Ray, Sarah Michele (2020-07). Figuring It Out: How Immigrant Women Learn to Be Entrepreneurs in the United States. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The purpose of this dissertation was to understand how immigrant women learn to be entrepreneurs in the United States through a socio-cultural and transnational feminist conceptual framework. This framework connects culture and learning with the material reality and knowledge production that encompasses business ownership. Immigrant women entrepreneurs construct knowledge based on experiences in the home and host countries. Using a basic qualitative approach, this dissertation explores how participants interpret their experiences, construct their worlds in their home and host countries, and make meaning of their experiences in different environments. Each study participant came to the United States for different reasons. Some came without concrete plans and started out working in another person's business while figuring out how to survive here. Others came to the United States to move forward in a professional career. Some immigrated with family as pre-teens. The varied reasons for immigrating intersected with common experiences of learning the language, building a support system, negotiating competing cultural expectations, discovering how to create and manage a business. Results of the open-ended interviews with the ten women revealed that family is the key driver on the road to entrepreneurship. All were pulled into business ownership as a means to support, nurture, and be available for their children, an action propelled by the cultural assumption of woman as primary homemakers and caregivers. Moreover, many were pushed out by the failure of traditional, masculine-normed businesses to meet the needs of young families in terms of workplace accommodations and flexible schedules. The ways immigrant women learn to be entrepreneurs, as well as the driving forces behind their decisions, is valuable information for adult educators. While the research reported here reveals the challenges faced by women like the participants, there also are opportunities for future partnerships and research to develop strategies addressing these learning needs. This study further illuminates differences between home and host culture and the influence of material reality and the production of knowledge for immigrant women entrepreneurs.

publication date

  • July 2020