminated, perceived and ultimately institutionalized.

2Research has shown that in France, novice entrepreneurs who seek and obtain assistance during the initial stages of company creation increase the probability of ensuring the future success of their ventures, with two-thirds of these supported firms still in existence after 3 years (Mathot, 2010). Over and above the need for information, advice, funding and legal aid, these entrepreneurs are also seeking psychological support based on an offer of effective dialogue and quality listening, with professional coaching proposed within a climate of mutual respect and trust (Radu and Redien-Collot, 2013). And yet, in 2008, only 31% of French novice entrepreneurs actually called on the existing schemes [1] during the months prior to launching their firms (APCE, 2009). There are a significant number of French women potentially interested in creating their own firm (reactions to the glass ceiling syndrome, reconciliation between personal and professional careers, unemployment) and yet they represent only 30% of companies created in France today (APCE, 2009). They are also reluctant to seek the support provided by the schemes in place (de Beaufort, 2011). Despite the recent increase in the number and diversity of the offers of assistance for women entrepreneurs in France (Guide égalité Femmes / Hommes en entreprise, édition 2011-2012), the number of women setting up firms in France has been stable since 2006 (INSEE, 2006, 2010). Furthermore, there is little if no empirical research on how novice women entrepreneurs perceive and evaluate the assistance provided. In this paper, we attempt to reduce this gap by focusing on the nature of the discourse disseminated by the support schemes in place and the reactions perceived by the targeted users – novice women entrepreneurs.

3Research on the contribution of discourse analysis to the present context of female entrepreneurship has revealed some welcome truths regarding the power struggles that continue to assail this field (Ahl, 2006 ; Welter, 2011 ; Brush, 1992). Recent research in the use of discourse analysis as a methodology in entrepreneurship research has also underlined the contribution it can make to generate new knowledge about female entrepreneurs (Achtenhagen and Welter, 2011). Discourse analysts identify three different sources for producing discourse : institutions and organizations ; individuals and inter-individual interactions and media. This paper explores the offers made by the institutions and organizations that support entrepreneurial activities for women in France and questions the accuracy of the responses provided to the users.

4We begin with a literature review on public policy influence on women entrepreneurship, leading to an exploration of the neo-institutional processes at work in producing and disseminating discourse for novice women entrepreneurs. We then present the research design and methodology adopted which produced the results that are reported. Our contribution is on three levels. First, we demonstrate that the support schemes for novice women entrepreneurs are still undergoing a process of institutionalization as they continue to be hampered by a high degree of rivalry between policies designed to emancipate women and those in support of entrepreneurship. Despite this on-going process, women entrepreneurs are succeeding in beginning to shape the discourse through the establishment of a relatively constructive dialogue with support schemes. Secondly, the methodological approach used provides a concrete testing of step 2 of Storey’s model (2008, 1998) for evaluating the impact of public policy on entrepreneurial firms, confirming the importance of a monitoring phase for gathering users’ opinions on the nature and quality of the assistance offered by support schemes. Finally, our study enabled us to propose an observation tool to diagnose the development of sustainable relations between institutionally-devised schemes and women as target users of entrepreneurial policies. This observation tool can be usefully transposed to other contexts where female entrepreneurship is concerned.

1 – Literature review

5This review explores and analyzes recent research on the public policy issues and corresponding institutional processes that shape discourse practices as they are deployed in relation to novice women entrepreneurs.

1.1 – Public policy influence on women entrepreneurship

6Government intervention in supporting entrepreneurship is often justified firstly because of the burdens facing those entrepreneurs who consider starting a new business and secondly because of the positive or negative influence such intervention exerts on the entrepreneurs as key political constituents (Storey, 2008). In commenting on the impacts of government support in developed countries, he observes a continuing lack of evidence regarding the ways in which these public policy schemes are effectively delivered and evaluated. Despite the massive diversity of policies in operation and due to the relative absence of a tradition in evaluation in entrepreneurship policy, “there is little reliable evidence about their effectiveness” (2008 :3). The particular burdens facing women entrepreneurs have been widely documented, among which family issues (Marlow, 2002), potential discrimination regarding women as entrepreneurs (Oakley, 1973 ; Marlow and Patton, 2005) and choice of sector (Muoz and Prez, 2007). As Lundstrom and Stevenson (2005) point out, almost every developed country has implemented publicly funded support to lower the barriers that women entrepreneurs face. However, in a critical examination of national policies for women entrepreneurs (Storey and Greene, 2010), these authors note “the case for public policy support remains unproven given the lack of reliable information on its impact and the diversity of schemes that have been adopted” (2010 :452).

7To redress this imbalance, government bodies and members of the academic community focus on evaluating the results of support schemes for female entrepreneurs, which, in a number of countries, have attained a certain degree of maturity. In this context, with regard both to minorities (Bates, 2003), and women in general (Winn, 2005), studies are characterized either by disappointing results, poorly defined objectives, or, in some cases, both.

8In their book on entrepreneurial policies, Lundström and Stevenson (2005) encourage government agencies and academic researchers to be careful when selecting assessment criteria for support schemes, especially when those schemes are either emerging or in the process of consolidation, or, in other words, in situations in which the process of institutionalization has not been completed and where many modifications are still required. A number of conclusions drawn by Tilmar (2007) corroborate this view. The needs of female and minority populations evolve very rapidly and can quickly diverge from the objectives and results defined at a given moment in a given region (Lim, Morse, Mitchell, and Seawright, 2010). In our view, evaluations based on a comparison between objectives and results are incomplete ; while revealing the obsolescence of certain support objectives, they fail to isolate the organic shortcomings of support schemes.

9In France, while policies designed to provide support for female entrepreneurs were first introduced during the 1970s and 1980s, schemes implemented to afford aid in setting up businesses have only been introduced within the last twenty years (Laufer, 2009). These schemes are still in the process of consolidation. In the absence of recurrent evaluations of the performance of these schemes, the emergence of complex inter-institutional constructs can be observed, a phenomenon that causes a degree of scepticism amongst actors in the sphere of entrepreneurial policy (Lundström and Stevenson 2005).

10Crépon (2009) points out that French government agencies take a prudent approach in terms of their evaluations of public support bodies. When, in 2012, we scanned the web pages of the 20 most prominent French support schemes for novice women entrepreneurs, we observed that an emphasis on the measurement of their performance was distinctly absent. This is compounded by the fact that support schemes are forced to compete with one another for funding (Léger-Jarniou, 2008). Since their performances are only assessed in a superficial way, none of the schemes stands out as a priority. Consequently, the government helps all of them a little, but none of them enough. They must define their offer based on the constraints imposed by their various financial sponsors, which means that they effectively function as inter-institutional schemes whose often multiple objectives and results are difficult to compare. This leads to a situation in which neither public sponsors nor users are in a position to judge the support schemes. Rather than measuring the performance of such schemes, it would perhaps be more judicious to assess them by means of a process-based approach as Philips, Lawrence, and Hardy (2004) prone in a general discussion about institutional apparatus.

1.2 – Achieving sustainability of institutional processes

11Neo-institutional theory (North, 2005) provides a highly effective analytical approach for understanding whether the processes at work in institutional support schemes are producing positive results, or, in other words, whether those support schemes are becoming established and acquiring legitimacy in the minds of their stakeholders. Such legitimacy is based on the development of a continuous and dynamic interaction between the support scheme and its users, a process that ensures its consolidation via the implementation of self-regulating mechanisms that, in turn, guarantee its continued existence (Di Maggio and Powell, 1983). Are French support schemes for women entrepreneurs merely back-up constructs used on a random basis, or entities undergoing a process of institutionalization that serve as platforms for genuine debates between the users and the schemes that, ultimately, contribute to their consolidation ?

12Neo-institutional theory thus offers a useful framework with which to understand the complexity of providing entrepreneurial support. It describes and analyses institutions as hybrid entities that structure and give them meaning (Philips, Lawrence, and Hardy, 2004). This theory explores the way in which hybrid organizations target specific populations, sometimes unleashing their political, social and economic energies, sometimes effectively restricting their actions, thereby encouraging the setting up of alternative networks that run counter to any institutional approach for the emancipation of minorities (Jordan, 1990 ; Etzioni, 2009).

13From this theory, we can infer a general path that leads from traditional institutional mechanisms to a self-regulatory institutional dynamic, as Figure 1 below shows. Three types of change characterize this development :

  • A change of status for the users addressed by the schemes (in our particular case, female entrepreneurs who are generally considered as mere targets must become participants)
  • A re-focusing of the institutional relationship established between the protagonists of the schemes that is based on interactive participation
  • A transformation of the purpose of support schemes, initially focused on the delivery of a set of random services into a dynamic entity that can identify its own limitations and obstacles in order to continually self-adjust itself.

14Within the traditionally designed schemes for supporting entrepreneurial activity, we surmise that women entrepreneurs are characterized as mere targets and their needs are assumed without any questioning. As they evolve along the institutional pathway, we expect to find a change in their status and it is the purpose of this study to qualify these changes (the question mark in Figure 1 below) before they reach a state in which they may be considered as co-participants in support schemes devised for women entrepreneurship. For the rest of this paper, we will use the word ‘users’ as a generic term to describe the status of the women entrepreneurs under study.

Figure 1

Pathway to a self-regulatory dynamic mechanism

Figure 1

Pathway to a self-regulatory dynamic mechanism

1.3 – The role of discourse in institutionalization processes

15Effective interaction between a support scheme and its users is dependent on the former’s capacity to evolve. Interactions are manifested in discourses that provide self-regulatory mechanisms covering not only practices, but also relations between members of the support scheme (Philips, Lawrence, and Hardy, 2004). If actions/practices become overly ritualistic and discourses no more than formulaic constructs designed to guarantee the institution’s status quo, this iterative dynamic can soon become alienating. But if the actions of individuals are capable of transforming discourse into a lever of change that encourages participants to define, both individually and inter-individually, modifications to the scheme, then the institution will be able to establish itself as a permanently self-renewing entity.

16Parker (1992) and Fairclough (1992) observe that institutional discourse is interactive and a source of modification (and, therefore, sustainability) :

  • if the phases of production, dissemination and reception of institutional discourse are clearly respected,
  • if the reception phase gives rise to an interaction between users and the institution
  • and if this interaction leads to modifications to the institution.

17This dynamic takes a fairly long time to implement. It is in the reception phase that users find the elements that encourage them to reform the institution. In other words, reception makes it possible to identify the impact of a support scheme on users and the changes they notice in themselves at the end of the process (expected/unexpected changes, etc.). The study of users’ reception of the discourse of a support scheme via the feedback provided also makes it possible to carry out a qualitative assessment of their capacity to interact with and transform it.

1.4 – The position of female users in an institutional support structure

18French support schemes for novice women entrepreneurs tend to consider their users as little more than targets (de Beaufort, 2011), similar to the ‘gatekeeper’ stance outlined by De Bruin, Brush and Welter (2006) when commenting on the development of female entrepreneurship in the OECD. Recently published studies focus on the capacity of women involved in institutional entrepreneurial support schemes to constitute themselves as subjects vis-à-vis the institution (Welter and Smallbone, 2011). In such cases, they are able to position themselves relative to the institution’s discourse in order to develop a genuinely interactive dynamic that does not have the exclusive objective of satisfying their immediate needs as users. They also seek to question the institution, encouraging it to modify its responses, and therefore its offer, to take into account emerging demands from women who do not yet have access to such schemes.

19According to Pardo del Var (2010), although support schemes display a certain degree of prudence when it comes to assessing their own performance, those for novice women entrepreneurs in Europe tend to view their users exclusively as targets within the framework of gender-based typologies that cast them as demanders of subsidies rather than new economic resources. Consequently, institutional support schemes tend to produce a reified representation of women and users, and offer them incomplete learning opportunities (Bruni, Gherardi and Poggio, 2004). In linking the comments made by Kabeer (1999) about support schemes for women to our observations about the entities under study, we can posit that support structures actually limit women’s ability to act within the framework of the scheme and beyond. We can also suppose that the question of gendered discrimination may be generated through institutional mechanisms. This form of discrimination appears when institutions treat their users as types, that is as targets rather than participants who are invited to co-construct the institutional dynamic (Kabeer, 1999). In fact, the political, social and organizational targeting process adopted, motivated by a search for efficiency, reifies the individual and attempts to limit interactions as much as possible (Marlow and Patton, 2005 ; Kabeer, 1999). In a study on assistance provided for women entrepreneurs, Pardo del Var (2010) reports on this shortcoming. Kabeer (1999) observes that some feminist discourse that does not take account of gender as a process in constructing identity tends to reify the way in with which women can be emancipated.

20In studying the negotiating power of women entrepreneurs vis-à-vis institutions, Welter and Smallbone (2011) highlight the importance for women to have complete confidence in expressing their needs and in being able to adapt some or all aspects of the support scheme to fulfill those needs. In examining whether the discourses produced by support schemes for women entrepreneurs treat women as (active and interactive) subjects of a discourse, rather than as mere targets, we can observe :

  • whether the project to change an individual (transformation into an entrepreneur) is consonant with a project to change society (encouraging women in their quest for fulfillment and a role as socio-economic agents)
  • whether it ensures a long-term institutional sustainability (generating their own dynamics of modification in tandem with their users).

1.5 – Research question

21The theoretical framework mobilized in the present study was three-fold. To examine the ways in which the schemes for women entrepreneurs succeed (or not) in becoming sustainable, we called on neo-institutional theory (Philips, Hardy, and Lawrence, 2004 ; North, 2005). To analyse the meanings and quality of the dialogue established between the protagonists, we adopted a socio-constructivist approach (Fairclough, 1992) and we used theory on gender discrimination (Oakley, 1973 ; Marlow and Patton, 2005) as a context that generates :

  • a reification of the users and their expectations : reinforcement of women’s individual, self-perceived differences or stigmas
  • a temptation to alienate interactions : reinforcement of institutionalized stigmas that are either shared or not by protagonists
  • premature evaluations that are inconclusive and do not stimulate iterative evolution of the schemes.

22Three main questions were explored :

  • Which perceptions do the users have about the launching of their firms following their participation in one or other of the schemes ?
  • How do the users perceive what they have achieved in terms of emancipation following their participation in one or other of the schemes ?
  • Do the users perceive that they have established a constructive dialogue with the support schemes that contribute to the process of institutional consolidation ?

2 – Methodology

23The following section presents the methodological approach that was designed and implemented to collect and analyze the data.

2.1 – Data collection and sample

24We adopted a two-stage methodological approach. The first step consisted of identifying and analyzing the offer made by a representative cross-section of support schemes for women entrepreneurs. We then interviewed 10 women entrepreneurs who had joined these schemes for assistance during the initial stage of company creations. We explained that we were testing an existing model for evaluating the impact of public policy support with regard to entrepreneurs and that we were positioned in step 2 of this model [2]. The interviews were focused on gathering users’ opinions of the support received, on qualifying their proposals for the improvement of the offer and on determining their degree of conviction in the sustainability of such offers.

25Phase 1 : Nature of the support schemes

26We launched a search process to identify those schemes that were specifically designed for women, with the aim of supporting them in creating and managing entrepreneurial firms. The sources exploited included professional networks, Internet and personal contacts. We used the following criteria to select a representative sample :

  • a cross-section of schemes that cover the principal requirements of entrepreneurial support : training, coaching and mentoring activities, financial support, networking opportunities
  • a cross-section of profiles concerning women engaged in or wishing to engage in entrepreneurial activities – geographical origin, education and training, age, personal and professional status
  • a choice of schemes that span a period of at least 15 years

27This led us to choose a sample of 20 existing schemes, representative of the above criteria. Following the selection of the sample, we then exploited all available information sources in order to compile a database of the schemes, verifying and updating data, where necessary.

28Phase 2 : Interviews with women entrepreneurs, testers of the schemes

29Initially, 50 women involved in entrepreneurial projects were contacted by mail. As we wanted to observe whether the respondents had engaged with a support scheme, we eliminated those who had not and the sample was reduced to 30. We then selected only those women who were more than just consumers of the schemes but who also had an interest in analyzing the quality of what was on offer. The final sample was composed of 10 women presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Profile of the respondents

Table 1
Name Age Offer Sector of activity Success in launching Tania 39 Training & coaching Services Yes Marie 38 Training & Coaching Services No Lisa 43 Training & Coaching Industry Yes Alice 44 Information & Lobbying Services No Luce 41 Information & Lobbying Services Yes Marthe 35 Information & Lobbying Industry Yes Stéphanie 48 Networking Services No Anne-Marie 34 Networking Services Yes Sabine 37 Funding Services Yes Laurène 52 Funding Industry Yes

Profile of the respondents

2.2 – Data analysis approach for Phase 1

30Given that the data collected on support schemes for women entrepreneurs was composed of written transcriptions of texts – official discourse on websites ; reported testimonials and exchanges ; accounts of funding and framework implementation – we chose a discourse analysis approach to capture the essence of the objectives, intentions and promised outcomes. Parker (1992) describes discourse as structured collections of meaningful texts, the analysis of which enables the exploration of ways in which “socially produced ideas and objects that comprise organizations, institutions and the social world in general, are created and maintained through the relationships among discourse, text and action” (Philips, Lawrence, and Hardy, 2004). These authors highlight what they believe to be a “mutually constitutive relationship among discourse, text and action” in that in a given context, text is produced via the actions and beliefs of the actors involved. This in turn creates shared meaning on a discursive level which then contributes to constituting the social world that emerges (ibid.). We used both analytical and integrative approaches to uncover the promises proffered to women entrepreneurs by the support schemes.

31Following a reading of all the data on each scheme, we classified them in terms of their main activity – networking, training and coaching, funding, information and lobbying services – because we felt that the offer made would be determined by this activity. We then chose 3 specific segments of the texts provided concerning each offer – the presentation of the initiative ; its objectives and the potential impacts (transmitted via testimonials) in terms of change for women both as individual subjects and as entrepreneurs.

32As Radu and Redien-Collot (2010) point out, political, cultural, and educational agents involved in the development of entrepreneurial activities all over the world make extensive use of two major communicational approaches in order to enhance entrepreneurial intentions and encourage entrepreneurial behavior : the persuasion and/or the commitment strategies. Their most significant difference is in putting forward different fundamental presuppositions about change origin – with persuasion theories focusing on the individual’s mind, and commitment theories focusing on the individual’s behavior. Consequently, the former assumes one has to change the way people think so as to modify the way they behave (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975 ; Ajzen, 1991), while the latter seeks to change how people act so as to modify how they think (Festinger, 1954 ; Joule, Giandola, and Bernard, 2007). In the light of these two strategies, we attempted to decipher the precise nature of the promises proffered by the support structures.

2.3 – Data analysis approach for Phase 2

33Our enquiry strategy was based on what Redien-Collot (2009) defined as deconstructive psychology. Citing Gergen, Gergen and Jurtas (1992) and Neiisser and Fivush, (1994), he defined this approach as a way in which to explore entrepreneurs’ representations through their speech and reactions when they talk about their entrepreneurial trajectories. The method proceeds by submitting respondents to different sets of interrelated short questions. In such a way, respondents expose, confront and conciliate their deep-seated, primitive representations with those that they use in the everyday business world. This series of short questions also highlights their cognitive patterns but more importantly, their socio-emotive schema (Neiisser and Fivush, 1994 ; Redien-Collot, 2009). Lounsbury and Glynn (2001), in challenging the supremacy of the autobiographical narrative to explain the sense-making and sense-giving dynamics in entrepreneurial trajectories, confirm the pertinence of this method.

3 – Results

34This section presents the four promises that were made to novice women entrepreneurs by the 20 support schemes under study. Feedback provided by 10 women entrepreneurs relative to each promise is then outlined.

3.1 – Presentation of the support schemes and their promises

35The support schemes (Table 2 below) in our study are organized around four distinct activities for women entrepreneurs : training and coaching, information and lobbying, networking, and funding. The schemes target two types of population : individuals who want to be entrepreneurs out of necessity (job seekers and single women, amongst others), and individuals who see entrepreneurship as an opportunity. The promises made by the schemes can be characterized in relation to :

  • a communicational approach mobilizing persuasion or commitment strategies or both
  • a message that defines certain objectives and outlines a particular idea of the needs of women entrepreneurs

Table 2

Four types of offers and their respective targets and promises

Table 2
Offer Entrepreneurial target(s) Promise Training & coaching Opportunity entrepreneurs Self-Persuasion : Women have the potential to be entrepreneurs – let’s convince them to go there Information and lobbying Necessity entrepreneurs Commitment : Women have unrecognized power— let’s show them how to wield it Networking Opportunity entrepreneurs Persuasion through a method : Women have the knowledge but need experience ; let’s train them to be reflexive Funding Necessity and opportunity entrepreneurs Conscious commitment : Women’s financial needs are different – let’s encourage them so that they can play by the rules of the games

Four types of offers and their respective targets and promises

36 We shall now examine the communication strategies deployed by the four offers focusing both on the ways in which the promise is disseminated via the schemes and on how the users acknowledge them. We shall also deal with the question of whether and in which way a dialogue is established between protagonists. Our results will be presented in the following sections, with each section preceded by a table introducing the schemes, promises and type of discourse.

3.2 – Promise no 1 : Generates a dissonance syndrome

37In the support schemes (Table 3 below) that offer training and coaching activities to novice women entrepreneurs, the discourse is optimistic and encouraging, calling on women’s enthusiasm and courage to join the entrepreneurial adventure.

Table 3

Schemes for promise No 1

Table 3
Name of scheme Main activity Promise N° 1 and type of discourse Business school (BS) Training courses for novice entrepreneurs Reveal their talent Build up their confidence Women entrepreneurs in the European Union (EU) Training programmes for novice entrepreneurs Boost their potential Enterprising women (EW) Training programmes, clubs and network activities Network, grow, succeed Women pioneers (WP) Pre-incubation, incubation and post-incubation, training programmes Build up their confidence Reveal their innovative spirit Help them realise their ambitious projects One-stop support shop (OS) National network providing information on the range of services women entrepreneurs needs – from idea to creation phases Free the entrepreneur in you Succeed in developing your idea, your network Be entrepreneurial together (BT) Coaching and networking activities Show the way Become responsible Become entrepreneurial Women’s specific strengths (WSS) Advice & coaching activities, training programmes, funding Reduce discriminations Favour solidarity Break up isolation

Schemes for promise No 1

38The schemes appeal to their future users in two different ways. Building on expressed convictions concerning the intrinsic value of women as viable economic agents, they use persuasive techniques to convince women of ways in which to acquire the entrepreneurial mind-set. The facilities provided will help to “free the entrepreneur in you” (OS [3]), “reveal your talents” (BS) and “boost your potential” (WE). At the same time, there is an implicit recognition that women do not possess all the required skills and competencies, particularly as regards beliefs in their self-confidence and self-efficacy and so facilities will enable them to “build the necessary confidence” (WP) in order to “grow and succeed” (EW). The second message transmitted by schemes BT and WS focuses on providing either direct or indirect role models to convince young women that despite adverse circumstances, linked to age or sex discrimination, entrepreneurial success is possible.

39The appreciations provided by the women entrepreneurs interviewed (Tania, Marie and Lisa) in relation to these schemes reveal evidence of discrepancies in what is originally promised by the schemes and how this promise is actually enacted, as the verbatim in Table 4 show.

Table 4

Feedback for promise No 1

Table 4
Promise N° 1 : “Women have the potential to be entrepreneurs. Let’s convince them to go there” Tania “It was a good group experience – I was able to identify the strengths and weaknesses…however, they went on so much about my being a woman that I found it a little irritating” Marie “If I had to do it again, I would, but I found there were two shortcomings : not enough work on the project and not enough preparation in terms of the complex issues I would have to face as an entrepreneur…The time comes when it’s not just a question of coaching a poor, fragile individual, alone and defenceless in the big, bad world” Lisa “I probably didn’t get enough out of my coaches but, to be honest, they really seemed to focus on my shortcomings rather than on my potential”…

Feedback for promise No 1

40In her assessment of the scheme, Tania claimed more time had been spent on the kind of socio-professional problems encountered by women than on the entrepreneurial project itself. Marie commented ruefully on the protective, condescending approach of her coaches, even going as far as expressing a certain degree of bitterness. Lisa took a more objective stance, conceding that she had not got as much out of her coaches as she could have. She also highlighted the lack of work done on the effective fulfilment of the potential of women entrepreneurs in concrete situations associated with their projects. Her coaches attempted to persuade women entrepreneurs that their projects had potential, but did not help them to analyse that potential in contexts associated with their entrepreneurial project.

41In terms of attempting to establish a constructive dialogue with the schemes’ representatives, Tania expressed more complaints than suggestions. She tended to keep the suggestions she did have to herself, choosing instead to apply them to her own project. Lisa called for positive coaching that highlighted the strong points of the project rather than its shortcomings. Of all three, Marie seemed to have had the most faith in her scheme. She accepted its shortcomings with a note of humour, as if they were mere obstacles on the road to inevitable improvement and was more forthcoming in the suggestion she made to modify the kind of coaching offered :


“They have to teach us to see how we’re going to live with our company, our products, our clients, with a whole range of different perspectives, which means we’re not just big girls now, but several people in the same body”…

3.3 – Promise No 2 : Falls short of expectations

43The schemes in this category, presented in Table 5 below, adopt an offensive, mainstream vocabulary to persuade women of their potentially equal status with men and also go beyond this commitment in order to convince them to believe in empowerment.

Table 5

Schemes for promise No 2

Table 5
Name of scheme Main activity Promise N° 2 and type of discourse National agency for business start-up (NA) Information and mentoring services for novice entrepreneurs Have the best chance for success Women CEOs (WCE) Information and lobbying services for novice and confirmed entrepreneurs Reinforce visibility Defend women’s interests National information centre for women and their families (NI) Information services and networking activities for women Fight for professional equality Break down barriers European women’s network (EWN) Information and lobbying services for novice entrepreneurs Recognise the diversity. Wield power Adapt the system Change the world Women’s entrepreneurial actions (WEA) Lobbying services for novice and confirmed women entrepreneurs Help women to get on the Boards Gain power French association for women and science (W&S) Information services for female students, novice and confirmed women entrepreneurs Improve access for women in the fields of science and technology Association of women engineers (AWE) Information services for female students, novice and confirmed women entrepreneurs Promote scientific careers to interest female students Change the image of women in society Encourage women to envisage a scientific career Women and their firms (W&F) Information services for novice and confirmed women entrepreneurs Promote and encourage the role of women in society

Schemes for promise No 2

44They are positioned on the awareness stage of the entrepreneurial process (W&S, AWE, W&F), as well as on convincing women already in place to become even stronger (WC, NI, EWN and WEA), with a more neutral scheme (NA) in the middle, mediating between all stakeholders. The first 3 provide an array of statistics and arguments in support of lobbying for higher representation for women in key strategic posts, particularly in the fields of science and technology. WC and NI exploit the professional equality lever to encourage breaking down the barriers, which blur the roles that women can play on economic and societal levels, while schemes EWN and WEA are the most vociferous in calling for recognition of the worth and value of all women.

45The feedback provided by Alice, Luce and Marta in relation to these schemes highlights a certain level of deception with regard to their initial expectations, as the verbatim in Table 6 below shows.

Table 6

Feedback for promise No 2

Table 6
Promise N° 2 : “Women have unrecognized power. Let’s show them how to wield it” Alice “Most of the information provided was aimed at stay-at-home mums or women looking for work…As a middle manager trying to become an entrepreneur, I looked out of place whenever I tried to seek out information” Luce “I thought that the approach would be different, the women mentors went on endlessly about how what they did was in no way different from what their male counterparts did… I think they were too worried about sticking to the rules” Marta “Thanks to some of the information provided, I became more confident about speaking in public about my project…but I did find some serious contradictions in the information I got from the two schemes I joined”

Feedback for promise No 2

46Alice clearly felt that the scheme she joined was not adapted to her needs. Marta was initially satisfied with the information gleaned from the first scheme. Nevertheless, she mentioned a frequently recurring problem, namely that the advice proffered by the two schemes she joined was contradictory, making her wary about its validity. Luce chose a scheme that offered not only information but also a mentorship initiative with direct access to a battle-hardened entrepreneur. While this enabled her to make some significant changes to her entrepreneurial project, she was quite critical of the overall approach.

47In terms of proposals for improvement, Alice and Marta were not very forthcoming. On the other hand, Luce suggested a number of areas in which improvements could be made, particularly as regards mentoring for novice entrepreneurs. With a certain degree of humour, she suggested a more complete approach to the relational aspect of mentoring which included providing personal as well as professional recommendations. She also suggested that the mentor relationship should be based as much on trust in the interlocutor as on a capacity to challenge and surprise him or her. Implicitly, she highlighted the fact that the learning process in this type of relationship needs to be interactive, and that knowledge does not come exclusively from the mentor.

3.4 – Promise No 3 : Gives an illusion of usefulness

48The main promise made by the schemes in the networking category (Table 7 below) focuses on the added value of sharing and exchanging knowledge and experiences in order to reinforce both professional and personal identity for women entrepreneurs.

Table 7

Schemes for promise No 3

Table 7
Name of scheme Main activity Promise N° 3 and type of discourse Enterprising women (EW) Training programmes, clubs and network activities Network, grow, succeed National information centre for women and their families (NI) Information services and networking activities for women Fight for professional equality Break down barriers One-stop support shop (OS) National network providing information on the range of services women entrepreneurs needs – from idea to creation phases Free the entrepreneur in you. Succeed in developing your idea, your network Be entrepreneurial together (BT) Coaching and networking activities Show the way. Become responsible. Become entrepreneurial. European women’s network (EWN) Information and lobbying services for novice entrepreneurs Recognise the diversity. Wield power Adapt the system Change the world French women gazelles (FWG) Networking activities on national level Defend women’s interests Women Information Channels (WIC) Networking activities and organization of clubs for women entrepreneurs Conciliate private and professional life Support women’s desire to create a firm Women Ambassadors for Entrepreneurship (WAE) Networking activities on a European level Overcome barriers Enable the creation of women’s firms

Schemes for promise No 3

49Overall, the tone here is of a classical and slightly defensive nature, accentuating the need for women to be convincing in order to enter what is considered a male-dominated business world. WIC’s introductory text illustrates this eloquently :


“The majority of women who create their activity do so based on projects that reflect their personality and their passion more so than based on purely commercial objectives. This tends to make them appear fragile when faced with judgements that may be ‘too objective’…our networking structure is there to recreate that desire and motivation which will strengthen their chances of success”.

51WAE has chosen success stories in networking by effective female role models to “show the way” and encourage emulation. The more firmly entrenched schemes call on a rather hackneyed vocabulary to enhance the value of networking, promising “close and fruitful relations with long-lasting partnerships (NI) or the recounting of a “unique and ambitious experience” by a serial entrepreneur to challenge potential candidates (OS). EWN’s message is more persuasive as it evokes values of generosity, openness, realism and equality in order to “raise voices, interconnect generations and share best practices and knowledge”.

52The feedback provided by Stephanie and Anne-Marie leaves one in no doubt about the illusory nature of the promise made, as Table 8 below shows.

Table 8

Feedback for promise No 3

Table 8
Promise N° 3 : “Women have the knowledge but need experience. Let’s train them to be reflexive” Stephanie “In the network scheme I joined, the first thing they encouraged us to do was to get to know people because we were just poor little women without any contacts…but randomly increasing the number of contacts you have is a waste of energy. Sometimes you have to see the same person several times to be able to exchange useful information”. Anne-Marie “The contacts weren’t as useful as all that. Everyone was trying to do business very quickly to such a degree that we weren’t really listening to one and other. We really needed to spend more time on more delicate questions, like how to approach clients and how to build trust with suppliers. They must have thought that we knew all that already”.

Feedback for promise No 3

53Even though networking activities are currently considered as a useful site for testing the viability of opportunities and identifying the resources needed for ensuring that a good idea has a real competitive advantage (Ardichvili, Cardoso, and Ray, 2003), the two respondents were fairly critical of what was on offer. Stephanie highlighted the condescending allusions inherent in the approaches used to encourage women to extend their contact network. Anne-Marie was not impressed with the tendency to encourage women to act like name collectors rather than to improve their relational skills. Both criticized the superficial approach to learning that did not leave enough room for what constitutes the core of business relationships, namely analysis and exploration practices.

54The tone in which both expressed certain of their criticisms implies that their suggestions were not taken on board. The phrase “they must have thought that we knew all that already” in Anne-Marie’s verbatim reflects a kind of deafness on the part of the managers of the schemes who do not call into question their habitual approaches and points of view. Stephanie expressed doubts about the usefulness of her scheme. Anne-Marie moderated her critiques, suggesting that, although interaction was limited, there was still a potential for dialogue.

3.5 – Promise No 4 : Interiorizes gender stereotypes

55The 4 schemes in the final category (Table 9 below) propose funding and investment opportunities for women who are motivated by the entrepreneurial adventure.

Table 9

Schemes for promise No 4

Table 9
Name of scheme Main activity Promise N° 4 and type of discourse Roots (R) Funding opportunities for women entrepreneurs Help women to become entrepreneurs via efficient funding Women’s specific strengths (WSS) Advice & coaching activities, training programmes, funding Reduce discriminations Favour solidarity Break up isolation One-stop support shop (OS) National network providing information on the range of services women entrepreneurs needs – from idea to creation phases Free the entrepreneur in you Succeed in developing your idea, your network Women Business Angels (WBA) Provides investments for women entrepreneurs Promote women entrepreneurs Contribute to their growth and development

Schemes for promise No 4

56The first scheme (R) prefaces its offer of financial support with an in-depth explanation of why it is that the road to entrepreneurial success is twice as difficult for women than for men. It underlines the “modesty” of their ambitions, reflected in the smaller amount of capital that they tend to negotiate for company launching and in their “careful” approach to financial issues in general. WBA is more offensive in its attitude, emphasizing the value of women’s differences and encouraging them to implement their alternative approach to entrepreneurial prowess. They do so by playing in the same economic arena as men, multiplying press interviews and media coverage to highlight the progress made by women entrepreneurs in existing as equal partners to men. The OS scheme is more prosaic in its messages for women entrepreneurs, reproducing the same funding mechanisms as those proposed for men, but insisting on a more feminine style in acknowledging the added value that women procure. The schemes in this category seem quite open to understanding the difficulties faced by women in fund-raising but the barriers mentioned appear quite stereo-typed and this may lead to a rather superficial approach in dealing with particular cases, as we shall see in the feedback by Sabine and Laurène (verbatim in Table 10 below).

Table 10

Feedback for promise No 4

Table 10
Promise N° 4 : “Women’s financial needs are different. Let’s encourage them so that they can play by the rules of the game” Sabine “The network provided the wherewithal to finance my first sale. But I had to listen to too many sermons about the ruses women have to employ to convince investors. My investor listened to me and I listened to him. We ironed out all the problems and now, I know I will never again make an issue when it comes to talking about money”. Laurène “I have to say that the financial advice handed out is targeted at women who’ve never had to deal with money. In one way, it’s an initiation. In another, it encourages them to see enemies where there sometimes aren’t any […] There should be more debate and humour in the way in which the subject of money is approached. They should also develop a post-financing follow-up to assess what kinds of things are good for relationships with business angels or bankers. You get the feeling that the scheme isn’t interested in the post-financing aspect of things”.

Feedback for promise No 4

57Sabine criticized what she saw as the relatively simplistic approach she was invited to adopt in order to raise money. She suggests that trust and transparency are more useful factors to have in mind when dealing with investors. Laurène was very critical of the way the scheme portrayed women as being irresponsible with money, pointing out the presence of gender stereotypes in an establishment designed to combat them.

58Both made very constructive suggestions about how the schemes could change their stereotyped approach to the subject of women and money. Sabine made a number of recommendations concerning the attitude of users to the schemes, encouraging the former to be more proactive in their financial negotiations. Laurène addressed her remarks to the scheme itself, to its organizers and its regulating authorities, suggesting that they abandon their stereotyped attitudes to women and women entrepreneurs. Both of them seem to be highly committed to helping associations that they regard as imperfect, to mature as institutions.

4 – Discussion

59In France, as in a number of developed countries, the institutionally-devised policies which provide services to novice and confirmed women entrepreneurs have two main objectives : the emancipation of women and their success in entrepreneurship (Kabeer, 1999). A varied number of offers are made available to contribute to achieving these objectives (training & coaching, information & lobbying, networking, funding & investment). The results of our study have shown that in France, the 20 major schemes proposing these offers carry a set of 4 promises. We collected and analyzed the perceptions expressed by 10 women entrepreneurs who had joined one or other of the schemes available. The majority of them express a certain level of deception. In institutional contexts, Fairclough (1992) claims that any promise made engenders a set of feelings that reinforces the sense-making relations that exist between an entity and its target. In analyzing the perceptions reported, we found that the most prominent one was that of disillusion, related to the dual issues of entrepreneurial success and female emancipation and expressed in the nature of the relations established between the users and the schemes :

  • Disillusion for the users who feel that the schemes are mainly interested in exerting control
  • Disillusion for users in relation to the inadequacy of the offers made
  • Disillusion for users in relation to the slow uptake of the necessary reforms for regulating institutional relations with women entrepreneurs

60Our discussion firstly focuses on the fact that, despite the successful launching of their firms in 8 cases out of ten, the users do not feel invested with a long-lasting sense of entrepreneurial agency (Steyaert and Hjorth, 2003). Secondly, they still remain skeptical regarding the link between entrepreneurship and female emancipation. Finally, the 3 levels of disillusion identified enable us to determine to what degree policy support schemes for women entrepreneurs in France are in the process of institutional consolidation, that is, in achieving a satisfactory balance between structure and agency.

4.1 – A lack of attention to women’s entrepreneurial agency

61The frustration expressed by the users in relation to the offers proposed by the schemes reflects the difficulties they experienced in fully expressing their entrepreneurial agency. Despite the apparent proactive nature underlining the design and delivery of the offers, the users perceived them as standardized and not adapted to their specific needs. For some of them (Marie, Lisa, Luce, Laurène), the fact that they needed to reinterpret what the scheme offered was all part of the effort that they had to put in to become entrepreneurs, part of the process of learning how to battle with institutions. In the face of the challenges represented by institutions, the cause of “entrepreneurial agency,” in the sense outlined by Welter and Smallbone (2011), needs to be defended. Tania deconstructed her experience of the coaching provided by the scheme ; Luce “subjected herself” to the process, but discovered alternative perspectives on mentoring, while Sabine directly contradicted the stereotyped advice proposed to her. As Joule, Giandola and Bernard (2007) suggest, the strong influence of the persuasive rhetoric present in policy support for women entrepreneurs, tends to establish a one-way pact, the purpose of which is to valorise the institution that attempts to transform the entrepreneurial subject. Over and above this transaction, nothing more is envisaged. And, as Swyngedouw (2005) claims, it is perhaps the role of the ambiguous nature of institutional arrangements to give the impression that all interactions between schemes and users are possible and, at the same time, to impose a unilateral format on the transaction, implying that the offer (and possible interactions) made by the schemes can only operate in one direction.

62Many of the users in this study succeeded in interacting with the schemes. They verbalised a set of constructive critiques of the approaches employed by the schemes, thus highlighting a potential call for feedback and dialogue on the part of the schemes. However, the lasting impression, reflected in the sometimes humorous, sometimes deprecating tones of the users, appears to demonstrate that the schemes showed little desire to accommodate suggestions about setting up new firms, nor were they concerned with offering sustained support. Furthermore, in proposing structural transformations of the offers, users demonstrate that it is theoretically possible to negotiate with institutions and to contribute to their development by instigating institutional change (Welter and Smallbone, 2011). This constitutes a positive step forward in the relations and transactions that women entrepreneurs can establish with institutional stakeholders. But the identification by users of a feminine/feminist discourse that was not always appropriate and which, they felt, interfered with developing their entrepreneurial agency, reveals the existence of still unresolved gender issues, particularly as regards the question of emancipation.

4.2 – A conflict of interests that continues to hinder female emancipation

63The official discourse delivered by the schemes seemed to be replaced by an operational rhetoric about women as entrepreneurs, that users perceived as dissonant with regard to initial expectations. Furthermore, it often contradicted the message delivered with regard to entrepreneurship. This tension may be linked to the ambiguous nature of a discourse overly dependent on a categorization of individuals established in the 1970s (discriminated citizens, disadvantaged minorities) a categorization on which the policies designed to provide economic aid to women, are based. This ambiguity is displayed in the pronounced homogeneity of the discourse strategies employed by the support schemes. They tend to cling to these deeply ingrained stereotypical categories and representations to such an extent that they fail to integrate other, more highly relevant discourse focused on entrepreneurial coaching and advice.

64Swyngedouw (2005) underlines that, in cases in which institutions combine a number of different policies in the form of institutional arrangements, a cumulative approach sparks the emergence of dissonance between discourses and services. The author draws attention to the importance of clarifying the degree to which the motivations and objectives of the policies applied converge, with a view to identifying potential tensions and contradictions between discourses that convey both emancipation and paternalism. In the case of support schemes for women entrepreneurs in France, it would appear that the analysis of convergences between policies designed to encourage the emancipation of women, while at the same time encouraging them to become involved in entrepreneurship, has been too superficial. As Swyngedouw (2005) and Lim, Morse, Mitchell, and Seawright (2010) have observed, the axiological contradictions of support schemes encompass a random convergence of the two policies applied in the case under discussion here. For example, the quasi-patriarchal attitudes displayed to women’s attitudes with regard to money could be said to constitute a return of the repressed machism inherent in entrepreneurial culture, where the masculine model is dominant (Ahl, 2006). On the other hand, in coaching bodies, it could be said that the pre-eminence of the discourse on the emancipation of women means that coaches remain silent about the specificities of individuals and their entrepreneurial projects. A rivalry between the two discourses and the cultures that they represent can be observed.

4.3 – A change in status from targets to beneficiaries

65The evaluations and proposals made by the users to improve interactions with the schemes and the often ambiguous attitudes of the latter highlight the difficulties encountered by the users in negotiating a sustainable relationship. The efforts made by users to rationalize their frustration show a positive move from their traditionally accepted status as targets of schemes to that of beneficiaries (see Figure 2 below). Some of them attempted to explore certain aspects of the offers with a view to ensuring a better fit between policies designed to encourage the emancipation of women and policies dedicated to entrepreneurship per se. This attitude suggests that users share values that are consonant with or contribute to the emergence of an innovative institutional configuration. O’Neill and Gidengil (2006) highlight the degree to which gender codes encourage women to patch up institutional shortcomings, even in situations in which they are playing an agentive role. However, we can only presume that the actors of support schemes did not appear to question their own attitudes to tensions between the feminist and entrepreneurial discourses, preferring to take the cynical option of letting the participants reconcile that tension on their own. This backward-looking attitude threatens the newly found status mentioned above and is another way of instrumentalizing users, rather that treating them as active participants. This institutional tension represents a genuine problem for support schemes, apparently still unable to think of their users as anything more than the targets of a particular policy. In their replies, the users display an awareness of the narcissistic culture of their support schemes, a culture that overdetermines their messages. In the view of the users, the discourse about women’s shortcomings is not only stereotyped, but also serves to justify a protective attitude on the part of the schemes. The women had the impression that they were thought of as institutional pretexts, or even as infants – etymologically speaking - gagged individuals unable to express themselves. This explains why they sought to develop a discourse about support schemes and their governing texts in order, in some cases at least, to avoid being used as pretexts (Tania, Lisa, Alice, Marta), or to make constructive suggestions in an attempt to deconstruct those messages, which transformed them into pretexts (Marie, Luce, Anne-Marie, Sabine, Laurène). The users demonstrated a pronounced desire to contribute to the community of women and to help support schemes to improve the way in which they function as institutional bodies. At the same time, they expressed a desire to reaffirm themselves as speaking subjects with regard to an institutional body that, in their opinion, often places limits on their ability to speak (Welter and Smallbone, 2011).

Figure 2

The interactive institutional mechanisms that regulate policy support for women entrepreneurs in France

Figure 2

The interactive institutional mechanisms that regulate policy support for women entrepreneurs in France

66However, as if they do not believe their recommendations would have any impact, none of the women make any concrete proposals to create discussion platforms between scheme representatives and users. Nor do they suggest organizing themselves in order to make a collective evaluation of the offers made. Perhaps they feel that they themselves have not yet acquired the requisite level of legitimacy as entrepreneurs in their own right, and that it is up to the schemes to set up committees, publish suggestions, and provide advice for users who have completed their time with them. Another reason, which may explain why they have such little faith in the notion that their recommendations will be taken on board, must also be underlined. The users are certainly aware of the fact that the support schemes themselves have failed to find solutions to the major political contradictions that continue to pollute the debate on female entrepreneurship and emancipation and which threaten to undermine their own legitimacy.

67The absence of such proposals within the official discourses of the schemes examined reveals a certain level of institutional immaturity. The schemes have not yet reached the stage where they can enact the self-regulatory mechanisms (Philips, Lawrence, and Hardy, 2004) for undertaking the necessary reforms and ensuring long-term sustainability. But, as Figure 2 below shows, progress in relation to the status of women entrepreneurs has been made. Instead of being characterized as mere targets of the schemes, they may now be considered as beneficiaries and their voice, if not always heard, is at least being acknowledged. However, further evolutions are still required so that that they can perceive themselves as participants.


68Our study shows that in spite of the somewhat negative perceptions users had of the offers made by the schemes, some form of dialogue was effectively established and that the road to a more dynamic institutional relationship with women entrepreneurs in France, if not yet taken, is at least being envisaged. There are still some stumbling blocks on this road, notably the need to seriously deal with the gender issues that continue to colour the contributions that women can make on professional and societal levels. As Ahl and Nelson (2011) point out : “if policies for women’s entrepreneurship are to be seen as part of the state’s work on increasing equality between men and women, then the debate should be broadened and gender issues and gender perspectives taken seriously. Otherwise, the policy may very well further consolidate the male norm”. Policies for women entrepreneurs in France continue to bypass these issues. The promises made reveal the existence of a high degree of rivalry between policies designed to emancipate women and those in support of entrepreneurship. These tensions provoke interferences in the way in which the promises are received. We can infer from this that the existing rivalry between the two separate agendas traps the scheme representatives and the users into engaging in a diluted form of dialogue. Users are faced with restricted choices. They can choose entrepreneurship because they are focused on equality issues or they can choose entrepreneurship because in doing so they can become emancipated. The difficulties encountered in inventing a continuous dialogue between the two agendas led some schemes to over-emphasize the self-development aspect, while others conceived of company creation as a solution, never questioning the family constraints that novice women entrepreneurs also face.

69Within the relations established between the protagonists, some users appear willing to respond constructively so as to enable the schemes to evolve. We can conclude that a turning point may have been reached and that French novice women entrepreneurs are no longer only considered as targets of one or other of the policies but as potential participants in the creation of a social and economic innovation dynamic, on its way to becoming institutionally consolidated and, in time, sustainable. Further evidence of a potential change in the way the role of women in the economic sphere is evolving can be seen in the recent networking strategies exercised by French women CEOs. They are consistently claiming their right to share power by successfully acceding to leadership positions in the corporate domain (Blanchard, Boni-Le Goff, and Rabier 2013).

70On a theoretical level this study has shown that institutionally-devised support schemes for women entrepreneurs should attend to recognising the existence of both entrepreneurial and feminine agency This requires a systematic induction for the actors involved as well as a specific focus on respecting the institutional interactions that can contribute to establishing sustainable, dynamic relations among the different protagonists. The observation tool proposed in Figure 2 recapitulates the essential components of these interactions :

  • The status of women entrepreneurs as co-participants in the institutional relation
  • The pro-active adaptation of the support offered
  • Mutual respect for the discursive pact that unites the protagonists
  • The necessary inclusion of reforms to enable the support scheme to adopt the self-regulating mechanisms that will ensure its long-term sustainability (rather than making mechanical adjustments to respect norms and arbitrary external decisions)

71Furthermore, these self-regulating mechanisms will contribute to reducing the undesirable effects of standardization within entrepreneurial approaches.

72On a methodological level, in moving away from the classic method for measuring public policy impacts – results in relation to objectives – the approach used here has taken into account the prudence recommended by Lundstrom and Stevenson (2005) in focusing on exploring on-going, institutional process rather than rushing to highlight results. The approach also confirms the pertinence of the monitoring phase proposed by Storey (1998, 2008) in his model and which is deemed necessary before moving on to the veritable evaluation phase.

73There are a number of limits to this study, of which the size of the sample and the absence of a control group. As Storey (1998 :17) points out, “questioning only participant firms (in given support schemes) fails to estimate the extent to which firms are discouraged from participating in a scheme by the real or imagined barriers which exist”. In order to objectively measure any barriers that may prevent potential applicants to a scheme, opinions from both participants and non-participants must be collected. A bigger sample would also have enabled a detailed comparison of the emerging dialogues with regard to the promises made by the four different categories of support schemes.

74In spite of these shortcomings, we believe that this study paves the way for future research on the design of effective measures for evaluating public policy for women entrepreneurs. Our purpose is not to make recommendations for one or other evaluation model but to better prepare the groundwork that may lead to establishing more concrete evidence that will, in turn, justify the need to find a robust method for measuring impacts, particularly as regards women entrepreneurs.


  • [1]
    In the same vein as Storey’s writings, we will use either the term ‘scheme’ or ‘support scheme’ as a mainstream term that covers the different types of structures that offer support to female novice and confirmed entrepreneurs.
  • [2]
    Storey (1998, 2008) proposed a six-step model for assessing the impact of SME and Entrepreneurship policy. The first three steps focus on a monitoring process – step 1 : take up of programme ; step 2 : recipients’ opinions, step 3 : recipients’ views of the impact of the programme. The last three focus on an evaluation process – step 4 : comparison of assisted firms with “typical” firms, step 5 : comparison with matched firms and step 6 : selection bias taken into account.
  • [3]
    The initials used for each scheme.

Before evaluating outcomes of public policy support for women entrepreneurship, it is important to understand their inner workings, that is, how opinions expressed by users of support schemes and programs are appreciated. Relying on neo-institutional theory (North, 2005) and discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992), we observe that novice French women entrepreneurs are no longer considered as mere targets of policies but as potential contributors to an innovative, socio-economic relational dynamic, on its way to becoming institutionally consolidated and, in time, sustainable.


  • novice women entrepreneurs
  • support schemes
  • France
  • institutional processes
  • discourse analysis


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Renaud Redien-Collot
Renaud Redien-Collot is presently Director of International Affairs at Novancia Business School, Paris. Since 2007, he has been a member of the Board of Administration of Académie de l’Entrepreneuriat. In 2009, he has chaired the Scientific Committee of Women Equity for Growth (WEG), an Index that has developed a robust methodology to rank every year the 50 best women-led businesses in France. He was involved in several innovative projects in entrepreneurship education in the EU, such as Pépite in France, Zlin 24h Chrono in Czech Republic, SOFA in Poland, Enspire EU in Denmark. His research interests include gender in entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship education and the renewal of SMEs’ business models in the EU. He is a reviewer for Feminist Economics and Journal of Small Business Management.
Director of the International Relations Department. NOVANCIA. 3 Rue Armand Moisant. 75015 Paris
Noreen O’Shea
Noreen O’Shea is an associate professor and researcher in Entrepreneurship at Novancia Business School, Paris. Her research topics include the construction of professional identity in entrepreneurial contexts ; the role of tacit knowledge and intuition in entrepreneurial learning and strategizing ; coaching and mentoring practices in and for small firms as well as developments in policy-making, particularly for women entrepreneurs.
NOVANCIA. 3 Rue Armand Moisant. 75015 Paris
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