2014 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Chatham University
Creative Entrepreneurialism, Relationship Networks, and Family Dynamics
Mentors: Karen Kingsbury (International Studies) and Charlotte Lott (Business and Entrepreneurship)
Students: Chloe Bell ’16, Diana Cabrera ’17, Ashley Henry ’14, Kristina Hruska ’16, Sook Yee Leung ’14, Rachel McNorton ‘14
June 2: Chatham students with women business owners (sisters) of a hostel for women travelers in Tainan City, Taiwan. Back row, from left: Kristi Hruska, Chloe Bell, Pei-Han Hsin, Ashley Henry, Tsai-Hua (Pin) Hsin, Sook Yee Leung. Front row, from left: Rachel McNorton, Diana Cabrera
The Chatham University research team of six students and two faculty mentors spent four weeks in Taiwan interviewing women entrepreneurs in small-scale, regionally-based (outside of Taipei) restaurants and lodging businesses. We interviewed fourteen women business owners in eleven establishments in five regional areas of Taiwan. Interview questions covered five areas: general description of the business, including design considerations; gender issues in a woman-owned business; role of relationship networks in starting and maintaining a business; impact of family dynamics; and the perception of feminism in Taiwan. 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). The expected outcome of the research is twofold: first, a series of analytical profiles of the women entrepreneurs telling their stories; and second, research articles in the four areas of interest—gender issues for women business owners, relationship networks, family dynamics, and perception of feminism—that analyze the responses of the fourteen women interviewed along with surveys from around 30 additional women business owners. The team has begun to share our work with various audiences at Chatham.
My research focuses primarily on perceptions of feminism amongst female entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry within Taiwan. I am particularly interested in researching how perceptions of feminine identity instilled by the culture motivate Taiwanese women towards certain occupations and lifestyles. Within the context of our research, the female entrepreneurs expressed a varied set of opinions on the topic of feminism—some believing women were hindered by traditional Taiwanese culture and some believing that a person’s success is not a testament to gender, but to those who helped them along the way. Moving forward, I am interested in overlaying the varied opinions of the female entrepreneurs with a cultural context of gender roles and equality within Taiwanese culture. The overarching goal of my research is to comment on Taiwan’s role in the success of female entrepreneurship and whether cultural institutions and expectations work symbiotically with these women.
Throughout my time in Taiwan, I gained an immeasurable number of both personal and professional skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. My improved global understanding, communication skills, and knowledge of women’s leadership have already afforded me an internship opportunity that I may not have received otherwise. Interviewing the female entrepreneurs and interacting with the people of Taiwan on a daily basis not only expanded my understanding of generosity and mutually beneficial entrepreneurship, but it altered my perception of the world. The female entrepreneurs and the academics we talked to were not focused on making the most money or being the most successful in the Western sense; instead, they fostered a sense of purpose and humility in me that I haven’t shaken since. While it is important to work hard, it is more important to work hard at something that fills you with a sense of purpose. In post-Taiwan real life, I carry with me a sense of ease and determination; although I do not always know the next step, I know that the present step is meaningful.
My research is on the business relationships female entrepreneurs in Taiwan utilize to establish and maintain their businesses. Several relationships that I will be looking into are employee, customer, supplier, and competitor. Other aspects being analyzed are support systems and gender impact on their business world.
Going to Taiwan in the summer of 2014 to conduct research was an incredible experience that promoted both learning and personal growth. Through the experience I’ve been able to practice techniques and behaviors that will be invaluable for professional development, my willingness to interact with the international scene has vastly increased, and it has both expanded and deepened my view of the world.
My initial research findings on family dynamics focus on legacy and how women business owners perceive the next generation. Family dynamics is a critical point for any woman who is an entrepreneur in Taiwan. All the women in our interviews had family ties which affected them and their businesses. One of the women we interviewed co-runs a family restaurant with her husband. She hopes their son will take the business over someday. Another younger woman we interviewed co-runs a family hostel with her sister. Both these woman business owners depend every day on their immediate families to earn a living or aid them in some way in order to maintain or run their business. The legacy question is strongly tied to family dynamics. The older woman who runs the business with her husband sees a future for her business whereas the younger woman who runs the hostel with her sister does not. The difference between these two women is the setting of their family dynamic: one woman as a mother has a legacy to leave to her son; the other women as of yet does not have any children. However, having children may or may not lead to these businesses having a legacy plan. My preliminary understanding is that a woman who has a family-run business and is a mother has more of a chance to pass her business to the next generation.
Each time I travel to new countries or any new place I always try to keep a clear mind. However, no matter how hard I try to keep an open mind, I always end up forcing some kind of expectation. This situation is made even more difficult when I have studied the country I plan to visit. My worldview is to keep an open and clear mind, free of any ethnocentric bias, for fear of missing out on learning some extraordinary fact about the history or culture which I could experience firsthand. In retrospect, Taiwan is more liberal and westernized than I had originally thought. I formulated a theory in my own mind that Taiwan would be more like mainland China and less like a Westernized Society. I was greatly mistaken.
While our interviews covered a wide array of topics, I was particularly interested in the family dynamics of the female entrepreneurs. I found that there were three familial circumstances that our interviewees fell into: single and never married, married with children, and divorced with children. Each of these women had a different outlook on how their business affects their involvement with their family. I believe that the concept of family dynamics will interact with many of the other topics our research will be covering, and I am interested to see if any correlations emerge through further analysis.
Being a member of the Chatham University student-faculty research team and having the opportunity to travel to Taiwan for four weeks has altered my outlook on life as a whole. This experience taught me to be independent as I embarked on such a long trip without the comforts of home around me. I was able to expand my horizons, which made me realize how small this big world actually is. I learned about the infinite differences between Taiwanese culture and American culture, but most importantly, I was able to learn about the many similarities between these two cultures. My experience with the ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellows Program allowed me to grow emotionally, academically, and culturally, and I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity.
Sook Yee Leung
The constitution and usage of relationship networks of the female entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry are the focus of my research. Among the female entrepreneurs interviewed, the instrumental use of relationship networks to obtain capital was limited to the entrepreneurs’ immediate family. The entrepreneurs often funded their own business. Family and friends often provided instrumental support in the form of information or suggestions. Instead, female entrepreneurs often used relationship networks pertaining to their business to build a third place, which describes a social environment that is different from the home and the workplace, for customers and/or employees (Oldenburg, 1999). The third place for employees was a mediation between the home and workplace: employees were regarded as friends or family. A third place for them included nearly all characteristics such as convenient access, often frequented by regulars, a cozy atmosphere, and so forth (Oldenburg, 1999).
I found that entrepreneurship is a celebration of individual hopes and perseverance. From meeting female entrepreneurs in Taiwan, my perspective of how entrepreneurship’s obstacles are navigated—in spite of gender norms and fears of the uncertain—has broadened and I have become inspired to pursue a more pioneering career that emphasizes cultural study in applied contexts. Since learning about and meeting so many inspiring women, I have decided to embark on a more unique career path. Due to my interest in data analysis and a rewarding undergraduate research experience in Information Science, I applied to and was accepted to the Masters in Information Systems Management (MISM) program at the H. John Heinz III College of Carnegie Mellon University. Despite my original career plan to further my studies in clinical psychology, I plan to attain the skills in data management and analysis to supplement my future work in clinical psychology research and practice. Ultimately, my travels and encounters in Taiwan have encouraged me to diversify my perspective and career path to attain more relevant experience in applied cultural studies.
Oldenburg, R. (1999). The great good place: Cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community. New York: Marlowe.
Public policy and law in Asia is a remarkable and complex concept. The way these concepts shape and influence relationship networks, professional and nonprofessional, are the focus of my study. I was most interested in the concepts of “entrepreneurialism” and “feminism.” The women we interviewed seemed to encounter what I consider to be less pushback from their male peers in various professional and non-professional fields. While women tended to make less, they did not consider themselves discriminated against otherwise. What I intend to do with the data we have collected is to further examine the Taiwanese’s concept of “feminism” and “entrepreneurialism,” and how they and their culture interpret them.
As a soon-to-be law student, I found it exciting to witness the cultural differences between networks in Taiwan and the U.S. In Taiwan, written contracts are secondary to verbal agreements and handshakes, which is why networks are so large. In Taiwan, networks involve not only suppliers and employees, but also family and friends in a multitude of capacities. I would like to collect more data about the policy and laws in Taiwan that affect or influence the decisions of women business owners.