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IJEBR 16,1

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic female business owners
Discrimination and social support
Marilyn J. Davidson and Sandra L. Fielden
Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, and

Received September 2008 Revised April 2009 Accepted June 2009

Azura Omar
Department of Business Administration, International Islamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus on the positive and negative effects of gender and ethnicity in relation to discrimination and the problems encountered in accessing social support (including emotional and instrumental support). Design/methodology/approach – Qualitative data were collected through in-depth interviews with 40 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) female small business owners based in north west England. The main aims and objectives of the study were to: investigate the discriminatory experiences of BAME female small business owners related to their gender and ethnicity; and to identify the forms (formal and informal) and types (emotional/instrumental) of social support available in relation to their entrepreneurial activities that enabled them to cope with and overcome, the discrimination they may encounter. Findings – Over half of the respondents in the study had experienced discriminations because of their gender, ethnic background or both. This was attributed to a number of factors, including stereotypical images of specific ethnic cultures, religions and practices. Many respondents reported difficulties in accessing different types of formal social support, e.g. formal business and financial support. Informal support by respondents’ families was reported as a key source of both emotional and instrumental. Research limitations/implications – This paper is just a starting point for this area of research and, because the sample covers women from a variety of BAME backgrounds, it is not possible to generalize the findings to the wider population of BAME women. However, it does give an indication of what issues need to be considered in the provision of instrumental support for BAME women small business owners. Practical implications – The paper shows that a key element in the development of a strategy for addressing the needs of the BAME female small business owners is the necessity to appropriately re-design mainstream business support systems and financial services, in order to provide these women effective access to formal social support. Originality/value – The experiences of BAME small business owners have received little attention and this paper offers a unique insight into the relationship between social support, gender, ethnicity and business ownership.

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research Vol. 16 No. 1, 2010 pp. 58-80 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1355-2554 DOI 10.1108/13552551011020072

Keywords Black people, Ethnic minorities, Women, Business formation, Discrimination, United Kingdom Paper type Research paper

The authors wish to thank the European Social Fund for supporting this study.

Introduction Over the years, the academic literature investigating the small firm sector has covered a range of disciplinary perspectives, such as start-up patterns, characteristics and motivation of entrepreneurs (Fielden and Davidson, 2005). However, until very recently the UK literature almost universally regarded business owners as White males, with female business owners of any background receiving much less attention (Carter et al., 2001). Further, it is only in the last few years that recognition has been given to the diverse cultural backgrounds of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) business owners (female or male) or the different barriers they experience. As Kwong et al. (2009) assert, ethnic minority female entrepreneurs are a special type of female entrepreneur, rather than a special type of ethnic entrepreneur. Taking into account the gaps in the current UK research literature on female BAME entrepreneurs, this paper examines more fully the experiences, problems and barriers, facing a cross-section of 40 female BAME small business owners based in the north west of England. More specifically, the paper looks at: . discriminatory experiences related to their gender and ethnicity; and . the forms (formal and informal) and types (emotional/instrumental) of social support available to BAME female small business owners in their entrepreneurial activities. Throughout the paper, the key dimensions covered involve identifying the similarities and differences between BAME female small business owners from different ethnic categories, as well as making comparisons with their White counterparts. Gender, ethnicity and business ownership Since the 1980s, the promotion of small business ownership amongst BAME groups in the UK has been an important feature in the government’s policy agenda for small and medium enterprises. According to Ram and Smallbone (2003, p. 152):
[. . .] this increasing engagement with BAME business owners is a part of the “competitive agenda”, as ethnic minority-owned firms constituted an important segment of the small business ownership.

BAME female business owners


Indeed, the Bank of England in 1999 reported that the rate of BAME start-ups at a national level in 1997 was higher (at 9 percent) than that of the White population (at 5 percent). The report further established that BAME businesses represented approximately 7 percent of the total business stock in the UK and this figure is likely to increase since the BAME population is expected to double in the next 25 years (Ram and Smallbone, 2003). However, these figures are not broken down by gender within each BMAE grouping, and it is likely that business ownership is greater for men from BAME backgrounds. The experiences of BAME female small business owners have received little attention (Ram and Smallbone, 2003) and obtaining recent statistics on this group in the UK is challenging. Many of the early studies relating to BAME women in self-employment focused almost entirely on South Asian women from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. They were seen as being consigned to self-employment through home working (Phizacklea and Wolkowitz, 1995), wage labour in sweatshops, and to

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unpaid and poorly remunerated family labour (Phizacklea, 1990). This is perhaps not surprising as cultural norms frequently shape the entrepreneurial aspirations of BAME women and theirI progress into business ownership (Basu, 2004), with gender roles often conflicting with entrepreneurial activities. For example, gender roles restrict access to resources that are needed in order to realize a venture, which is compounded by biased institutional frameworks which are likely to further constrain their integration into the emerging market economies (Allen et al., 2008). Although BAME women appear “more entrepreneurially active ethnic minority women” compared to White women, there are still large gaps within the communities (GEM, 2004, p. 47). Also, Dawe and Fielden (2005) noted that it is not possible to accurately estimate how many South Asian women are in business, as they are often invisible and hence difficult to locate. The prevalence of traditional gender roles means that many of these women working in the family business network are often not recognized as business owners, even in the case where the businesses were registered legally as a family partnership (which in essence constituted joint ownership between husband and wife) (Barrett et al., 1996; Dhaliwall, 2000). Instead, these women in businesses were often “invisible” or “hidden”, as their existence is unacknowledged (Dhaliwall, 2000; Dawe and Fielden, 2005). Ram et al. (2001), in a UK study looking at the links between households and business activity in 37 micro-businesses of various ethnic groups (including African Caribbeans, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Whites), declared that the contribution of the “hidden” Asian women was important to the maintenance of the family enterprises, although these women were unlikely to be given due recognition. Dhaliwall (2000) further reported that the “hidden” South Asian women in the family businesses often worked for long hours, were simultaneously responsible for bringing up families, and often had responsibility but little control. Consequently, as Dhaliwall (2000, p. 215) concluded, these women were caught up between “a sense of duty and a feeling of being exploited, which tends to be justified in term of duty and status”. Similarly, women in family micro-businesses in urban England experienced “considerable exploitation, often working hard at tasks for which they have little taste” (Baines and Wheelock, 1998, 2000, p. 54). The discrimination experienced by female small business owners does not just come from within their own community but is a reflection of external social forces. For example, a 2001 Small Business Service (SBS) UK survey reported that 38 percent of non-White business owners said that they had faced discrimination and of these, 90 percent of whom believed that it was racially motivated. Furthermore, some BAME business owners in the survey were “necessity entrepreneurs”, in that they were motivated to start their own business less by opportunity or business ideas and more by the need to find employment (SBS, 2001). Although the survey did not specifically break down responses by gender, it is likely that BAME female small business owners experience the double effect of ethnicity and gender compared to their male counterparts (Dawe and Fielden, 2005). Further, in the USA, the few studies on BAME female business owners suggested that in terms of occupational choices and entrepreneurial resources, women were more disadvantaged than men and minority women more disadvantaged than White women, implying that they “had a high level of persistence in the face of their relative disadvantages” (Smith-Hunter and Boyd, 2004, p. 19). More recently, Inman and Grant

(2005) revealed that compared to White women in service-oriented business, BAME women in the USA had limited options in the mainstream labour market, had less initial financial support and faced an even greater challenge in obtaining resources that were essential for their business operations. Social support, gender, ethnicity and business ownership Social support is a multi-dimensional construct that has a number of key facets (Drach-Zahavy, 2004). There are two main types of support: firstly, emotional (or affective) support is intangible involving caring, acceptance and respect; secondly, instrumental (or behavioural) support is tangible assistance in the form of financial assistance, information, knowledge and advice (Drach-Zahavy, 2004). Support may be given in a formal or informal manner, where formal is often from a professional source, informal tends to be provided by family and friends. Informal support has been empirically linked to health and wellbeing and tends to fill the gaps when appropriate formal support is not available, particularly for female business owners (Rogers, 2005). Although it is generally acknowledged that there are real benefits from social support and supportive environments, little is known about the process by which support is actually received (Lindorff, 2005). Furthermore, social support is not just about availability but satisfaction and is predictive of coping effectiveness (Terry et al., 1995) and when there is an absence of perceived support, individuals can experience negative impacts on coping and performance. Women’s perceptions of support appears to have a greater effect on their success in business than does actual support, regardless of what measures of success are applied (Pollard, 2001). Rodriguez (2001) concluded that both the provision and acceptance of support are essential for achieving successful entrepreneurial performance outcomes. If the right kind of support is available from the right source of support, that support will be received positively and performance outcomes will be enhanced (Viswesvaran et al., 1999). However, little is know about the social support requirements of BAME female small business owners, but the evidence around social support and race (based almost solely based on US studies), is mixed and often contradictory (Bagwell, 2008; Griffin et al., 2006). As BAME groups are not homogeneous, it is likely that the type of social support, and the manner of its delivery, will differ between different ethnic groups. A consistent finding of previous research in terms of the formal support accessed by BAME business owners, is their low propensity to use mainstream business advice agencies (Ram and Sparrow, 1993; Fadahusi et al., 2000; Ram and Smallbone, 2001). Significantly, the low level of reported use of the support services was not because of lack of awareness of the existence of such services. Instead, a number of studies (see Fadahusi et al., 2000; Ram and Smallbone, 2001; Brindley, 2005) revealed that a lack of understanding of the types of support available, doubts about the relevance of what was offered, lack of confidence and trust in those delivering support and low ability to pay for such support, have all contributed to the above situation. These findings related to both male and female BAME business owners, but other research suggests that the situation may be even worse for female BAME business owners. For example, according to Dawe and Fielden (2005) in their UK study, South Asian women were more disadvantaged in accessing business support and financial assistance because

BAME female business owners


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women from these ethnic minority backgrounds rarely had the contacts that exceeded their ethnic or gender boundaries. Further, these women often faced problems in accessing financial support, as they were often restricted from seeking financial support outside their own community or if there were no restriction, they were often denied access to mainstream financial support in the same way as their White female counterparts (Dawe and Fielden, 2005). Therefore, BAME female small business owners may be in need of formal social support in a form that is not currently available. Embedded in the issue of formal instrumental business support is the problem of accessing external finances. Although Ram and Smallbone (2001) stated that the process of raising external finances was difficult for many small businesses, regardless of the owner’s ethnic background, for a combination of demand and supply-side factors, a number of researchers (see Jones et al., 1994; Levent et al., 2003) have suggested that members of ethnic minority communities did face additional barriers in accessing financing, particularly at start-ups. For instance, in a study of 232 BAME and 171 White UK business owners, Jones et al. (1994) reported that African and Caribbean businesses (39 percent) and Asian-owned businesses (29 percent) demonstrated higher propensities to report problems in assessing bank financing than their White counterparts (21 percent). More recently, Ram et al. (2001) confirmed that African Caribbean businesses had less success in accessing bank loans and greater problems providing adequate collateral for bank loans. Furthermore, a number of studies (see Carter and Rosa, 1998; Carter, 2000; Carter et al., 2001) have revealed that female-owned firms underperformed in almost every respect in comparison to those owned by males because of under capitalization. Drawing from an extensive review of the literature and empirical data, Carter (2000, p. 174) concluded that male business owners “used three times more start-up capital than women” and this was related significantly and positively to the current value of capital assets, sales turnover and total number of employees. Research design and methodology The main aims and objectives of the study were to investigate the discriminatory experiences of BAME female small business owners related to their gender and ethnicity, and to identify the forms (formal and informal) and types (emotional/instrumental) of social support available in relation to their entrepreneurial activities that enabled them to cope with and overcome, the discrimination they may encounter. Throughout the paper, the key dimensions covered involve identifying the similarities and differences between BAME female small business owners from different ethnic categories: i.e. categories based on self-identification. The design of the study was determined by its objectives as well as its investigative nature, taking account of ethnic, cultural and social antecedents. In-depth interviews were utilized to access data. Essentially, interviews are “guided conversations” (Gilbert, 1993) designed to elicit rich, detailed information and are particularly useful when attempting to access information regarding sensitive areas of study (Creswell, 2003). They also can reveal multiple or contradictory understandings or alternative meanings (Martin, 2002). Hence, interviews were regarded as the most appropriate method of data collation due to the exploratory nature of the research. As

there is limited UK literature of BAME small business owners in general and female BAME business owners specifically, in accordance with Dhaliwall (2000, p. 209), the authors felt that any other method would have “constrained the outcome” of the research. Moreover, the methodology adopted in this study has been well established in many other studies of the minority ethnic business population (e.g. Ram and Jones, 1998; Dhaliwall, 2000). The interviews were carried out over a six-month period in 2005 by a female Malaysian researcher and lasted an average 90 minutes. Based on an extensive literature review, the interviews were used to probe fully into the business experiences of BAME women and included questions related to their discriminatory experiences related to gender and ethnicity and the availability of instrumental and emotional social support. Sampling With an aim of including as wide a cross section of different ethnic backgrounds as possible, potential interviewees were initially contacted through various business support organizations, including Business Links, the Asian Business Federation, Wai Yin Women Society and the Muslim Development Service. Personal contacts, referrals from other individuals (or gatekeepers) (Tashokkori and Teddlie, 1998; Dhaliwall, 2000) and the use of snowballing techniques were also employed to access participants. Snowballing is often used to obtain a sample when there is no adequate list that can be used as a sampling frame (Gilbert, 1993). The approach involves contacting a member of the population of interest and/or organizations in relation to the subject area with known contacts and asking whether they know anyone with the required characteristics. These individuals are interviewed and are asked to refer the study team to other potential interviewees: again these individuals are interviewed and the same questions asked. This form of non-probability sampling is not without limitations (May, 1997). Snowball sampling, for example, may lead researchers to collect data that reflects a particular perspective, thereby omitting the voices of others who are not part of a network of contacts. This approach to sampling was, however, regarded as the most appropriate in light of the exploratory nature of this study, the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the absence of a known existing sample frame (Creswell, 2003; Gilbert, 1993). Sample A total of 40 BAME female small business owners based in the north west of England were interviewed in this study, which included 17 South Asians (eight Pakistani, four Indian, three Bangladeshi and two Kashmiri), 14 Black women (four African, seven Afro-Caribbean and three “African British Afro-Caribbean”, an identification given by the women themselves), four Chinese and five Middle Easterners. In the interests of confidentiality, sample demographics will not be broken down further than the level of “South Asian” and “Black”. However, interview quotes will be attributed to the sub group to which participants identified themselves as belonging to. The average age of the BAME female business owners in the study was 39 years old. Just over half (n ¼ 21) were married, 11 were single, eight were divorced (including one widow) and two were cohabiting. All but ten of the women interviewed had children, with South Asian women having the highest mean number at 2.9 children compared to women from other ethnic backgrounds, and just over half of all those

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interviewed had dependent children. There seemed to be ethnic differences with regards to the marital status of the participants, i.e. a higher proportion of South Asian women were married compared to Black British women. Additionally, a higher proportion of Black British women identified themselves as lone parent compared to women from other ethnic groups. Overall, 13 participants had no previous work experience, 15 had white-collar jobs and 11 had professional or managerial positions. A total of ten participants, including five South Asians and three Black British, were still employed and intended to finish their employment once their businesses were “sufficiently big”. Four South Asian and six Black participants had resigned from paid employment to pursue their business ambitions. In contrast, four participants had left their old jobs for family reasons, indicating that their previous jobs did not allow the flexibility that they wanted to combine work and family responsibilities. Table I details the demographic business profile of participants. Analysis Qualitative data analysis is unique in that data analysis is not a discrete stage of the research process. Instead, qualitative data analysis is an ongoing process that occurs simultaneously with data collection and remains throughout the life of the project (Marshall and Rossman, 1998). In this study, qualitative data analysis began with the first interview and continued to the final stage of the study. During the interviewing process, data analysis was one of the intervening factors that influenced subsequent interviews, as the researchers continually developed new ideas and understanding of
South Asians (n ¼ 17) Business age (years) 1-5 6-10 11-15 16 and above Business sector Services Retailing Manufacturing Other Work hours (full/part time) Part time (Below 30 hours) Full time (Above 30 hours) 10 4 2 1 9 6 1 1 4 13 Blacks (n ¼ 14) 6 5 1 2 10 4 – – 1 13 Chinese (n ¼ 4) 4 – – – 4 – – – – 4 Middle East (n ¼ 5) 5 – – – 2 2 1 – 5 – Total (n ¼ 40) 25 9 3 3 25 12 2 1 10 30

Table I. Business demographic of BAME women entrepreneurs

Estimated annual business income Under £10,000 £10,001-£20,000 £20,001-£30,000 £30,000 plus

6 4 3 4

2 5 3 4

1 1 – 2

2 3 – –

11 13 6 10

the research issues with each interview. This cycle of analysis led to either the modifications of some interview questions or the sequence in which the questions were asked. Once all the interview data were transcribed, data analysis became more explicit as a systematic analysis structure was applied to the process. The interviews were analyzed using content analysis. According to researchers there are various techniques that form part of this methodology and as such, Weber (1990, p. 13) states that there is “no right way to do content analysis”. The central concept of content analysis, however, is that systematic and objective procedures are utilized to reduce data and make much smaller, more manageable indicators, relevant to the concerns of the researcher (Weber, 1990; Neurendorf, 2002; Krippendorf, 1980). Typically, the method employs a human-based coding system whereby codes are attached to words or phrases depending on the responses of the participants and clustered into themes or categories and sub themes. This process of coding interview material was deemed critical in this study as it is considered to be the heart and soul of the analysis process (Ryan and Bernard, 2000) or as Miles and Huberman (1994) wrote: “Coding is analysis”. Although computer software to assist the analysis was considered (e.g. QSR NUDIST), the study team found that adopting a human-based coding system was more useful in order to prevent the possibility of the richness, detail and meaning in the in-depth interview texts, being minimized. Discriminatory experiences related to gender and ethnicity In her in-depth study of 30 BAME female managers in the UK, Davidson (1997) concluded that compared to White women managers, these women often faced discrimination in the form of the double negative effects of sexism and racism. Furthermore, Dhaliwall (2000) suggested that if many South Asians in the UK engaged in entrepreneurship as a response to blocked mobility (Ram and Jones, 1998), then South Asian women would likely be clearly disadvantaged due to race and gender. The female business owners interviewed in this study were divided in their opinions as to whether their BAME status and the fact that they were women, precipitated some of the problems they experienced in their business operations (see Table II). Just over half of interviewees (n ¼ 22) claimed that they had experienced discrimination because of their gender, ethnic background or both. Although the interviews explored both gender and racial discrimination separately, a quarter of the responses given by BAME women business owners integrated their experiences of both forms of discrimination (see Table II). In order to provide a holistic account of their experiences no attempt has been made to separate out gender and race issues.
South Asians (n ¼ 17) Types of discrimination: Gender Racial Gender and racial None 1 5 4 7 Blacks (n ¼ 14) 1 2 6 5 Chinese (n ¼ 4) 1 – – 3 Middle East (n ¼ 5) – 2 – 3 Total (n ¼ 40) 3 9 10 18

BAME female business owners


Table II. Discriminatory experiences: breakdown based on ethnic groups

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Indeed, as it is evident from many of the quotes presented in this paper these are often intrinsically linked. By far, the biggest complaints made by the interviewees revolved around the issue of having to deal with prejudicial attitudes of others based on gender and ethnic stereotyping (n ¼ 17). These women for example noted that some people automatically assumed that they “lacked education” or were “uneducated” because of the colour of their skins and ethnic backgrounds:
To be a woman and to be Black as well amounts to invisibility, lack of credibility and poor education. This is not how I see myself but how I feel other people see me. When I deal with people for the first time, I can sense that they are not confident in my ability. I need to prove to them that I can do the job before they respect me. Of course, nobody says anything, but the body language tells me all that I need to know (African female part-time business owner). Of course there is discrimination. It is not necessarily in business but it is in the community. I don’t think people appreciate ethnic minorities – we don’t get due recognition and when you are a woman, it is more difficult. People think that you come with a culture baggage – they think that you are not interested in other things but your family and home, and that you are uneducated. You have to work hard to prove them wrong and that you are as good as they are (Pakistani female business owner).

For six Muslim interviewees of South Asian and Middle Eastern origins, their prejudicial experiences were linked to the current media association of Islam and terrorism. They revealed that although their lives were somewhat challenging beforehand, the prejudices they experienced had intensified after the September 11 terrorist tragedy. A total of four complained of having to deal with people who assumed that they were asylum seekers, more interested in seeking welfare benefits than earning an honest living. It is worth noting that the women who complained about these matters all observed the Hijab – the act of covering one’s body and head, except for the face and hands (Khattab, 1996) – thus making them instantly recognizable as Muslims. Although these complaints may not directly relate to their business operations, the complaints are important as they may further isolate these women. Overall, seven female business owners (n ¼ 5 Blacks; n ¼ 2 South Asians) complained of role imposition based primarily on the stereotypical image of females of their specific ethnic origin – findings replicated in previous studies on Black women managers (e.g. Bell and Nknomo, 2000; Bhavnani and Coyle, 2000). For example, the four African and Afro-Caribbean women entrepreneurs were not happy to be linked to the stereotypical image of the “Black-mama” (see Davidson, 1997), declaring that the image damaged their reputation in that people often did not consider them as serious businesswomen. Ironically, this “Black-mama” image was seen as both rewarding and punishing by different Black female business owners. While some interviewees found the image to be offensive and disturbing, others regarded it as complimentary. Those within the second group argued that being a Black woman or the “Black-mama” meant that they were more likely to be regarded in a more positive manner by men in the industry; they were likely to be seen as being “friendly”, “desirable”, “less hostile” and “less competitive”. The conflicting messages produced by this image were reflected in the following comments:

I am a Black woman. Being that in a White dominated society like we have in Britain is an advantage. I am a fantasy of every White man . . . I am desirable, less hostile – I am the sexy Black woman! By just smiling, the barriers of my blackness are broken (African British Afro-Caribbean female business owner). A lot of people expect me to play the sexual game but that is not what I am about. Personally, I think the stereotype that people have about Black women is unjustified, sick and insulting. I want people to respect me for what I am worth. I have the skills, the knowledge and I am capable. I do not and will not use my sexuality (Afro-Caribbean female business owner).

BAME female business owners


Like the British Asian female managers (Davidson, 1997), some South Asian female business owners felt that they were expected to conform to the stereotypical “female timid Asian flower” role alignment:
People are shocked when they see the real me. I think they expect me to be soft, docile and mild – if those are the right words to use I don’t even know – but never “aggressive”. I am never “aggressive” but I am “assertive” – I know what I want and I tend to spell it out. A lot of people get very offended when I do that – I am being too forward. Half the time I don’t worry about how people react to me but I have my bad days (Pakistani female business owner).

The older South Asian, Chinese and Middle Eastern female business owner identified the language barrier as another serious problem that needed an urgent solution. Due to the intra-ethnic socialization, they found it difficult to communicate and interact with people from different backgrounds, especially those working with the local councils, the banks and business support services. For six interviewees, the language barrier was so huge, that it threatened their business operations and expansion plans:
There is a lot of potential in the market but I cannot do anything without money. The problem is my English is terrible and I cannot write very well. I know that I can apply for money from the council but I cannot do the bids because my English is so terrible (Chinese female business owner).

Indeed, within our sample of South Asian interviewees, it was interesting to note that age seemed to moderate the perceived level of discrimination experienced by women. While the majority of younger South Asian women felt that they had been discriminated against with regard to their ethnic minority status or (and) gender, the older South Asian women had the opposite view. This may have been due to the fact that older South Asian women tended to work in family businesses, or were housewives before they set up their own businesses, and thus, they were less likely to experience discrimination. The younger South Asian women on the other hand, were educated to degree levels and had worked in industry before setting up their own business. Consequently, it could be argued that they were more exposed to experiencing discrimination, as they were working and operating outside their own communities. The BAME female business owners, depending on their ethnic backgrounds, differed in their opinions on whether they believed it was better to be a BAME man. Of the 17 South Asian interviewees, nine suggested that South Asian men had better opportunities to do well in businesses compared to South Asian women. According to these women, the advantages of being a South Asian man included receiving preferential treatment from parents, having better educational opportunities, having

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more freedom and becoming an “automatic” heir to family fortunes and businesses. Perhaps, these advantages meant South Asian men were closely associated with the prevailing patriarchal cultural within these communities (Rana et al., 1998). In this study, the importance of men and the privileges they received for simply being men were clearly reflected in the following statement:
All I can say is that in an Asian community, it is much better if you are boy. I had a difficult childhood – I am a girl and I am handicapped. When I lost my arm, it felt as if I lost everything. They treated me as if I was no longer human . . . if I was anywhere else (in Pakistan), I’d probably be dead. My brother had everything – freedom, pampering . . . he knew at a young age that he would inherit my father’s business (Pakistani female business owner).


In contrast, about half of Black British women entrepreneurs in the interview sample asserted that Black men faced an even tougher battle in life, on both the professional and personal fronts. These women suggested that Black men were less ambitious and not seen as “emotionally and mentally strong” as Black women. The consensus amongst these women showed that the root of the problems faced by Black men was due to the fact that Black men lacked strong paternal role models within the family structure. Indeed, Davidson (1997) reported that in her sample of 30 BAME female managers in the UK, Black British women, especially those of Afro-Caribbean background, were more likely to be lone parents compared to White female managers. The recent population census further confirmed this scenario, as there were more Black British lone parent families (at 43 percent) in the UK compared to other ethnic minority groups. The South Asians on the other hand, including Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis, were least likely to be lone parents (Census, 2001). Importantly, the Black British interviewees were adamant that the lone parent family structure was likely to have a positive impact on Black girls, but a negative impact on Black boys. Assuming that the lone parent would most likely be a working mother, they asserted that the girls benefited from having the same sex role model (Davidson, 1997), while the boys did not have such luxury:
The younger generation of Blacks is perhaps better than the older one, but I still don’t think that Black men are as strong as Black women. It boils down to role models actually. Black girls have strong role models in their mothers. I remember my mother. My mother did not work until my father left her. When he left, she picked up the pieces and brought us up. She taught me about self-esteem, self-belief and confidence. Black boys don’t have that luxury. There are a lot of children in single families with working mothers and it is impossible for boys to connect with their mothers (African female business owner).

However, in looking at the gender and race discriminatory experiences of BAME women business owners, the findings suggested that women from African and Afro Carabbean backgrounds were more likely than other BAME groups to experience gender and race discrimination. In contrast, South Asian and Middle Eastern women were much less likely to report discrimination based solely on gender, although racial discrimination still presented a problem for some (see Table II). A number of the Asian and Chinese women explained that this lack of perceived discrimination was because they were expected (and hence more likely) to engage in intra-ethnic socialization, i.e. they mixed with people from the same ethnic background:

I don’t think my ethnic background is a problem. I grew up with people of the same background as me – we speak the same language and lead similar lives . . . this is common in a lot of the communities around here . . . my first true experience of mixing freely with other races and men was at university (Asian Pakistani female business owner). We are a close knit society – we don’t socialize with people outside of our ethnic group as much as we should. I mean you have Chinese in Manchester who have been here for more than ten years and they cannot speak English (Chinese female business owner). No, I have not been discriminated because of my ethnicity. I don’t have many friendsfrom other races – most of my friends are Chinese, so my (ethnic) background is not important. I grew up in a Chinese community and I went to school in Hong Kong (Chinese female business owner).

BAME female business owners


Interestingly, the responses of some Muslim entrepreneurial women suggested that “religious belief” might have influenced how the women responded to the inquiry about gender and racial discrimination. Essentially, five Muslim women stressed that “difficulties” they faced relating to their gender and ethnic background did not amount to “discrimination.” Instead, these women took a more liberal view, in that they argued that these “difficulties” were part of parcel of their “not so easy life”. One Middle Eastern woman asserted:
Who said life is easy? For me, all the difficulties I faced because of my gender or background are part of my life. This is what Allah has given me and I have accepted it. My role here is to do my best and if I am successful, then thank Allah. If I am not successful, I will try and try again.

On similar grounds, an Asian Pakistani woman declared:
I have accepted that there are some parts of my life that will be difficult. It is not discrimination but a “gift” from god. There are reasons why these things happened . . . at the very least, I am learning that I should not do that to other people.

Forms of social support In addition to identifying discriminatory experiences related to gendered ethnicity, the other key determinant of this paper was to identify the various forms of social support received and perceived by BAME female business owners. More specifically, the focus was on determining: (1) the extent to which they accessed formal and/or informal support; (2) the type of support accessed (emotional or instrumental); and (3) the barriers encountered in accessing support. Formal support The majority of BAME female business owners interviewed (n ¼ 25) did not use formal business support organizations for advice, information, support and financial assistance. These findings seemed in line with the few studies that have focused previously on South Asian women (e.g. Dhaliwall, 2000; Dawe and Fielden, 2005) and men (e.g. Ram and Sparrow, 1993; Ram et al., 2002) in self-employment in the UK. Indeed, only a quarter of those interviewed were members of business network

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organizations, eight (most of whom were Black British) had approached business advisory services, while a further eight employed professional help in the form of accountants and business consultants. Studies on BAME women working in other economic sectors (see Bell and Nknomo, 2000; Bhavnani and Coyle, 2000) revealed that, compared to their White female counterparts, they had fewer, if any role models, were more likely to feel isolated and less likely to have same ethnic and gender mentors. Certainly, a number of our interviewees, did express the desire to get in contact with other professional women in business who shared similar heritage, background or skin colour as themselves. This was particularly apparent for those of African and Afro-Caribbean background, who asserted that being in contact with “women of colour” would reduce the “feeling of isolation” and hence, be “more valuable” because their “common background” would often result in “common” or “shared” experiences:
I feel isolated. It is difficult to find a network that caters for Black businesses and for Black women. I don’t think there is one in Manchester or Liverpool. I need to be in contact with my own people because it would be better for me. I don’t think White people can understand what it means to be Black (African female business owner).

However, for BAME female business owners, finding the “right” support and networking group was difficult for various reasons. A quarter of the women suggested that the root of the problem lay with the fact that these organizations failed to disseminate information about their existence and services on offer. Other interviewees (n ¼ 12), most of whom were of Black African and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, declared that there were “too few business support and networking organizations” that catered for the “specific needs” of BAME groups in general and BAME female business owner specifically. They wanted business assistance organizations that catered specifically for Black women. For six Muslim interviewees, the complaint about the mainstream business support and networking organizations rested on the fact that these organizations were not “culturally sensitive” to the needs of Muslim women. This may reflect the strict code of conduct that epitomized an Islamic society, i.e. free mixing between women and men is not encouraged and a relationship between a woman and a man with no blood relationship and no approved marital intent, should be as minimal and as professional as possible (Omar and Davidson, 2001). Instrumental formal support Only 11 interviewees accessed finance through the more formal channels such as banks, five women used other private financial institutions, two accessed business start-up training grants and four women gained local council’s regeneration funds (four women). Generally, these interviewees were positive in their responses to the question “How easy was it to secure financial backing?” They related that they had experienced no difficulties in obtaining loans, asserting that their financial (or bank) managers were very helpful and friendly. Interestingly however, of the five female business owners who had secured loans from other financial institutions, three admitted that their spouses had either arranged the loans or co-signed the documentations. Perhaps, like the US female entrepreneurs in Hisrich and Bush’s (1986, p. 17) study, the female business owners in this study lacked experience in executive management or had had

limited financial responsibilities and, as “the task of persuading a loan officer to lend start-up capital is not an easy one”, most often relied on their husbands to “co-sign note, seek co-owners, or use personal assets or savings”. In contrast, over two-thirds (n ¼ 29) of interviewees financed their businesses through informal channels. The majority of these stated that they had invested their personal savings in their businesses, while 13 (most of whom were Asians and Middle Easterners), received financial aid from their spouses or other family members. Of the interviewees, 17 complained that their access to financial assistance was hampered by the lack of information on the financial options available for small and micro businesses. Some BAME female business owners were in fact keen on obtaining external financial assistance but felt lost in relation to what they needed to do and who they needed to approach to get financial help:
I may need financial assistance not too long from now. I have a cash flow problem because my business depends on foot traffic. Since the council moved us, sales have gone down because of the location of my shop. I don’t know if I can last for two years while they are renovating the shopping centre. I need help but I don’t know what’s available – who do I approach? Where can I apply? What do I need to do? (Pakistani female business owner).

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The importance of having adequate information was further demonstrated by the fact that the BAME female business owners who had received external financial assistance were able to do so because they were well connected. Indeed, the four interviewees who had obtained local government funds were able to do so because of their extensive contacts within the local councils, i.e. these women had previously worked for, or with, the local councils in various capacities and therefore they had knowledge that such funds were available. Less than a third of interviewees had had negative experiences in securing external funding. Three of these further revealed that they had failed to obtain external finances at least once, even though they initially received favourable feedback from the financiers:
A few months back, I put in an application for a grant and I was short-listed. I found out that when the panel visited me, they had already decided on who should get the award. They visited me because of the procedure, but I knew when they asked all the questions that I wasn’t going to get it. Of course, they told me that it was based on merit but I think it had more to do with my colour. The person who got the award was a White middle-class man. (Afro-Caribbean female business owner).

Overall, eight Muslim interviewees of South Asian and Middle Eastern origin were adamant that they would only apply for financial assistance if the Islamic financing alternatives were available. These female business owners and their families were against the riba or interest system used by all the mainstream financial institutions. As Muslims, they felt that they had the moral and ethical obligation to ensure that their business operations follow Islamic teachings and way of life:
I borrowed money from my husband. He did not allow me to borrow from other sources because of interest. If there is an Islamic financing service, it would be okay (Middle Easterner female business owner). My husband and I have a very ethical way of life. When we started the business, we used our own money. My husband did not like the riba system. We both feel that as Muslims, we must

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avoid anything that could jeopardize our Islamic way of life. We are facing some cash flow problems and we try to solve it by not taking any wages. Everything we make goes back into the business (Pakistani female business owner).


On similar grounds, seven interviewees indicated that they were reluctant to approach banks and building societies because they feared that their applications would be rejected. They generally believed that most of the financial services on offer did not suit them, in that these services were designed for White business owners by White service providers. While only nine women actually had “bad experiences” in their attempts to secure external funding, it is important that these perceived financial barriers are acknowledged (Ram and Smallbone, 2003). Informal support Instead of using formal business support organizations, many of our interviewees identified their families – both immediate and extended – as important support structures in their private and business lives. For instance, 15 female business owners stated that they had received a lot of support from the extended families, which included their in-laws, uncles, aunties and grandparents. Furthermore, 13 had “very supportive” spouses and partners, while eight were encouraged by their parents. Interviewees also relied heavily on their own personal network of friends (n ¼ 10), and the local community groups (n ¼ 6). The types of support that interviewees received from their informal support mechanisms varied from the most personal form of support, including emotional support such as encouragement (n ¼ 27) and family and child care (n ¼ 14); to the more professional in nature such as legal advice (n ¼ 4), financial assistance (n ¼ 19) and asset acquisitions (n ¼ 2). These informal support mechanisms were not only important but also indispensable. The general consensus amongst our interviewees was that their “successes as entrepreneurs” were positively and directly related to the support they had received from their respective support sources:
I owe it to my family. They have been so supportive. They have been behind me 100 percent and that does give me confidence and comfort to explore new things. For example, when I decided to take two years off and go travelling, my parents said “Good”. Those experiences were important because it made me a well- rounded person (African female business owner). I can’t be a mother and a businesswoman without my in-laws. My children are taken care of during the day – my mother and sister-in-law is at home now looking after my baby. (Pakistani female business owner).

Discussion and implications This exploratory study suggests that there are distinctive issues faced by BAME female business owners. In particular, while BAME female business owners share some common barriers and problems, there are specific differences between the various minority ethnic groups. Underlying these problems is often the double negative impact of racism and sexism. The biggest complaints made by female business owners revolved around the issue of having to deal with the prejudicial attitudes of others. Often, they had to deal with the poor opinions others had about their intellectual and educational capabilities because of the colour of their skins and ethnic background. For

Muslim women, the prejudices they experienced had intensified given the current media association of Islam and terrorism. Interestingly, the Black British female business owners were more likely than those from other minority ethnic backgrounds to report that gender and race could be problematic. Within the South Asian sample, the study suggests that age seemed to be a moderating factor to the perceived level of discrimination experienced, i.e. the younger South Asians reported higher levels of discrimination compared to the older South Asians. In addition, these particular female business owners were more likely to have to deal with oppressive intra-cultural norms and expectations (Dawe and Fielden, 2005). Although over half of the women in this study did report experiencing gender and/or racial discrimination, the remainder did not. Arguably, these women expressed views about experiencing “difficulties” rather than “discrimination” per se and this may point to a difference in the level of tolerance towards “discrimination”. Certainly, the level of tolerance varied depending on the ethnic background of the BAME entrepreneurs and the prevailing cultural practices within their respective societies. For example, in the Asian community, working women have had to deal with oppressive cultural traits, as they have traditionally been destined to play a secondary and submissive role within authoritarian and patriarchal family structures (Rana et al., 1998). In a study on the business start-up experiences of Asian women in the UK, Dawe and Fielden (2005, p. 241) revealed that these kinds of cultural traditions were still significant, with Asian women “demonstrating an unquestioning degree of acceptance” of the cultural expectations imposed upon them. The discrimination experienced by female business owners also inhibited their access to formal sources of social support. The findings outlined in this paper clearly indicate that BAME female business owners have both a low propensity to use mainstream business support agencies, as well as limited knowledge and information about the support services available for small businesses. Indeed, according to Ram and Smallbone (2003), the low level use of mainstream business support agencies by BAME businesses cannot be solely attributed to the lack of interest on the part of these business owners. For example, the findings of this study clearly indicate that female business owners of South Asian, Chinese and Middle Eastern origins still appear to have problems accessing much of the mainstream business support services, due predominantly to the fact that these are usually run by non-co-ethnics. Other barriers that further enhance this problem include: language, religious beliefs and the closed nature of their local communities. For these female business owners to gain access to these services, there needs to be special provisions that vary with the individual needs of the female business owners within each community, depending on their cultural and religious backgrounds. For instance, for some, gender specific training would be sufficient to overcome some of the barriers presented by their cultural traditions, but for those more Islamically oriented, such training would need to be provided within their own community. For female business owners of South Asian and Chinese origins, the problem of accessing mainstream support services is further aggravated by serious language and communication barriers, as well as cultural norms that limit their interactions with people outside of their specific ethnic background. To overcome the language barriers and the problem presented by andocentric nature of some communities, support

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providers could make greater use of the skills within the communities to develop targeted marketing strategies. Further, Ram and Smallbone (2003) suggested that the principle obstacles for support agencies seemed to be identifying and the contacting BAME businesses. They also emphasise the future of support agencies in capturing the most basic data on the scale, dynamics and issues facing these businesses and the inappropriateness of the “product-oriented” approaches used by these agencies. If the existing business support system is to effectively support BAME businesses, it must be sensitive to the specific needs and expectations of different segments of its potential client base. Business support agencies are not the only potential source of formal support available to female business owners, networks are a well recognized form of support that can provide many benefits (De Carolis and Saparito, 2006). However, the BAME female business owners in this study found it difficult to find BAME business networks specifically for BAME female business owners. For example, Black British female business owners were keen to join networking groups specifically created by Black female business owners. Having access to such targeted networks was viewed as critical in combating feelings of isolation. This lack of perceived support is likely to have a seriously negative impact on the coping strategies and performance of BAME female business owners (Brindley, 2005; Pollard, 2001). Such networks could be a key factor in the success of female owned BAME businesses, providing emotional and instrumental support within an appropriate setting that is targeted at individual BAME groups. Access to finance is another form of support that BAME female business owners experienced difficulties in accessing. Certainly, our study replicated previous research (Dhaliwall, 2000; Fielden et al., 2003) and the absence of “culture sensitive” financial services had resulted in the female business owners having to rely heavily on their families for financial support. While such financial arrangements may have helped them to establish their businesses, there exists the possibility that such arrangements could limit the amount of capital these female business owners could inject into their businesses and hence reduce their business growth potentials (Carter et al., 2001). Similar to their female White counterparts, the problem of accessing external financing is actually related to the problem of lack of information on what financial services are offered by both public and private financial institutions (Fielden and Davidson, 2005). Although such financial institutions as the Bank of England (1999, p. 35), acknowledge that there is some evidence to suggest that BAME business owners perceive they are treated adversely, they claim that this “perception may be more important than reality”. The findings of this study dispute that claim and put the ball firmly back into the financial services court. Financial institutions need to ensure the BAME female business owners have equal access to financial services and in some cases, institutions could benefit from introducing alternative finance options such as Islamic financial instruments, asset-based finance and profit-sharing schemes. As with previous studies (e.g. Terry et al., 1995; Kwong et al., 2009), it is clear that for BAME female business owners, informal social support fills the gaps left by the lack of access to formal sources of support. Informal support provided by family and friends was a key factor in the success of BAME female business owners. As noted above they provided instrumental support in terms of financial assistance but they also

provided emotional support in terms of role models and business advice. Two-thirds of female business owners in this study had family or friends who had previous business experiences, which is consistent with several studies on White female entrepreneurship (Matthews and Moser, 1996; Orhan, 2005; Sarason and Morrison, 2005). In fact only ten female business owners, including six Black British, three Middle Easterners and one South Asian, had no family members in business. The findings suggest that role models and mentors (particularly those of same ethnic background) are an important factor in determining whether or not women have the confidence to engage in business ownership. Indeed, six female business owners stated that having seen a family member succeed in business was an important event, in that they generally felt that they were capable of replicating these successes. According to Sarason and Morrison (2005), familial role models not only provide inspirations and motivation for female business owners, but may also give them first-hand experience on business management skills. Unlike previous studies, female business owners did not view their informal networks in any negative way (e.g. Rana et al., 1998) and felt that their business success was directly attributable to this form of social support (Kwong et al., 2009). Limitations of the study The study focuses on both full (n ¼ 30) and part (n ¼ 10) time business owners, with no differentiation between the two groups. However, this appears to be a cultural anomaly, with all Chinese women working full time and all those from the Middle East (i.e. Muslin women) working part time. Thus, to restrict participants on the basis of working hours could mean that certain groups of BAME would have been excluded, many of who may indeed experience greater discrimination and lower social support due to cultural norms. Generalization is also an issue and the study does not claim to homogenize the experiences of women from BAME backgrounds, but it does seek to identify trends that are experienced by women from different ethnic groups, even though the antecedents to those experiences may differ. Even though the sample size per BAME group is small this is mitigated by the qualitative approach, which is concerned more with gaining an understanding of the issues, rather than identifying how many women experience them. Conclusion The results of this qualitative study reveal strong indications that BAME female business owners are facing potential problems and barriers related to both their gender and ethnicity and inadequate social support systems. Indeed, many of the female business owners we interviewed strongly advocated the importance of such research aimed at uncovering the problems they faced in their daily lives, in order to enhance understanding as to what structures would work to help them become successful entrepreneurs. This was aptly summarized by an African female business owner who had encountered gender and racial problems:
It is very important to get input from ethnic minorities. I see a lot of “research” about us but only few really bothered to talk to us, for feedback and views. You cannot help ethnic

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minorities without first finding out the “real” issues. How can you help us if you don’t know what our problems are and what type of help we need?


We believe this study has moved the field forward from earlier studies in a number of ways. First, it has emphasized the heterogeneity of BAME female business owners and has highlighted both the similarities and differences between ethnic groups specific to the UK population in terms of perceived discrimination and social support. The vast majority of previous research into the experiences of BAME women has been undertaken in the USA and Canada, with very little in the UK. These studies are often based on different ethnic groupings compared to those found in the UK (e.g. Hispanic), with different historical and cultural underpinnings. This serves to limit the transferability of their findings to the UK. Second, this study also demonstrates that the interface between gender and racial discrimination is not a clear one and may vary across situations. There are some instances when racial discrimination will be the dominant factor and others where gender will be the key factor. Another influencing factor is that perceptions of discrimination are frequently viewed through a cultural and religious lens, perhaps indicating that “discrimination” is a Western concept that does not directly translate into all BAME cultures. Almost half of the women interviewed did not report gender or racial discrimination, yet their reasons for this tend to arise out of an isolationist approach to business operation, i.e. only operating within their own ethnic group. Although this is positive for the women involved, it may be argued that such isolation results from gender and racial discrimination, rather than from an absence of it. Finally, we suggest that this study is just a starting point in the UK, demonstrating not only the need for future research into BAME female business owners but providing evidence that such research cannot treat BAME female business owners as a homogeneous group. The difference in needs and experiences between BAME female business owners is as important, if not more so, than the similarities. Furthermore, the way in which BAME women experience discrimination may be different to the way in which White women experience discrimination. The interaction between gender and ethnicity appears to generate different perceptions of discrimination than those generated by gender alone - some more positive, other more negative. Thus, the idea of a double negative for gender and ethnicity is not necessarily accurate in the sense that they may not be cumulative factors. In order to explore this issue fully, further large scale, comparative research is essential to establish an accurate picture of the specific issues of discrimination and social support systems, which are responsible for inhibiting the growth of entrepreneurship among women from different ethnic backgrounds.
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About the authors Marilyn J. Davidson has published over 150 academic articles and 19 books, e.g. Shattering the Glass Ceiling – The Woman Manager (with C.L. Cooper); Women in Management: Current Research Issues Volume II (edited with R. Burke); The Black and Ethnic Minority Woman Manager – Cracking the Concrete Ceiling (short listed for the Best Management Book of the Year). She is co-director of the Centre for Equality and Diversity at Work and Chartered Occupational Psychologist. Recent research projects have included: national study of career development and good practice for women and men in the UK retail industry; sexual harassment of BME women professionals; sexual harassment in the workplace; barriers facing BME female and male entrepreneurs; and mentoring as a career development tool in female nurses. Sandra L. Fielden is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and a former member of the British Academy. She is co-director of the Centre for Equality and Diversity at Work and her research interests are in entrepreneurship, equality and diversity, women in management, coaching and mentoring, and sexual harassment. Sandra Fielden is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: Azura Omar is an Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. She holds a PhD from University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), UK, MBA (Hons.) from Boston University, USA and BA (Hons.) from Lancaster University, UK. She has research interests in diversity and management, small business management, work psychology and qualitative researching.

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