Asian female immigrant entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized businesses in Australia

  • Collins J
  • Low A
  • 85


    Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
  • 36


    Citations of this article.


Among western nations Australia has received, in relative terms, one of the largest and most diverse intakes of immigrants, many of who start up their own small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While most immigrant entrepreneurs are male, there is growth in the number of female immigrants who have moved into entrepreneurship in Australia and other countries. Yet, research into female immigrant entrepreneurship and a theoretical investigation as to how the impact of ethnic diversity and gender on entrepreneurship can be conceptualized is not well developed in the literature. This article attempts to redress this gap. It reviews the theory of immigrant entrepreneurship and the Australian research, including the findings of unpublished fieldwork with 80 Asian female immigrant entrepreneurs in Sydney. While female immigrant entrepreneurs draw on their human capital and community and family networks as do all female small business owners, their small business experience is also shaped by broader societal responses to minority immigrants, embodied in the concept of the ‘accent ceiling’, that creates labour market and entrepreneurial barriers for women of minority linguistic, ethnic or religious background that non-immigrant entrepreneurs do not face. CONCLUSIONS This article began with the claim that the literature on immigrant or ethnic entrepreneurship often ignores gender dimensions while the literature on female entrepreneurship generally ignores the immigrant or ethnic dimensions. We have demonstrated the important and increasing role that minority female immigrants play in the Australian SME sector today. The conclusion is that female immigrant entrepreneurship is an important, but relatively neglected, area of research within the field of entrepreneurship studies in western societies. At the same time it is clear from the qualitative research in Sydney with 80 Asian female entrepreneurs reported in this article that there is diversity in their group characteristics, their financial and educational resources and their English language abilities. As a consequence their experiences as female immigrant entrepreneurs differ, cautioning against simplistic generalizations about female immigrant entrepreneurship and raising the necessity for further research to be designed to incorporate a wide range of entrepreneurial experiences of immigrant women. We have also explored conceptually the different ways that ethnicity can impact on female entrepreneurship. Our Sydney fieldwork has demonstrated some of the ways that gender, ethnic and racial difference shape the resources that female immigrant entrepreneurs bring to their business enterprises in Australia today, including human capital and social capital. A strong theme that emerges is the way that daily entrepreneurial decisions made by the 80 Asian women are embedded within social relations within the family and social networks with the ethnic community. However, much the same could be said for non-immigrant female entrepreneurs whose enterprise activities are also embedded within family and social networks and the gendered division of labour. Social capital is not just an ethnic resource. Where ethnicity appears to be salient in the experience of female entrepreneurs is in the way that linguistic, religious and cultural differences of women from minority backgrounds – the accent ceiling – impedes their labour market prospects and constrains their entrepreneurial experiences. Minority immigrant women face issues of qualification recognition for their human capital that other female entrepreneurs do not face. While the Sydney fieldwork has explored some dimensions of the accent ceiling, this clearly needs further exploration and research. Moreover, ethnic networks also appear to facilitate international trade opportunity activities for immigrant women that may not be available for non-immigrant female entrepreneurs. The important conclusion for further research on female entrepreneurship is that fieldwork should include immigrant and non-immigrant women to identify commonalities as well as differences. The policy implications of immigrant entrepreneurship in the Australian SME sector must take, as their point of departure, the finding that pathways for immigrants to entrepreneurship are becoming increasingly diverse, from unemployed migrants to migrant millionaires and all those between. As this article has indicted, immigrants run SMEs across the whole spectrum of Australian industries and have a very diverse range of educational backgrounds. One size clearly does not fit all when designing policy responses to immigrant entrepreneurship or to female entrepreneurship, be they in relation to immigration policy, education policy, taxation policy, finance availability or business support services.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Accent ceiling
  • Ethnic resources
  • Female immigrant entrepreneurs
  • Gender
  • Human capital
  • Social capital

Get free article suggestions today

Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research

Sign up here
Already have an account ?Sign in

Find this document

Get full text


  • Jock Collins

  • Angeline Low

Cite this document

Choose a citation style from the tabs below

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free