Extra-Institutional Drivers of Women in Business and Innovation Outcomes


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date13 Mar 2023


This thesis presents three studies to investigate the influence of extra-institutional actors on women in business, disaggregated as women in the workplace, their ascent to top management positions and corporate boards, and entry into entrepreneurship and their impact on firm innovation. Drawing on institutional theory and literature on the sociology of foreign aid, Study 1 examines the effect of extra-institutional drivers couched as externally funded gender reforms on two pathways of women’s participation in business. These pathways include overall gender diversity in firms and women in top management. Externally funded gender reforms are gender reform projects carried out in recipient countries by foreign aid actors who seek change through coercive, normative, and mimetic norm diffusion. I used a new international dataset on over 13,387 gender reform activities related to 3,300 projects that cost over $1 billion USD, in 73 recipient countries by foreign aid actors. This new dataset was combined with the World Bank enterprise survey data, a pooled cross-sectional data that runs between 2010 and 2019. I found that although externally funded gender reform increased women’s participation at work, it inadvertently influenced gender inequality, especially at the top management level. Government ownership, in conjunction with externally funded gender reforms, on the other hand, reduced inequality of gender among workers and in the top management of for-profit firms. In addition, civil society groups interacting with externally funded gender reforms reduced gender inequality at the top management level, especially in low-income countries. In high-income countries, fewer civil society movements may be required for more productive gender equality outcomes at the top management level. Drawing on legitimacy in institutional theory, Study 2 examined the conditions of normative and regulatory legitimacy of gender equality and how it influenced the effect of externally funded gender reforms on female entrepreneurial outcomes. This study utilized data based on the cost of externally funded gender reforms in about 33 countries by foreign aid actors between the years 2014 to 2019, combined with the World Bank entrepreneurship dataset. I found that low normative legitimacy reduced the negative effect of externally funded gender reforms on female entrepreneurial outcomes. Thus, reforms could be effective when norms regarding gender present a need for change. High levels of regulatory legitimacy also reduced the negative effect of externally funded gender reforms on female entrepreneurial outcomes, although the effect was not as strong as normative legitimacy. Study 3 examined the effect of women on corporate boards on innovation. I found that women on corporate boards affected firm innovation when firms have high R&D intensity. My thesis contributes to knowledge in the following ways: Study 1 contributes to resolving the paradox of peripheral influence by showing how external actors may affect change in a focal institution. It also shows how failure may occur in a well-meaning institutional change process. Study 2 shows how field conditions, in the form of normative and regulatory legitimacy, may influence change efforts in opposing directions. Finally, Study 3 enhances our understanding of how female board members influence innovation in firms.

    Research areas

  • Gender diversity, Institutional theory, Sustainable development goals, Strategic management, Sociology of foreign aid, Female entrepreneurship