Chapter 8 Career paths of female entrepreneurs in STEM - challenges and opportunities
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STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields face a huge skills shortage. This provides women great opportunities, but both entrepreneurship and STEM are male-dominated fields and already STEM-sensitized women are still less likely to foster their careers or even to start businesses in STEM compared to men. This study is based on 30 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with women STEM entrepreneurs in different phases of their careers. Drawing on Krumboltz's Happenstance Learning Theory (HLT), Fiske and Cuddy's Stereotype Content Model (SCM) and results from other studies, we discuss the career experiences and career-related decision-making processes of women STEM entrepreneurs and the role that stereotypes and perceptions play in this regard. The aim is to derive recommendations and best practices at the academic, entrepreneurial and intermediary levels for fostering STEM entrepreneurship by women in the future. In our sample, women whose parents had a STEM business nevertheless initially chose qualifications in non-STEM fields. According to our interviewees, whether their parents themselves worked in STEM or were self-employed did not determine whether or not their daughter actively aimed to become a female STEM entrepreneur. In fact, the decisive factor seemed to be the woman's initial intrinsic interest in STEM, developed through hands-on experience. Female STEM entrepreneurs frequently confront stereotypes concerning their positions and roles, although sometimes they can take advantage of these stereotypes. Being aware of multilayered external perceptions, female STEM entrepreneurs rather perceive being female in male-dominated environments to be an opportunity, as they feel somewhat admired and respected for their successful career paths. According to our results, career entry seems to be the most critical milestone for a successful STEM-related career. Therefore, our results support current endeavours to sensitize school-age girls for STEM-related professional paths so that they may explore their interest in STEM fields in a hands-on manner.

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