Understanding how female entrepreneurs are impacted by work family conflict

By Sara Poggesi and Michela Mari

For too long, work-family conflict (WFC) has been ignored. COVID-19 has changed this.

WFC is when an individual experiences incompatible demands between work and family roles, causing participation in both roles to become more difficult. As a result of the lockdown in many countries due to COVID-19, many policy makers, opinion leaders and journalists have been focusing on WFCs. The reorganization of working activities worldwide seems to confirm the widespread thought that women are still considered as the primary nurturers and care givers in the family and thus experience higher levels of WFC compared to men.

What the research says

Overlooked is that WFC impacts both female employees as well as entrepreneurs. Research on WFC-related issues among female employees has been well established in the employment literature. There are very few are the studies that analyse WFC among women entrepreneurs. One explanation is that entrepreneurship research tends to focus more on males.

If societies truly want to prioritize female entrepreneurship, then greater attention needs to be paid to WFC. Research over the years has demonstrated that finding a better balance between work and family life and greater freedom and flexibility are two of the main reasons motivating women to become entrepreneurs.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an estimated 231 million women are starting or running new businesses around the globe. It is incumbent upon policy makers and other stakeholders to best support these women by understanding WFCs and adapting accordingly.

Investigating the WFC dynamic in Italy

For the reasons above, Osif (Osservatorio Scientifico Imprese Femminili), a research center that is part of Tor Vergata University, has launched a research stream devoted to this issue. Currently, Osif research on WFC focuses on Italy, a country which faces deep-rooted gender biases at home and the workplace. Italian women are often responsible to care for children and older family members while men are still considered the principal bread winners. Although this gender division of labour is common all over the world, in Italy it assumes distinctive characteristics. According to OECD data from 2017, Italian women (15-64 years) spend 5 hours and 10 minutes per day in unpaid work compared to 2 hours and 18 minutes by men. On the contrary, in Sweden, men devote 2 hours and 57 minutes per day to unpaid work and women 3 hours and 44 minutes. It is important to add that Italian public spending on social services – including elderly, disabled, childcare – is low.

Osif has developed a survey based on 35 multiple choice answers, collecting 669 usable responses, to better understand WFCs among female entrepreneurs. The largest percentage of the surveyed women are located in northern Italy (78.3%), with 52.2% in the 37-50 age category. 48% of respondents have a secondary education and 31.4% have a degree, 72.8 are is in a relationship and 70% have at least one child.

The results are as follows:

- 30% of the sampled women entrepreneurs spend a maximum of 40 hours per week working
- 58% devote between 40-60 hours per week to working
- 12% invest more than 60 hours per week working.

The data shows that women are highly involved in their family activities, spending at least three hours per day on family-oriented work. We can see that both work and family play a pivotal role in women entrepreneurs’ life; both are, indeed, perceived as a means of satisfaction and personal fulfilment leading to a possible conflict. The two domains can hardly be considered completely separate. Policies need to take into account these realities.

Sara Poggesi is the director and Michela Mari is the vice director of Osservatorio Scientifico Imprese Femminili (OSIF), a research center that is part of Tor Vergata University.