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Diversity, Migrant Entrepreneurship and Socio-Economic Inclusion

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The concept of diversity in the workplace and the recognition of the need to pay attention to diverse groups of workers has evolved over the years in terms of both conceptualisation and geographical extension. The study of inclusion and diversity, which began in the United States, before taking momentum in Europe and, more recently, generating debates and interventions in newly industrialised countries, has become central as greater movements of people have changed the landscape of most western cities (for an in-depth discussion of diversity at work: Guillaume et al., 2014 and Otaye-Ebede, Priola and Yerby, 2017). While concepts such as diversity, cultural diversity and diversity management have initially been studied within the confines of employment and large organisations, more recently attention has been directed to ‘diverse’ entrepreneurship and, in particular, to migrant entrepreneurs and their contribution to the economy and communities.

As most of the large western economies are reducing public sector provisions and moving towards greater neo-liberal individualism, entrepreneurship is represented as an economic activity open to all, which enhances economic as well as personal growth. Several factors affect employment choices of migrant workers but for many of them self-employment is often seen as a means to escape unemployment. In fact, the GEM UK data (GEM UK APS 2004 to 2015) reveals that entrepreneurial activity of the non-white ethnic population is higher, at 11.7%, than that of the white ethnic population, at 6.4%. While, however, entrepreneurship is depicted as an inclusive, open to all, economic pursuit, research shows that inequalities in entrepreneurial activity are still striving and that often migrant enterprises are smaller, concentrated in medium to low growth sectors and receive less external funding than enterprises owned by white men (Ethnic Minorities in Business). Such research findings should be treated cautiously as comparisons are influenced by factors inherently the specific population studied and the methodology adopted. Furthermore, I feel that it is unproductive to focus on comparisons between the successes of migrant and non-migrant enterprises without an in-depth critical analysis of the social factors that perpetrate the existing differences in the entrepreneurship activities of migrants and non-migrants. In proposing strategies and solutions that sustain entrepreneurial success of migrant groups, policy-makers need to support the economic role as well as the social inclusion role that migrant enterprises have and can have within regions and countries.

Migrants’ enterprises make a significant contribution to the UK economy and to socio-ethnic cohesion in the local and wider communities. They have access to international or local markets based on migrant networks, they often employ fellow migrants and provide their services to customers, many of whom are migrants themselves (Jones, et al., 2014). However, in spite of a few successes that have resulted in sizeable enterprises, migrants’ enterprises are still, at large, characterised by ‘small scale low value-added production with low skill labour the main input’ (Kloosterman, 2010, p. 31), are often excluded from mainstream funding opportunities and access to venture capital investors and are often located within areas populated by large immigrants communities. Thus, while migrant entrepreneurship represents an important economic as well as social asset in predominantly urban areas that have generally endured public and private under-investment, it equally suffers from marginalisation and exclusion.

Entrepreneurship studies are often focused on evidence-based approaches grounded on understanding enterprises as systems of processes, actors and relations from a macro (economic) perspective, whether this may be national, regional or sectoral. I suggest that to better understand migrant’s enterprises and their potential for sustaining social inclusion as well as economic growth, research and policy need to be concerned with the socio-political aspects of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship can create opportunities that enhance social and economic wellbeing for all individuals in society, including the more disadvantaged or disenfranchised members of society. Entrepreneurship happens within a network comprising institutions, organisations, individuals but also structural mechanisms that can maintain, exacerbate or facilitate specific outcomes for the individual entrepreneurs. Migrants’ enterprises are often marginalised in relation to wider UK enterprise and innovation support initiatives, for a variety of socio-political and cultural reasons that cannot be ignored. Policy-makers need to recognise the social and economic contribution that migrants’ enterprises provide for British society but should also strategically sustain their potential in relation to foster both social inclusion as well as economic growth. In multicultural cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, among others, migrant enterprises represent an important economic and social drive. The role that they play within migrant communities and cities has been documented by different studies (Hall et al. 2016), however this role needs to be supported and extended to sustain the further integration of migrant and native communities. Enterprise support agencies and innovation centres and hubs (private as well as publicly funded) should provide local level provisions to ensure that the needs of local ethnic businesses are supported in the development of strategic priorities so that their key economic and social role is further enhanced.

Dr Cinzia Priola is Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies at The Open University Business School and a member of the Research into Employment, Empowerment and Future group (REEF).

This article has also been published on OpenLearn.

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