Get a life. Women told to work apart

November 7, 1997

Women should be encouraged to work with other women and be dissuaded from setting up businesses with their spouses, according to research released this week.

Elizabeth Chell, professor of management at Newcastle University, said women did not underperform in business because of their gender; it was the continued expectation that they bear responsibility for family and home life which held them back.

Her research, which focuses on the impact of family life on business performance, found that the worst performing small businesses were those owned by husband and wife teams.

"We found the women carrying a dual burden and only putting hours per week in to their businesses," she said. This had a longer term knock-on effect because if women are to perform at the same level as men they need more business experience.

The research looked at the performance of so-called micro businesses employing up to ten people in Newcastle and Milton Keynes. More than 130 interviews were carried out and Professor Chell said the gender of the business owner was irrelevant to the performance of the organisation.

In husband and wife-owned businesses women's roles tended to be clerical and in support tasks, rather than a fully operational role. None of the women owners employed their husbands.

Contrary to other research, Professor Chell did not find that women employed different management styles to their male equivalents. She did find traditional male/female roles being replicated.

The research will be published next spring, but the tentative findings were aired at Humberside and Lincolnshire University this week at a seminar, Women of Substance. The delegates were depressed by her findings, although she stressed that her younger interviewees were less likely to accept an unequal partnership with a spouse.

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