MBA students in Amsterdam and Brussels were asked for their views on the disadvantages faced by various groups of entrepreneurs: women entrepreneurs, disabled entrepreneurs, migrant entrepreneurs and others, with some surprising feedback.
On women entrepreneurs
Suzanne from Slovenia is a fashion major. “According to Eurostat, women account for around 60 % of MBA students and it’s even higher in my country, so right now the majority of young people entering business are women. Our real challenge is still the traditional bias against women in business but we have the same access to resources so I don’t see the problem.”
Houng, from Vietnam and planning on a business career in luxury goods, added, “Women are generally better educated than our male contemporaries, we have better interpersonal skills and have a lower feeling of entitlement. Perhaps it is males who are now ‘disadvantaged’.”
Hans from the Netherlands reluctantly agreed. “My experience is that women are generally better placed in terms of raising finance as there are so many lenders who only lend to women. And women are now entering every field, even those traditional male-orientated ones like construction. They’re competing on a level playing field.”
On being a foreigner
Marko from Estonia is planning on starting a business in the Netherlands. “The biggest challenge of all is the language. If you can’t read, write and speak the language then it is really difficult to cope with the official rules and regulations. In my own country this wouldn’t be a problem, but here I have to rely on my partner and her father.”
Arati from India finds the challenge is cultural. “Being a woman is not the issue but being Indian presents problems. With people my age they don’t care that I’m brown and culturally exotic, but when I have to talk to the government agencies I feel very excluded.”
Omar, who was born in Belgium of Moroccan parents, agreed. “There are still a lot of cultural and even racial issues with the older people. I come from Brussels and there is a large Moroccan community to support me but getting to see Belgium customers can be a real challenge, especially after the terrorist attacks.”
Adan, a Syrian who has been granted asylum in Belgium and is working his way through college, had a slightly different story. “I’m a refugee and there is very little support from the state, and the job I’ve got is the type the locals wouldn’t do but it means I have a competitive advantage. I don’t think I’ll be able to start a business here until I can speak French fluently but even then the locals don’t trust us and I get hassled all the time because I’m Syrian.”
On being disabled
Manon from Belgium uses a wheelchair after a car accident five years ago. “Wheelchair access is the biggest barrier to a business career. This is the first business school where I’ve had easy access and that means I can get the sort of education that I need to be successful. All new buildings have such access of course but I still can’t get into some offices. I don’t need special conditions except I do need things to be at my height.”
All the students had a common theme: being an entrepreneur is about doing what you can with what you have rather than expecting special treatment. The challenges and barriers they discussed were all surmountable and most were based on interpersonal behaviour rather than real difficulties. Of course, there are many other people who would disagree with them, and some interesting perspectives can be found at the following links.
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