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Business History

For a Special Issue on

Where Have All the Business Women Gone? Female Entrepreneurship in the long 20th Century

Abstract deadline
30 November 2023

Manuscript deadline
30 August 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Selin Dilli, Utrecht University
[email protected]

Carry van Lieshout, Open University
[email protected]

Jennifer Aston, Northumbria University
[email protected]

Robert Bennett, Cambridge University
[email protected]

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Where Have All the Business Women Gone? Female Entrepreneurship in the long 20th Century

We invite scholars to contribute to the special issue that will examine changes in female entrepreneurship over the twentieth century and the factors explaining these shifts. In the special issue, we define entrepreneurship deliberately broadly to capture the different manifestations of female entrepreneurship in the past. We define female entrepreneurs as women who were taking the risk and making business decisions on their own account to create new goods, services and ideas in the market under uncertainty, either as co-workers in family businesses, solo self-employed, employers, or innovators (Aston and Bishop 2020).

Despite this growing body of literature, there are two major gaps in our knowledge about female entrepreneurship, which this special issue aims to address. First, in the absence of systematic time-series data, it remains inconclusive if and how women’s engagement in business changed over the turbulent times of the long twentieth century across geographic contexts. Second, in the absence of a systematic approach to the twentieth century and a comparison across country contexts, we cannot identify the valid explanations that answer the question of why women’s engagement in business (did not) change(d). For instance, it is hard to determine how the larger cultural, political and societal shifts around women’s position during the 20th century influenced women’s participation in business life.

This special issue therefore calls for scholarly research that focuses on the vibrant nature of business women in the long twentieth century, and the explanations behind the challenges and solutions women faced when they started and ran their business during this period. We are interested in contributions working on the following exemplary research questions:

  • Was there a universal decline in women’s entrepreneurship across the world regions?
  • Which factors influenced this decline, and when and how did female entrepreneurship recover?
  • What forms of entrepreneurship did women engage in over the twentieth century?
  • Which opportunities and challenges did different female entrepreneurs have in common and how did they differ from one another?
  • Who filled the niche that women occupied during the late-nineteenth century?
  • How and why did women’s participation in entrepreneurship change in the long twentieth century?

To answer these questions, our goal is to have a wide geographical coverage that captures the diversity of contextual conditions that influenced the opportunities and challenges businesswomen faced. We are interested in a broad scope of approaches that employ theories from different fields (e.g., feminist theories) as well as those that re-assess the applicability of business theories (such as Varieties of Capitalism) in explaining women’s experiences. We are open to contributions that employ: 1) systematic comparative approaches based on quantitative analysis that can shed light on the long-term changes in women’s engagement in business life across economic sectors in the long twentieth century, and 2) case-study approaches at the firm level (e.g., firm archives) that provide in-depth understanding of (the change in) women’s different positions and decision-making in businesses over time (e.g., as co-workers, managers, owners),

Submission Instructions

Interested contributors are invited to send a brief abstract of their research paper (300 words) latest by 30 November 2023 to the special issue editors via [email protected]. The authors of the selected abstracts will be invited to present the first draft of their paper in a workshop taking place in Utrecht on 25-26 April 2024. The editorial team consists of Selin Dilli (Utrecht  University), Carry van Lieshout (Open University), Jennifer Aston (Northumbria University), and Robert Bennett (Cambridge University). The accepted papers for the special issue will appear in Business History.



Open call for abstracts for contributors October-November 2023
Deadline for the First Draft and Workshop for Presentations 25-26April  2024


Full Paper Submissions to the Journal August 2024
Review Process September-December 2024
Decisions on the Manuscripts/Inform Authors January 2025


Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article