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Barriers to women achieving their entrepreneurial potential: women and riskPurpose This paper provides a comprehensive summary of the academic literature with regard to risk and its role in the entrepreneurial experience of women. Entrepreneurial risk has an under?developed conceptual basis and distilling gender?specific aspects is difficult. Various academic disciplines have contributed to the topic of risk, e.g. economics, and often decision making is used to contextualise the topic. Though the literature does not always prove an association between the different facets of risk and entrepreneurship, there is general agreement that a number of factors, e.g. personal, political and social inter?relate to influence risk and subsequent behaviour. Design/methodology/approach Uses a desk?based approach to data collection. An overview of the main issues concerning risk and entrepreneurship is given to contexualise the gender aspects to be discussed, drawing on the extant literature. Findings The paper posits that an understanding of the gender aspects of risk is required if policy measures are to be constructive and help women overcome barriers and achieve their entrepreneurial potential. The conclusions drawn from the literature provide the foundations for a discussion of the likely policy measures that are required to encourage women entrepreneurs. Research limitations/implications A summary is provided of the research and information gaps that remain in terms of women entrepreneurship and risk with the aim of encouraging further research in the area. Originality/value Provides a comprehensive summary of the literature with regard to risk and the entrepreneurial experience of women, and discusses the likely policy measures required to encourage women entrepreneurs.