Narrative Profiles

The Chatham University research team of six students and two faculty proposed to study female entrepreneurship in small-scale, regionally based restaurants and lodging businesses.  From their preliminary research and their own interests, the students had determined four primary areas of interest:  What gender issues occur in women-owned businesses?  How do women use relationship networks to start and maintain a business?  How does family responsibility interplay with business responsibility?  Do these women business owners consider themselves to be feminists?  Prior to travel, the research team developed a survey questionnaire, a set of interview questions, a survey participant letter, and an interview consent form. The research proposal was approved by the Chatham University Institutional Review Board.  All four documents were then translated into Chinese by students and faculty at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan.  In Taiwan, the Chatham team practiced the interview technique with student translators from Tunghai University.  The research team spent ten days in Taichung and conducted half the interviews.  The remaining interviews took place over the next two weeks in four different areas in Taiwan.

When we left for Taiwan we were not certain that our research methodology would work, and we had only set up the first interviews.  The number and quality of the interviews exceeded all of our prior expectations.  We were able to set up the maximum number of interviews we thought we could accomplish; and the students developed an excellent interview technique with all of them sharing the interview and recording responsibilities.  While still in Taiwan the students began the transcription process, and the interview transcriptions are now completed.

The expected outcome of the research is a series of analytical profiles of the women entrepreneurs telling their stories and specifically addressing the four areas of interest—gender issues for women business owners, relationship networks, family dynamics, and perception of feminism.

As the interviews were taking place and after we returned and read the transcriptions, a theme emerged for each entrepreneur.  Some of the entrepreneurs were focused on personal issues: making money and being able to take care of aging parents; working hard to establish a business; persevering and being strong.  Other entrepreneurs were centered on helping others: promoting a healthy lifestyle, designing a place for community; helping women travelers; and taking care of students away from home.  While we were always going to complete the research project and write the profiles, the research project has become more compelling as we realize the potential of these narratives.  When we started the research project, we were inspired by the narrative profiles in Scott Simon’s book Sweet and Sour: Life-Worlds of Taipei Women Entrepreneurs (Rowan and Littlefield, 2003).   As we work on  the analysis of the research project, our research team has been able to meet or exceed the goals and expectations we set for the project.

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