Claire M. Leitch, Richard T. Harrison and Frances M. Hill
Policymakers have recognized the importance of formal networks to regional, entrepreneurial development, particularly for women. Our aim in this chapter is to enhance understanding of how women entrepreneurs engage in networking, in the context of three key shifts in the literature: from structure to process; from networks to networking; and from social network to social exchange theory. On the basis of this, we focused on three themes: women’s motivations for, and expectations of, participating in formal business networks; the networking behaviours they engage in, especially regarding the initiation, development and maintenance of contacts and relationships; the potential and actual benefits they perceive to accrue from networking. An interpretive approach was adopted to investigate women in their own right rather than in comparison with men, to give voice to the self-reported, lived experience of the participants. We conclude that certain assumptions about women’s entrepreneurship may be challenged, within-group differences become apparent and androcentrism potentially may be mitigated. It is demonstrated that the prevalence of generalised exchange relationships, in which benefits flow unilaterally and reciprocity is indirect, provides an effective framework to explore in-depth the initiation, development and maintenance of women entrepreneurs’ networks.