16 August 2022 | Story Prof Brownhilder Neneh | Photo Supplied
Prof Brownhilder Neneh is an Associate Professor and Academic Head (HOD) of the Department of Business Management, University of the Free State.

Opinion article by Prof Brownhilder Neneh, Associate Professor and Academic Head (HOD) of the Department of Business Management, University of the Free State.

We all have multiple roles we hold and play throughout life; work and family are two of the most competing and salient roles in every individual’s life. Individuals often make behavioural decisions based on their relative salience (work or family) to these life roles. Role salience refers to the importance that a person assigns to different role identities in their work and family domains. Role salience fundamentally outlines the life roles that are most important for an individual. Individuals who have family salience tend to highly value their family lives. They see family as “a permanently executed practice centred on care obligations” and give priority to their family and secondary importance to their work roles. Individuals who have work salience are more eager to spend extra effort at work and to achieve career success. Generally, people are devoted to dedicate more time to the roles they consider most important with the objective of fulfilling the expectations and responsibilities associated with the most salient role.

With regard to women entrepreneurs, given that family and work are central to their lives as they view both roles as mutually inclusive, the overlapping nature of these roles may influence how they manage and grow their businesses based on the salience they place on their family and work roles. Managing family and work responsibilities pose a constant challenge to women entrepreneurs as the time they spend on one role makes it incompatible or reduces the time and efforts they can spend on the other role. Nevertheless, although women entrepreneurs juggle multiple roles at once, these roles differ in their level of importance, while some could be peripheral, others could be considered prominent (salient). It follows then that while both work and family roles may be salient to some entrepreneurs, others may view only one as salient, and still others may consider neither the work nor the family role as salient. 

The salience of work and family roles

As such, the salience of work and family roles has consequences on the level and type of work-family conflict individuals could potentially experience. This has significant implications for women entrepreneurs, especially with regard to growth intentions. While role salience might be imperative for growth, it is widely established that women always strive to balance their work and family domains. As such, most of their growth decisions might be centred on whether or not they can still maintain an adequate level of work-life balance. 

Based on the arguments mentioned above, this study examined the following research question: How does family and work role salience affect the growth intentions of women entrepreneurs, and what role does work-life balance play in shaping these growth intentions? The findings revealed that work role salience is one of the fundamental factors that drive women entrepreneurs to aspire to grow their businesses. Also, work-life balance was highlighted as a predisposition to growth amongst women entrepreneurs. Furthermore, work-life balance moderated the relationship between work role salience and growth intention, such that the positive association is strengthened at high levels of work-life balance.

While this study specifically focused on women entrepreneurs, the implications of the findings are applicable to every woman across their different careers and life stages. First, the last decade has seen a significant shift and change in many women’s work and life patterns. Many women across the globe are making increasing strides towards the advancement of their careers outside of the home. This study suggests that women must be aware of their role salience if they want to grow their careers. Knowing your salience helps you to understand the conscious and unconscious decisions you have been making as well as why you have been devoting your time to this role (s). Second, given that women are at different stages in their family lives, it is not uncommon for women who have young kids to prioritise their families over their careers. This is because they often have to split their attention between reproductive work in the home and productive work in their career and also deal with external societal pressures to perform well in their family role. 

Women still shoulder greater portion of family responsibilities

Although not limited to traditional gender-specific roles and venturing into the business world, many women still shoulder a greater portion of family responsibilities. This is evident in some families, especially in the developing world, where the traditional gender roles and stereotypes belief of men being given the primary role as the breadwinners and women as the nurturers of children and the homemakers. This has resulted in productive and reproductive labour being unevenly distributed, with reproductive labour being assigned mainly to women. As such, women with young children must be intentional about their career advancement, which will require them to clearly define the time frames for when they prioritise family, give their career more priority, or focus on both. Third, women always strive to achieve work-life balance, and not all women will be willing to sacrifice work-life balance to advance their careers. Moreover, for most women, their family domain is highly entwined with the career domain, and as such having an adequate work-life balance is often a vital personal goal. This suggests that women must clearly define their ideal context of work-life balance and put in place support structures to enable them to enact their role salience. Once such balance is achieved, the likelihood of fostering and advancing their career will increase.

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