small business firms

Ambition and SME Growth

According to the report by BEIS the proposition that the concept of ambition in relation to business growth is itself a gendered one: because most SME leaders are men, the prevailing image of ambition for business growth is a masculine one of “the self-made man”, of competitiveness, and of striving for power and recognition (Harrison et al., 2015). As a result, it is assumed that ambition for growth along these lines is desirable. But this image of ambition conflicts with societal gender-based norms of femininity (Gupta et al, 2008).


There is some evidence that male and female SME leaders do not all think about growth in the same way. For example, when asked in this study what they saw as the primary measure of the size of a business, about two-thirds of male and female SME leaders cited financial (turnover, profit) measures in equal proportions (68% and 65%, respectively). However, among the remainder, male SME owners were twice as likely to cite reputation or market share than females (24% versus 13%), and half as likely to cite employment (5% versus 12%). A gendered perspective would argue that a) the measures of most men and women were the same, and b) the minor differences are due to the different expectations that society has of men and women.

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