Women Entrepreneurs in South Korea: Motivations, Challenges and Career Success

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Purpose – The purpose of this study was to investigate South Korean women entrepreneurs’ motivations to start a business, the challenges they faced in business development and key factors that contributed to their career success.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors conducted semi-structured interviews with 23 women entrepreneurs to gather qualitative details on their experiences and performed a survey with 125 women Chief Executive Officers who are affiliated with the Korean Venture Business Women’s Association.

Findings – The authors found necessity-driven push (e.g. economic necessity for family) and opportunitybased pull (e.g. a strong sense of self) motivational factors, challenges (e.g. gender stereotypes) and opportunities (e.g. creating a family-like organizational culture) and key success factors (e.g. personality and loyal employees) for their career success.

Research limitations/implications – There is a strong need to emphasize the import of culture at the national level that would impact women entrepreneurs’ careers and business success. A majority of the studies on HRD in small- and medium-sized enterprises shed light on individual owners’ perspectives only. Researchers need to take multiple-level (i.e. national, organizational and individual) factors into consideration in research on women’s entrepreneurship. Quantitative analysis in this study did not have any statistical significance and there were a few inconsistent findings (e.g. disadvantage as woman Chief Executive Officers) between quantitative and qualitative analysis. Future research is called for to investigate where and why different results occurred by using a mixed-methods research design and inferential statistical analysis for significance.

Practical implications – The increased support at the national level for entrepreneurship education before and after school that has not received sufficient attention in Korea will allow aspiring women to embark on entrepreneurial career paths from early on. At the organizational level, women entrepreneurs’ efforts to create a family-like organizational culture can be used as references for aspiring women who want to start and develop a business. At the individual level, HRD practitioners can develop leadership programs to share internal and external success factors so that aspiring women entrepreneurs can develop required individual (e.g. personality attributes) and social competencies (e.g. networking) in business development.

Originality/value – The two unique study findings that reflect the importance of cultural context include: our study showed how women entrepreneurs in Korea transformed the challenges they faced in business development into opportunities that can be used for entrepreneurship education for aspiring women entrepreneurs; and women entrepreneurs in Korea were humble enough to ascribe their career and business success to their loyal employees who have stayed in their companies with commitment, which has not been captured in research on women’s entrepreneurship in western contexts.