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Women-focused small business programming: Client motives and perspectives

The purpose of this study is to draw on feminist ethics of care theory to examine motives for accessing a women‐focused, small business programme (Centre). Perceived differences between women‐focused and other small business advisory agencies are discussed. An online survey captured verbatim responses from 212 respondents. Qualitative data were subjected to content analysis using NVivo8.Most respondents were growth‐oriented, well educated and employed prior to start‐up. Clients employed the Centre for three reasons, including acquisition of managerial, social capital and gender‐related motives. The Centre was perceived as being “different” to other agencies such that staff implicitly understood their needs as businesswomen, services were targeted specifically to women and clients felt empowered and comfortable seeking business advice in an inviting, low risk learning environment. Findings contradict studies and argument that targeted (gender‐based) programming offers few advantages.Future research might investigate how “gendered” client motives and learning needs are reflected in mainstream and gender‐based entrepreneurship policy and programme design. The geographic scope is limited to Nova Scotia (eastern Canada).The study helps to explain observations that women‐focused small business training centres are modifying mandates from a focus on start‐up to growth, modifications that reflected client aspirations.The study provides insights about the genderedness (Calás and Smircich) of small business programming and helps to define feminine ethics of care within the small firm training context.