Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to offer a new gender-aware framework to provide a springboard for furthering a holistic understanding of women’s entrepreneurship. Design/methodology/approach - The paper builds on an existing framework articulating the “3Ms” (markets, money and management) required for entrepreneurs to launch and grow ventures. Drawing on institutional theory, it is argued that this “3M” framework needs further development and “motherhood” and “meso/macro environment” are added to extend and mediate the “3Ms” and construct a “5M” framework to enable the study of women’s entrepreneurship in its own right. Findings - It was found that “Motherhood” is a metaphor representing the household and family context of female entrepreneurs, which might have a larger impact on women than men. The meso/macro environment captures considerations beyond the market, such as expectations of society and cultural norms (macro), and intermediate structures and institutions (meso). Practical implications - For the women entrepreneur, this analysis has implications for understanding the sources of the challenges they face by providing insights on the importance of the interplay of both individual and societal factors that impact on their enterprise. For policy makers, it turns the spotlight on the need for an integrated approach for fostering female entrepreneurs that is not blind to overarching institutionalised social structures and gender asymmetries. Originality/value - The framework helps lay a foundation for coherent research on women’s entrepreneurship. It is unique in making explicit the social embeddedness of women entrepreneurs and considers the multiple levels of influence on their entrepreneurial actions.