E-Commerce and the Digital Economy Gender

Overcoming Gender Challenges in E-Commerce: What is being done to support women-owned MSMEs?

As new opportunities abound with the rise of the digital economy, the participation of women in digital entrepreneurship seems to increase. Yet, academics have started to raise concerns about the existence of gender-specific barriers faced by women entrepreneurs in different aspects of the e-commerce value chain. Addressing these concerns, this study offers a systematic categorisation of identified gender-specific barriers in e-commerce, before introducing a number of existing support initiatives that are helping women entrepreneurs to overcome these barriers. It concludes with recommendations for further support, research and policy action.

In general terms, information and communication technologies (ICT) have been an engine for the development and improvement of social and economic conditions for groups that traditionally have fewer opportunities. At the same time, the economic importance of entrepreneurship is not a controversial topic. The relationship between development and entrepreneurship has proven itself to be self-evident (Isenbeck, 2010).

While digital entrepreneurship has been defined as the pursuit of business opportunities that require the use of information technology, which is clear in the case of e-commerce (Dy, Marlow, & Martin, 2017), it has been expected that the digital spectre will remain neutral and that it offers business people around the world equal opportunity in global markets. E-commerce is vital in offering new horizons to developing economies in which the generation of value through entrepreneurship and self-employment can make a significant socio-economic improvement.

New avenues of entrepreneurship typical for the digital economy were expected to be gender neutral. Some theoretical analysis even anticipated a boost in the economic integration of women entrepreneurs based on an expected digital freedom. But even with a clear rise in the participation of women in digital entrepreneurship, the narrative of an independent white self-made man as the quintessential entrepreneur is still predominant (Duffy & Pruchniewska, 2017a). Many academics have started to raise concerns about the truth of this statement, since women entrepreneurs seem to be facing gender-specific barriers in different aspects of the e-commerce value chain.

However, one question remains unresolved, which is how equal opportunities and conditions can be granted to women entrepreneurs. Some disparities between the adoption of e-commerce by women around the world are explained by the fact that it requires certain infrastructures to be provided by the state, which includes but is not limited to easy access to the Internet and a widely penetrating ICT services (Goldstein & O’Connor, 2000).

The main goal of this document is to address these concerns, first, by offering a systematic categorisation of the specific barriers of women participation in e-commerce which have been identified by other experts and researchers; second, by presenting some of the current programmes helping women entrepreneurs to overcome these barriers at the regional, national and global levels; and finally, by providing some recommendations for further action, research and policy actions.

Once an in-depth analysis is conducted on current barriers found by the literature, the paper analyses a sample of existing programmes aimed at helping women entrepreneurs around the world, particularly with regard to digital matters. In this process, the main programmes are individually addressed while a complete list of programmes worldwide is delivered for use in further research. In this analysis, the principal result is that while the efforts to address the issue are undeniable, activities carried out remain insufficient, and, as proposed in the recommendations section, more investment is needed.