Women in Self-employment: Diverse Constructions & Alternate Frames.

AuthorMaheshwari, Mridul

Research Depictions of Women in Self- employment

The question of whether and why women prefer self-employment to wage-employment in dealing with social space-work space interface has been on the research radar for some time. One view is that self-employment offers autonomy and flexibility, increasing a person's ability to balance contradictory pressures (Parasuraman & Simmers, 2001; Prottas & Thompson, 2006). The self-employed, in general, report more autonomy than employed workers (Taris et al, 2008; Tuttle & Garr, 2009). Budiq (2006) finds that many women enter self-employment to balance conflicting demands through more autonomous arrangements considering that traditionally, autonomy is defined as the freedom and discretion to decide when, where, and how a job should be carried out (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).

Most researchers have treated the self-employed as a homogenous group when paying attention to the role of autonomy in balancing work and family life (Loscocco, 1997; Parasuraman & Simmers, 2001; Tausig & Fenwick, 2001). Counter research suggests that self-employment demands greater commitment, greater personal accountabilities and therefore results in irregular hours, acute uncertainties and social skepticism leading to constraints and contradictions in securing autonomy in social space-work space interactions (Parasuraman & Simmers, 2001; Valcour, 2007; Voydanoff, 2004) thus to an extent dampening and neutralizing arguments in favor of self-employment over wage employment.

Autonomy is depicted in Work-family literature as an important balancing resource, but what seems to be missing is the point that the dilemmas faced by women who choose self- employment over wage employment to deal with the social-space-work space interface may have more to do with subjects juggling between the need to meet social space demands and gaining access to resources through career continuity and income stability (Valcour, 2007; Voydanoff, 2004). Resource-demand lag triggers conflicts, frustrations and disenchantment as evidenced in work-life lived experiences (Moen & Chermack, 2005; den Dulk et al., 2011).

Here again research comes with another counter that work related autonomy only when combined with backing from socially situated constituents can enable self-employed autonomy to morph into a balancing resource in social space-work space interrelationships (Valcour, 2007; Voydanoff, 2004). This interpretative strand emanates from a genre of research and practice which adopts a family oriented construction of self- employment (Cetindamar et al., 2012; Jennings & Brush, 2013). Within this frame, importance from a survival point of view is given to two forms of family support tangible-instrumental and intangible moral. When family members take up a consultant-advisory role, instrumental support is available to enable women in self-employment (Arregle, Hitt, Sirmon & Very, 2007; Eddleston & Powell, 2012; Aldrich & Cliff, 2003; Chang, Memili, Chrisman, Kellermanns & Chua, 2009). Instrumental backing can also take the form of helping with social space responsibilities and financial support in terms of loans (Eddleston & Powell, 2012). Besides, this school of self-employment support also points towards intangible-moral social space reinforcements which facilitate survival (Cetindamar et al., 2012; Davidsson & Honig, 2003) in the form of encouragement and emotional support in coping with survival pressures (Eddleston & Powell, 2012). Studies also focus on the provision of personal support in dealing with social space-work space conflicts and constraints. Considering that women often tend to take greater load than men in child care activities (Sullivan & Meek, 2012), studies suggest that being self-employed has negative impact on social space life experiences (Ufuk & Ozgen, 2001). Research also indicates that multi-tasking tends to accentuate personal problems (Welsh, Kim, Memili, & Kaciak, 2014).

However evidence from home based working which is one form of self-employment chosen by women to balance social space-work space interactions becomes a convenient site for extractive and exploitative practices on the part of employers of such resources (Pizaklea & Wolkowitz, 199; Jurik, 1998) which is sustained by an all pervasive gender based discrimination which is structural in nature (Cliff, 1998). Syed & Ozbilgin (2009) lend credence to this view when they proffer a multi-level framework for the analysis of the constructions and contradictions of the lived experiences of women in self-employment in which they give due emphasis for the societal and structural conditions (laws, institutions, culture and political economy) which create the structural basis for discriminatory practices at the level of agents who utilize self-employed resources.

A careful scrutiny of the studies referred to in the discussion so far points towards three frames for a better understanding of whether and why women choose self-employment over wage employment while engaging with social space-workspace dilemmas--the "pragmatic-accepting" (self-employment as an arrangement at the person level in tune with social space-workspace ground realities), the "organizational-managerial" (self-employment as flight from insensate managerialism), and the "structural-contradictory" (self-employment as a fission triggered by resentful distress and strident protest against deeply embedded heedlessness).

This study seeks to explore the lived experiences of self-employed women for a grounded examination to see which of these three frames is in evidence in the life-world of today's toiling self-employed women.

Method of Study

In this study, the researchers attempted to explore experiences of women in self-employment with a view to understanding their role constructions and contradictions in their social space-work space interface and interactions using a grounded qualitative research approach (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994; van Manen (1998). In-depth interviews were conducted with eight self-employed subjects using the snowball technique (Patton, 2002). The data for the study was collected through conversational unstructured interviews with an indicative interview guide as suggested by van Manen (1998). All the precautions required for examining human subjects according to the best practices, protocols and principles as applicable were adhered to strictly. The subjects and the geographies have been kept anonymous to the maximum extent feasible to protect sources. The subjects at the time of interviews were women in self-employment. A brief profile of the subjects (Table 1) and the analysis, interpretation and findings are presented below.

Self-Employment as Family Role Dominant Scaling Down of Career

The advent of the respondent's first child and her spouse's decision to pursue higher studies in medicine transferred almost the entire responsibility of looking after not only her son but also her in laws to her. The additional family "load" forced her to scale down her professional practice which was in the self-employment mode since she could not be away from home for 8-9 hours considering that her spouse was too preoccupied with his studies. "Just after our son's birth my husband joined his S course and the entire responsibility to look after him and other family members came on me and he [her husband] became too busy with his studies. With a small kid it was not possible for me to be out from home in a stretch for 8-9 hours. So I decided to start my own practice where at least OPD timings were controlled by me and emergency cases...

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