UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Entrepreneurship in the fitness and sport industry Brown, Laurene A.


In Canada, women entrepreneurs have been starting small businesses at three times the rate of men in recent years (Royal Bank, 1994). Consulting is one type of small business that has become an increasingly popular choice for women who are dissatisfied with traditional work cultures, victims of corporate downsizing, or capitalizing on the shift to a knowledge-based economy (Bridges, 1994; Drucker, 1993). Yet, the literature has been limited to prescriptive accounts of "how to become or succeed as a consultant" (Bellman, 1990; Gray, 1985; Holz, 1985; Kubr, 1986; Lippitt & Lippitt, 1986; Nevis, 1987; Shenson, 1990). This literature and government programs aimed at increasing the rate of small business ownership have focused on the deficits and "barriers" that women must overcome in order to be financially successful. To counter the gender-blind nature of the entrepreneurship and consulting literature, this study drew upon feminist theory (Aptheker, 1993; Donovan, 1993; Hartmann, 1993; Olesen, 1994; Tuana, 1993), the gender relations in organizations literature (Acker, 1992; Burrell & Hearn, 1990; Lewis & Morgan, 1994; Mills, 1992), and the work, leisure, and family literature (Blumberg, 1991; Carrier, 1995; Hume, 1996; Tom, 1993). The purpose was to examine how gender relations underlie the business experiences of women who are or have been consultants in the fitness and sport industry. The research questions included: 1) How did women get into/out of consulting? 2) What did their work as a consultant in the fitness and sport industry entail? 3) What strategies did these women use to keep their businesses viable? 4) How did consulting fit (or not fit) into their daily lives? 5) How did gender relations contribute to or hinder business development? 6) What were the women's definitions of entrepreneurship and business success? Women fitness and sport consultants in the Greater Vancouver area of British Columbia served as the study population. Professional organizations and associations, including the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association, the YWCA, Sport BC, and Promotion Plus were approached to develop a list of women who have or are working as consultants in the field. From this list, women (n=13) were selected using criterion-based sample selection to ensure diversity in terms of marital and family status. Three of the women were no longer working in consulting in the field, an important consideration given the fact that 50% of small businesses fail within the first two years of operation (Foley & Green, 1989). The types of consulting businesses the women operated included personal training, organizational development, alternative health services, and lifestyle transportation management. A qualitative research methodology was adopted consisting of: interviews, observations, document analysis, and validation focus groups (Marshall & Rossman, 1989). Semi-structured interviews were used to obtain data related to the research questions and to provide the women with the opportunity to raise issues relevant to them. Field notes were used to document observations of the women's work environments and to record the research process. A document analysis of brochures, business cards, and other marketing materials was undertaken to provide further insights into the nature of the women's businesses. Validation focus groups were held after all of the data was analyzed to ensure the themes derived accurately represented the experiences of the women. Themes were analyzed inductively with the aid of the qualitative data analysis package Q.S.R. NUD.IST. It was clear that gender relations, defined as the interactions among and between women and men that exact dominance and subordination and create alliances and exclusions (Acker, 1992), underpinned a variety of the women's experiences. Dissatisfaction with the male-oriented organizational logic of traditional employers was cited as a major factor influencing the women's decision to forge new ways of conducting business. All of the women operated the administrative dimensions of their businesses out of their homes in order to negotiate a better balance with traditional family roles. Therefore, work, family, and time for self were deeply intertwined and could not be viewed as dichotomous entities. A number of struggles were encountered including social isolation, dealing with body image issues, and assessing the value of their services. Many of these struggles could be linked to societal and cultural power imbalances that devalue the work of women and objectify physical appearance (Bartky, 1988; Bordo, 1991; Laberge & Sankoff, 1988; White, Young, & Gillett, 1995). Rather than focusing on the economic dimensions of their businesses and seeing other consultants as competitors, the women described their activities mainly in terms of developing relationships with others including colleagues, clients, family, friends, mentors, role models, and members of professional organizations. Relationship building was not only important for instrumental and social support reasons, rather it was viewed as a two-way process. The women could validate their self identities and derive satisfaction by giving to others (Young & Richards, 1992). In particular, assisting other women who were interested in becoming either consultants or self-employed provided the women with great satisfaction. Interestingly, few of the women saw themselves as entrepreneurs or consultants. Entrepreneurship was associated with hiring employees and providing a tangible product. The term "consultant" was avoided because of the stigma associated with being "the new euphemism for the unemployed". To legitimize their roles within their businesses, they adopted titles such as CEO, principal, or director. In the small business and consulting literature, success is usually defined and measured in financial terms. While being able to survive financially figured in some of the women's definitions of success, the notion of "achieving a balance" between work and other aspects of their lives was much more salient. In part, the notion of balance evolved from the fitness and wellness ideology associated with the type of work the women were in. In order to achieve this balance, some of the women resisted pressures to expand their businesses while others looked to role models both within and outside the industryfor guidance. Women who left fitness and sport consulting did so primarily because they were unable to achieve their own personal definitions of "balance". The major contribution of this study is that it highlights the inadequacy of "genderneutral" theories of entrepreneurship and identifies some of the dimensions that should be taken into account to better understand how women consultants are transforming the nature of conducting work within the fitness and sport industry.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.