Atkins, Asheli (2020-08). Path of Least Resistance: Barriers and Strategy Construction Process for Black Entrepreneurs. Doctoral Dissertation.
This dissertation addresses: (1) The strategies Black entrepreneurs construct to navigate racist and discriminatory barriers in the market; (2) The role race, ethnicity, and other aspects of identity play in the strategy construction process; (3) Variation in the Black entrepreneurial experience based on location and social context; and (4) The experience of freelancing for marginalized freelancers with the support of theories on racialized and gendered organizations. In this dissertation, I use literature on racial, ethnic and gender inequality, as well as organizational theory. To bridge these bodies of work, I depend on theories of racialized and gendered organizations. I test these questions with analysis from in-depth interviews of fifty-six Black entrepreneurs in Houston, St. Louis, and Austin, survey responses from twenty marginalized freelance workers, and content analysis from Upwork's freelance platform community discussion boards from March 2016 to July 2019. The findings reveal that freelancing and entrepreneurship offer the respondents a path to escape from the racism, sexism, and discrimination that occurs in corporate environments. However, entrepreneurship and freelancing both exist as part of their own racialized and gendered structures. Because of this, entrepreneurs - though they have more freedom than freelancers - must construct their own strategies to navigate the racism and discrimination that they experience at the hands of lenders, consumers, and organizations. The freelancers in this study exist in an environment that is devoid of many standard employment features, but what is meant to give them freedom also constrains them. Specifically, freelancing platforms offer little to no support when users encounter racism and/or discrimination; when users turn to community boards for clarity, advice, or support, they are often gaslighted or silenced by the community board policies. Unfortunately for marginalized freelancers, moving away from corporate environments into freelancing often makes them more vulnerable to racist and sexist encounters. The hypervulnerability and constraints come from the mimetic isomorphism and decoupling that often occurs on these platforms, specifically the decoupling of anti-discrimination policies and anti-discrimination laws that protect freelancing platform employees but not freelancers. These articles encourage further research on strategy construction among marginalized workers, whether entrepreneurs or freelancers, as they attempt to develop strategies to navigate barriers. This work also calls attention to freelancing platforms as racialized and gendered organizations which limit the agency of people of color and women and maintain the position of dominant groups in the society. I show that the entrepreneurial experience and freelancing experience for marginalized individuals is impeded by racialized and gendered organizations, such as larger corporations, banks, and business development organizations like business incubators.