Enterprising Women in the Past? An Inquiry into Histories of Women in Business and Theories of Entrepreneurship

Valeria Peshko, University of Helsinki

Among other things Covid-29 pandemic has exposed the precarious position of women as economic actors. Many experts and commentators who have observed the impact of the pandemic on women’s welfare, frame its negative effects as a return to the «dark» past. I argue our understanding of the history of women’s involvement in business, and in particular their role as business leaders is very limited. In this paper I demonstrate that neither recent strain of gender-sensitive business histories of women with its “from below” approach, nor entrepreneurship theories grounded on Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of innovation provide an adequate lens for the study of women’s agency as heads of large-scale enterprises. To fill in this gap, I propose a different theoretical premise, based on ideas of Max Weber and organization-oriented conceptualizations of entrepreneurship developed by Heinz Hartmann. My perspective is developed in context of my PhD project «Women of prayer and profit: a collective biography of the Morozov female business executives in post-reform Russia». This study investigates the agency of female executives in family firms in the second half of 19th century Russia. Specifically, it examines implications of class, gender and religion on female economic agency.

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 Presented in Session 45. Women's Movement