Hedy Lamarr, is mainly known as a glamorous Hollywood actress. However, she should mainly be known is an inventor and the mother of WiFi, Bluetooth technology and GPS, and of many other inventions. She is also one example of a migrant women with high business potential but who suffered about a double disadvantage of being a woman and a migrant. She was not taken seriously and her works were forgotten for decades and found simply by accident. One can only imagine what her business value would be today.
Women may recognise themselves from this story: how the gender hinders them from going ahead because of the attitudes of the others for being a woman and a foreign woman. This is also one of the challenges of migrant women discussed in the Kaleidoscope project. Yet there are many other obstacles women, especially migrant women, and female entrepreneurs face in everyday life and in their entrepreneurial activities. This article highlights ten of them. These are findings from the first phase of the Kaleidoscope project, the desk research and interviews of migrant women and experts working with entrepreneurship and migrants.
- Different culture
Cultural differences can create major obstacles, not only in the position of woman, but also generally in understanding the habits and customs of the country of destination which can impact for instance in consumption, purchase and visibility habits. For example, one story tells how difficult it was to sell American-sized household appliances in Japan, simply because the living culture was different as also the size of the apartments.
Culture is not only how differently one behaves, but as stated above, it strongly impacts what people want, how they live, what they desire, what are their values and what they avoid. Understanding these can create many business opportunities and it impacts on visibility of a company, what is the brand etc. It is part of knowing the local market.
A company also needs to inform about its product and offer. How and where depends on the culture and habits of the country, for instance, do they use Social Media, if yes, which one. Observing and chatting, immerging and integrating to the culture helps in this. There are also theories of cultural dimensions that can help understanding the surrounding society.
Learning the culture is not only business related. It helps in integrating to the society, and e.g. in networking. Hence we can state that it is a two/sided issue. It is also to remember that the background culture of a woman may also impact on the potential to become an entrepreneur.
Language is the second main barrier. One should master the language of the place of residence or another that is used for communication there. It is not only useful for learning more about the surrounding society and opportunities, learning the culture, talking with customers, and in general everyday activities, but it is elemental in taxation issues, paper work and in any official documentation. In some places the business can only be registered in the local languages.
- Attitudes towards womanhood and migrants
Unfortunately still today, there are negative attitudes, stereotypes and attributes towards women. Surprisingly, this comes from women themselves too. They might think that they do not have what it takes just because they are only women. Yet women can do so much.
Often women fall into the trap of fixed stereotypes, such as “feminised” jobs or that a woman should not work outside home. However, there are real logistical issues too, for instance the pressure to balance between family and work, or organising childcare.
There is a need to change the mentality, to self-empower and let go of limitations, developing self-confidence and perseverance. Of course, positive role models are always good for this.
The cultural or ethnic background can play part as well. It can vary from subtle avoidance to direct racism or behaviour based on lack of knowledge. This is topped by the everyday difficulties of being foreign in a country. It is important to get out to the society. Any form of integration is a tool to fight against these phenomena.
- Education and competencies
Education, expertise and competencies may become an issue if not adequately recognised. This can be informal or formal. However, one should remember that the quality of a business idea does not correlate positively with the grade on a diploma. Many business persons simply have good ideas and a good business sense. However, often a formal education is needed for starting a business.
- Lack of a business idea
This brings as to the quality of a business idea. Some experts mentioned that there is no difference at all, and that all that matters is the right attitude and a good business idea – of course also its execution and elements influencing in its execution. One should again think how the business idea adapts to the surrounding society and is there enough market potential.
- Entrepreneurial attitude
A good business idea is not enough if one is not an entrepreneur by nature and ready to work hard. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and it is fine. The attitude, perseverance, willingness to work hard, commitment and practical things like time-management and others are important for an entrepreneur. Moreover, one should love what one does.
- Different entrepreneurial culture and processes
Not only the surrounding culture can be different but also the entrepreneurial culture, the whole way of doing business and network with business colleagues. Do you talk too much? Are you too open? Do you dress up too visibly? This is only the tip of an iceberg, but it can also be a factor that differentiates you.
Yet there are plenty of subtle issues happening and country specific nosiness information that one may be missing. In addition, migrants may also have limited familiarity with the mainstream business-support infrastructure and they may lack the basic knowledge to navigate in the world of the local business information and structures. These may be simple as registering a company or more complex fully impacting one’s activity.
There are unfortunately cases where an entrepreneur has dropped the business idea just because of the entrepreneurial culture in the country.
We all have moments when of clashing with bureaucracy. But what is it was very different and even harder for you just because you are a foreigner? How about opening a bank account? Or proving that you have enough finances to survive? Shouldn’t you first have a residence permit? How would you get that? Just imagine all the paper work and proofs. This certainly is something migrants face. It is not only about setting up a business, but also about running it. For a migrant this can be far more challenging than for a local one. There are also limitations what you can do at different stages of entering to a country, depending on the status too, or how much you should earn in a country. Sometimes a regular pay check-based job might seem a better solution.
- Lack of resources
The lack of resources can naturally limit entrepreneurial activity, such as the lack of time, finance and tangible resources to start the business. It is worth to develop the presentation and justification of own business idea for finding e.g. funding. Group funding and other forms, e.g. a co-operative, can be alternative operative models. Imagination can be your best friend when thinking how to find resources.
- Lack of networks
Lack of networks can be one of the 10 big hindering elements as well from both, direct business side and from the home-work balance side (e.g. how to organise babysitters). A good network is also good for coping with stress.
Networking in business impacts in all different kinds of business networks from suppliers to business associations and other professionals.
Many of these challenges are such that any entrepreneur faces whereas some are special for migrants and especially migrant women. But why not to start thinking it differently?Pproblems often become opportunities and people facing challenges can be very resourceful. Some challenges remain, but perhaps it could be time to turning them into new ideas too, to ‘take the bull by its horns’. Additionally, why not to think female migrant entrepreneurs firstly as entrepreneurs and individuals, only after that as women and maybe, and this change in thinking applies to women themselves too.
Read more about the findings about female migrants and entrepreneurship from the report “Female Migrants’ Entrepreneurial Potential and Trends in Europe. Findings from the Kaleidoscope project.” at https://www.kaleidoscopeproject.eu/about/results/
For Hedy Lamarr
Famous Women Inventors. Retrieved on 15.6.2018. Available at http://www.women-inventors.com/Hedy-Lammar.asp
CSB News. (2012). Hedy Lamarr, movie star, inventor of WiFi. Retrieved on 15.6.2018. Available at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hedy-lamarr-movie-star-inventor-of-wifi/
For the rest of the article: “Female Migrants’ Entrepreneurial Potential and Trends in Europe. Findings from the Kaleidoscope project.” Available at https://www.kaleidoscopeproject.eu/about/results/