Lene Foss and Elisabet Ljunggren
Gry Agnete Alsos, Margrete Haugum and Elisabet Ljunggren
Policy makers seeking to stimulate regional prosperity and economic growth are increasingly taking more system-oriented approaches to support entrepreneurial activity. It is argued that a system perspective should be taken also in analyses and policies related to women’s involvement in entrepreneurial activities. Instead of limiting the focus to women and their (lack of) capabilities, the impact of the context – or the structure – should be taken into account. We analyze the results of a policy initiative to strengthen the gender balance of regional entrepreneurial ecosystems in Norway. The policy initiative, the national Program for regional R & D and innovation (VRI), is organized as financial support for networks of regional actors seeking to develop entrepreneurial ecosystems in their regions, complemented with a knowledge support infrastructure made available for the regional systems. The research questions addressed are: 1. What is the relationship between planned gender initiatives, activities conducted and reported results and learning from the activities in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem development? 2. What effects can be seen from the introduction of gender requirements in the regional ecosystem development projects? Three Norwegian regional ecosystems were analyzed: Agder, Hordaland and Trøndelag, which were strategically sampled. The longitudinal document data from the first program period until the on-going period enabled us to examine how plans and actions are influenced by previous results and how the potential learning from the evaluation of the implementation of initiatives from the first period affects the later periods. We find that in the period 2007 to 2016 there has been little development in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystems towards gender balance despite relatively high ambitions, planned gender initiatives, activities and demand on reporting these. Further, we find that the regions use few tools, and thereby gain little effect. We also find some learning throughout the program period but at a superficial level. In the policy there is an unarticulated idea that gender balance leads to gender equality. Analyzing the policy implementation we find little coherence between policy goals, activities carried out and the reporting regime. The ecosystem approach makes it possible to focus on different levels of the ecosystem, e.g. the industry, firm and individual levels. Doing this we find that the innovation policy is carried out at the industry and firm levels, e.g. by building and supporting triple helices (systems), while the individual level is related to the counting of women and men. Hence, there are few efforts to let the women take part in the ecosystem. Our conclusion is that it is demanding by only one policy effort to ensure an economic ecosystem suitable for women. However, policy makers should address gender equality or gender balance as it is necessary to bring attention to the issue. In addition, “toolboxes” on how to achieve goals should follow demands on, for example, gender balance.