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From imposter fears to authenticity: a typology of women entrepreneurs

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Research has established that entrepreneurship is a masculine domain in which women are likely to experience identity conflict due to the diverging meanings and behavioral expectations of being an entrepreneur versus being a woman. In this study, we adopt a social identity perspective to investigate how women entrepreneurs perceive their gender in the face of this potential identity conflict. By analyzing the narratives from 20 in-depth interviews with women entrepreneurs, complemented by three focus groups with 44 further women, we contribute to entrepreneurship literature by offering a typology of women entrepreneurs. Based on their perceived gender-entrepreneurial fit and mindset, we characterize these entrepreneurs as experiencing imposter feelings, acceptance, or authenticity. Through this typology, our research illustrates that there is variation in women’s perception of their gender in entrepreneurship, indicating that, while some women entrepreneurs experience imposter feelings from the identity conflict of being both a woman and an entrepreneur, others avoid or overcome such an identity conflict, finding ways to benefit from being different in the face of male dominated views of entrepreneurial success.

Plain English Summary

We illustrate how women perceive their gender in the face of a possible identity conflict in entrepreneurship. Depending on their perceived gender-entrepreneurial fit and mindset, they experience imposter feelings, acceptance, or authenticity.

Although more women are becoming entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurship field is still dominated by men. One of the reasons may be the fact that women often feel they do not “fit in” as entrepreneurs and consider themselves (and are seen) as being less legitimate and successful than their male counterparts. In our study, we propose a typology of women entrepreneurs, which we classify as experiencing imposter feelings, acceptance, or authenticity depending on their perceived gender-entrepreneurial fit and mindset. Thus, the principal implication of this study is to shed light on how women see themselves as entrepreneurs and offer evidence that can help us better understand and support women’s entrepreneurship.

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Data is not available due to confidentiality.


  1. This makes our sample representative of entrepreneurs overall, seeing that the average age of founders is 41.9, based on the 2.7 million founders in the USA who started businesses between 2007 and 2014 (Azoulay et al., 2020).


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The authors are grateful to the associate editors and anonymous reviewers for their insightful suggestions. We are also grateful to the entrepreneurs and professionals who generously contributed their time and insights to our study. We wish to acknowledge the competent research assistance of Vanessa Bertone and Jack Sadek.


This research was supported by a research grant from Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture.

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Correspondence to Alexandra Dawson.

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Portions of an early draft of this article were presented at the 2020 Academy of Management conference.


Appendix 1

Interview guide

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

What has your experience been like so far?

How do you measure success?

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

What is the most challenging part of your job?

As a female entrepreneur, has gender played a role in your career?

What’s the key to your success as an entrepreneur? How would this be different for a man?

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

What advice or recommendations would you give to women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

Appendix 2

Please see Table 3.

Table 3 Supporting data

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Chadwick, I.C., Dawson, A. From imposter fears to authenticity: a typology of women entrepreneurs. Small Bus Econ 62, 1025–1050 (2024).

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