This study draws on social learning theory and research concerning role model effects to understand how exposure to female entrepreneurial role models influences the development of entrepreneurial self-efficacy, attitudes and intentions among female students. The results presented are from a field experiment including data from 547 students and 98 entrepreneurs. The combination of a mandatory entrepreneurship course, random assignment of students to teams and entrepreneurs, as well as a pre-test/post-test design, allows us to draw robust causal inferences about the impact of female entrepreneurial role models. Exposure to female entrepreneurs was found to particularly boosts the development of entrepreneurial self-efficacy and attitudes towards entrepreneurship of female students. Five mechanisms are explored to explain role model effects as an emergent outcome of a reciprocal relationship between student and entrepreneur. If entrepreneurs signal high levels of supportiveness and interest in the student’s project outcomes, the importance of working with an entrepreneur of the same-gender was found to decrease. In sum, this study provides evidence that role model effects do not only occur by chance, but can be purposefully triggered in an educational setting. Hence, exploiting female role model effects may serve as an effective mechanism to foster female entrepreneurship.
Seven outcome measures:
(1) entrepreneurial intentions
(2) attitudes towards entrepreneurship
(3) creative problem solving
(4) marshalling of resources
(6) managing ambiguity
(7) financial knowledge
Women students who are matched with women entrepreneurs present higher increases in entrepreneurial self-efficacy and smaller decreases in entrepreneurial intentions, compared to women students matched with men entrepreneurs. Men students present similar patterns when matched with men entrepreneurs, although much weaker. Students’ attitudes towards entrepreneurship do not differ among students matched with same-gender or different-gender entrepreneurs.