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The resilience of immigrant mothers as entrepreneurs

‘We as a society need to find solutions that ease the burden faced by immigrant women who are trying to start a business’
August 2, 2023
By Faiqah Ahmed

Three people around a white table having a meeting. Person in foreground has a laptop open Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

This research summary is brought to you by the John Molson School of Business National Bank Initiative in Entrepreneurship and Family Business.

In 2020, the Quebec Entrepreneurial Index reported that immigrant women are one of the most entrepreneurial groups in the province. Although this population of immigrant women entrepreneurs are outperforming their counterparts, there remain many unknowns about this group and how they managed to thrive during a time when other groups of entrepreneurs faltered.

Brittany Jackson, a PhD candidate in business administration at the John Molson School of Business, investigates the experiences of these individuals who identify as mothers, entrepreneurs and immigrants. Jackson notes that much entrepreneurship research often overlooks the intersection of gender, motherhood and immigration status.

“For this reason, it was important for me to uncover the challenges, strengths, weaknesses and everything else that encompassed the life of a mother who leaves her home country in pursuit of creating opportunities for herself and her family,” says Jackson.

Resilience reigns

Jackson’s study recruited 20 women who self-identify as entrepreneurs. The group represented diverse countries of origin such as Turkey, France, Iran, Mexico and the United States and participating women had varying levels of education and between one and eight children. Though this sample of women was diverse in many ways, Jackson found that they all shared one common trait: resilience.

Their resilience to overcome adversity began the moment they entered Canada. Most of these women were first-generation immigrants and moved to Canada, some with family and others on their own. This was especially difficult for them as mothers because they felt a lack of support for childbearing duties.

Due to the difficulties in accessing childcare support, these women took it upon themselves to be resourceful and create jobs to fit their lifestyles – they became entrepreneurs. To these women, entrepreneurial success is not necessarily defined by “hustle culture,” or the desire to scale their business, or to become the next Elon Musk. Instead, Jackson found that these women defined entrepreneurship as a means to have the necessary flexibility to be with their children, or to employ members of their community. Additionally, some women grew up in entrepreneurial households and applied the lessons from those experiences to their own lives.

We as a society need to find solutions that ease the burden faced by immigrant women who are trying to start a business

Growing from fear to empowerment

In addition to the challenge of securing reliable childcare, the study’s participants noted the difficulty of running a business while having small children. Participants said they felt guilty about pursuing their entrepreneurial ambitions because they felt it kept them from being good parents. They were experiencing a conflict between their work life and family life, whereby both were taking resources from each other. The women noted, however, that as the children got older, it was easier for them to feel pride in being both a mother and an entrepreneur because it set a positive example for their children. Jackson noted that in some cases, the participating women’s children felt empowered to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Jackson’s study demonstrates a re-imagining of what it means to be an entrepreneur and how society measures success.

"Insights from this study show that we as a society need to find solutions that ease the burden faced by immigrant women who are trying to start a business," says Jackson.

Though there are organizations and government programs like the WES Ecosystem Fund that are committed to fund women entrepreneurs, Jackson says that access to this funding is limited.

"Ultimately, this research wishes to inspire others to re-imagine what it means to be successful as an entrepreneur and how we can better assist those who challenge the stereotypes within entrepreneurship."

Brittany Jackson, PhD candidate, Business Administration

Brittany Jackson is a PhD candidate in business administration at the John Molson School of Business in the Department of Management.

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