The Business of Women- a Book Review

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Literature pertaining to entrepreneurial women is very limited. There are numerous books that depict the lives of wage-earning women in Canada; however works on self-employed women are uncommon. The Business of Women- Marriage, Family, and Entrepreneurship in British Columbia, 1901-1951, was written by Melanie Buddle in 2010, under UBC Press. In The Business of Women, Buddle attempts to highlight the key features of entrepreneurial women in the 1900’s in Western Canada, exploring how and why women entered the business world. In this book, Buddle examines case studies and primary documents in order to expose the world of female entrepreneurs. Buddle focuses on issues of gender and class relations that influenced the ability of women to become self-employed. Although the information presented in this book represent the period of 1901 to 1951, I will attempt to draw connections, through the use of a summary and analysis, between the materials presented in this book to 21st century businesswomen. In the first part of The Business of Women, Buddle addresses reasons why women were more likely to be self-employed in British Columbia. Buddle highlights frontier characteristics that depict why a larger proportion of women in British Columbia were married and were self-employed. In British Columbia, women married in higher proportion, compared to the rest of Canada. Many males arrived in British Columbia in the 1850’s during the gold rush and many men settled in Western Canada in order to work in the logging, fishing, and mining industry. These influxes of male wage-earners lead to an overabundance of men in the province (26). The gender imbalance resulted in women finding it easier to marry, while men found it much more difficult. Women worked during their marriage when their spouses could not provide sufficient financial support. While women in British Columbia married in higher proportions, there were also a greater number of women who were living without a spouse. Although a woman was living essentially by herself, she would still be listed as married- which contributed to the large number of women who were listed as married. Many of these men left their wives and families to pursue work elsewhere. The absence and even unreliability of a spouse led to some women becoming involved with self-employment.

Many women had to turn to self-employment because wage-earning job opportunities were very limited. In British Columbia, male immigration was high due to the surge in the natural resource sector. In addition, during this period, there were a number of male Asian immigrants who took wage-earning positions. As a result of the scarce number of wage-earning jobs, many women opened their own businesses. The need to support their children was the most important reason why married, widowed, and divorced women ran businesses. Although many women were married, their husbands were either absent, sick, or unable to work. These women were essentially single; they did not have a male breadwinner caring for them and they had the added responsibility of caring for their children. Family was the key motivation to women’s self-employment. Women who had children to care for had to find a means of supporting themselves that allowed them to stay at home. Many women took up self-employment opportunities such as sewing, doing laundry, boarding, or operating small enterprises from inside their home (55). Working from home was advantageous for many women because they could set their own hours, thus they could be more attentive to their family. The critical difference between women and men entering the workforce, both with families, was that women’s endeavours catered to their family’s interests. Women worked or opened businesses when it was imperative to support their family, but at the same time, their work had to accommodate the tasks they performed at home. Working from home, women had the opportunity to turn their homemaking skills into...
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