Chloe Bell ’16 remembers an afternoon in Taiwan. “We pulled over on the highway one afternoon to eat hot peppers that an elderly couple had made and were selling. The husband cut peppers into a marinating bucket as the wife offered us all of their other specialties. We found people like this everywhere in Taiwan: small time entrepreneurs who were using their skill set to make people happy, to co-exist in a symbiotic way.”
Bell was part of a research team of six undergraduate students (Diana Cabrera ’17, Ashley Henry ’14, Kristina Hruska ’16, Sook Yee Leung ’14, Rachel McNorton ’14) and two Chatham professors (Dr. Karen S. Kingsbury and Dr. Charlotte E. Lott) who spent four weeks in Taiwan over the summer, studying female entrepreneurs in small-scale, regionally-based restaurants and lodging businesses, with a focus on the following questions:
• What gender issues occur in women-owned businesses?
• How do women use relationship networks to start and maintain a business?
• How does family responsibility interplay with business responsibility?
• Do these women business owners consider themselves to be feminists?
The research team interviewed 14 women entrepreneurs in four areas across Taiwan. They also distributed around 30 surveys to other female entrepreneurs.The research is expected to produce a series of analytical profiles of the women entrepreneurs telling their stories and articles in the four areas of interest—gender issues for women business owners, relationship networks, family dynamics, and perception of feminism.
Preliminary findings include:
1) While for the most part, the women were either unfamiliar with or startled by the term “feminism,” associating it with a radical, extremist set of views that they did not share, when asked how they felt about gender equality, the women were very supportive.
2) In Taiwan, written contracts are secondary to verbal agreements and handshakes.
3) “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,” says Bell.
4) “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, “ said another student. (Dr. Kingsbury notes this as one reason why Taiwan is an excellent entry-point for US students and researchers interested in engaging with East Asian culture).
5.) “I discovered that while much of my thinking around female entrepreneurs centered on the concept of depending on relationship networks, the women showed a lot of agency in building community among their customers and/or employees,” says another.
Of course, there’s learning, and then there’s learning: “The students developed an excellent interview technique, “ noted Professor Lott. The undergraduate team also gained experience through applying for the grant, operating equipment, gathering data, analyzing findings, problem-solving, and adapting to new situations. “Being able to venture out on my own gave me a great deal of confidence and independence that I could not have earned any other way,” adds Kristina Hruska.
The project in Taiwan has benefited not just the participants, but the greater Chatham community. “The project has been a very effective way to boost the development of a fledgling Asian studies program at Chatham University,” says Dr. Kingsbury, noting that it has also spurred enthusiasm for Taiwan-based projects now in preparation, including a short-term faculty-led field experience focusing on green/sustainable architecture and eco-tourism, food studies, and travel writing currently being planned for 2016. The research team is now compiling a set of essays and photos that David Burke’s fall term course on Print Design will use as the basis for a class project.
Two weeks ago, at the ASIANetwork conference in St. Louis, the research was presented by Bell, Sook Yee Leong ’14, and Professor Lott. Learn more on the project blog, and check out the 2014 Chatham Student-Faculty Fellows report.
The study, Creative Entrepreneurialism, Relationship Networks, and Family Dynamics: A Study of Women-Led Hospitality Businesses in Regional Hubs of Taiwan, was funded was funded by the 2014 ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellows Program for Collaborative Research in Asia and by a Chatham University Grant.