Immigrant Women and Entrepreneurship: Same Old Story?

By Dr. Natalia Vershinina, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship as a subject has been seen and articulated in research as an activity undertaken mainly by men. In fact, women tend to be absent from such research, as studies of entrepreneurship tend to reproduce general accounts of female subordination, continue with the perpetuation of societal gender blindness, where only women have gender; and furthermore, continue to embed the sustained silencing of women’s voices in the research debates. 

This is particularly relevant to the extant literature on immigrant entrepreneurship, where we learn about men as heroes and bread-winners, whereas their female counterparts as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are not given a centre stage. Here at University of Birmingham, one stream of research that we have been developing lies at the intersection of ethnic and entrepreneurial identity. Moreover, the intersection of gender and ethnicity in studies of entrepreneurship also deserves attention on its own. Female immigrant entrepreneurship as a process can be culture specific, despite sharing commonalities with other forms of entrepreneurship.  As we know, some areas of social and business life may be different for females of particular ethnic groups compared to their male counterparts. In some cultures, women’s presence in the public domain may not be allowed. Unlike female entrepreneurs from the ethnic majority in a country, female immigrant entrepreneurs, representing ethnic minorities may face their own set of opportunities and challenges that come not from one country of their original, but from dual fields, which include a new host environment too.

Whilst the number of women engaged in migration flows in Europe and throughout the rest of the world continues to increase, research to date neglects to explore fully the role of gender, underscoring men’s roles whilst failing to give credit to the role of women within transnational enterprises.

In our research therefore, we pose the following questions:

  • What aspects of the macro host country and co-ethnic contexts influence the ability of immigrant women to engage in entrepreneurship?
  • What resource mobilisations strategies do immigrant women pursue that help develop their ventures?
  • Why entrepreneurship is seen as a route to social mobility for these immigrant women, and whose story is it?

We argue that in order to answer these questions, immigrant entrepreneurship needs to be understood from the perspective of the resources that entrepreneurs have access to and can accumulate and their embeddedness in the co-ethnic and co-migrant social network, as well as embeddedness in the political, regulatory, institutional, and socio-economic environment of the country of settlement.

In our latest research work, where we focus on Eastern European women operating entrepreneurial ventures in the UK, we are able to look beyond the normative ascriptions of gender stereotypes that define women’s roles in their businesses as silent and invisible. Indeed, we are able to uncover the proactive engagement of women in driving their businesses forward across international borders. More importantly, in our research to date, we reveal that these women developing their businesses internationally has emancipatory potential for them.  We find that instead of accepting dominant patriarchal roles of their home country, we see emergence of stories of women showing agentic behaviour in their own families, countries and across international borders, and therefore there is a need for closer attention to how different contexts shape opportunities and choices for women when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Selected research outputs

Vershinina, N., Rodgers, P., McAdam, M. & Clinton, E. Transnational migrant entrepreneurship, gender and family business. (forthcoming) Global Networks.

Jones, S., Martinez Dy, A. and Vershinina, N. "“We were fighting for our place”: Resisting gender knowledge regimes through feminist knowledge network formation" (forthcoming) Gender, Work and Organization.

Rodgers, P., Vershinina, N., Williams, C. C., & Theodorakopoulos, N. (2017). Leveraging symbolic capital: the use of blat networks across transnational spaces. Global Networks.

Barrett, R., & Vershinina, N. (2017). Intersectionality of Ethnic and Entrepreneurial Identities: A Study of Post‐War Polish Entrepreneurs in an English City. Journal of Small Business Management, 55(3), 430-443.

Vershinina, N., Barrett, R., and Meyer, M. (2011) ‘Forms of capital, intra-ethnic variation and Polish entrepreneurs in Leicester’, Work, Employment and Society, Vol 25, No. 1.