E. Luppi1, K.H. Falgren2

1University of Bologna (ITALY)
2Reykjavik University (ICELAND)
This paper presents the methodology and first results of the European Leonardo Partnership Project “Empowering women”. The aim of this project was to facilitate the development of a model for business innovation courses for women in science, engineering and technology. The project was a joint collaboration between Reykjavik University (Iceland), Bologna University (Italy), The Technical University of Tallinn (Estonia) and Inova Consult (UK). By creating a model for business innovation courses for women, the consortium wanted to address the need to encourage and to enlighten the dormant source of European women in technological business development by developing a platform to fully realize and share the potential of companies, founded by women, based on female values and intuition.

The project was built on the experience and outcome of the earlier entrepreneur initiative, AUDUR, which was conducted by Reykjavik University in the year 2000-2003. Based on findings from the report Evaluation on Policy: Promotion of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurship (European Commission, 2008), Europe is facing several problems due to lack of women´s participation in technology and entrepreneurship. The study claims that “women’s intellectual potential and their contribution to Europe’s competitiveness are not being maximised in the field of technology and entrepreneurship”. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study there is a systematic difference between men and woman entrepreneurial activity and it is claimed that the propensity is gendered (Minniti et al, 2005).

To build a training model for supporting female entrepreneurial business activity and leadership of women in science, engineering and technology, it is necessary to focus on the theories and approaches that attempts to explain the female condition and attitude towards work and leadership alike. The current debate on leadership theories from a gender perspective reflects the discussion between the cultural feminist discourse and the post-structuralist feminism (Court 2005). The first perspective has its roots in radical feminist theories and describes how inner natural and social differences of females and males lead them to different paths when assuming work and leadership roles. The second and more recent perspective, focuses on the personal influence in building female and male identities within different social historical and political contexts. Both approaches offer valuable contributions to reflect upon when developing a model for training women to entrepreneurship. In this project it was chosen to adopt a perspective that places women at the centre of her career path focusing in particular on the notion of Empowerment, as a complex cluster of competences and behaviours connected with self-efficacy (Zimmermann & Rapaport, 1988). Female empowerment is proposed as the key learning outcome for the learning path that has been developed in the model proposed by the consortia.

This paper will first present the underlying gender research on female entrepreneurship and the assumptions and methodology applied in the Empowering woman project, then the consortias proposed model for business innovation courses and finally the main constraints and challenges encountered during the project.