Research from Daniels faculty shows minorities and their experiences are marginalized

Dan Baack

It’s easy to say that entrepreneurship exists in the land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with gold and all men are created equal.

But that isn’t exactly what Dan Baack found. His study on minority entrepreneurship uncovered a white-male-dominated mindset that tends to diminish the participation and contributions of minorities and women. When it came to entrepreneurship, the wording, “all men,” was being taken too literally.

As with many such studies, this one began with some simple questions and basic observations.

“We noticed that a lot of the communication around entrepreneurship was coded in a way that would be perceived as very white and very male,” said Baack, an associate professor of marketing and co-director of the Executive PhD program at the Daniels College of Business. “We realized there was something to it, and it was something we wanted to explore academically. We wanted to understand why entrepreneurship is seen as male and white, and the role of higher education in perpetuating that sort of image for this field.”

The results of the study were published in a December 2022 issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, in an article titled, “The Invisible Racialized Minority Entrepreneur: Using White Solipsism to Explain the White Space.” Baack conducted the study in partnership with Rosanna Garcia, a former Daniels faculty member, who is now at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Baack and Garcia conducted their study in three parts. First, they a reviewed existing academic research and articles on racialized minority entrepreneurship. Then, they analyzed the language and images used on academic entrepreneurship websites. Finally, they conducted an experiment, examining how students responded to that imagery.

The results confirmed the pair’s suspicion that business academics seem to have fallen prey to a white egocentrism, in which white-owned entrepreneurship is seen as the dominant experience. As a result, they found, minorities and their experiences are marginalized.

“The first part of the study showed not only a lack of empirical studies, but also that the literature that does exist significantly marginalizes racialized minorities in the entrepreneurship space,” Baack said. “They were typically represented in a ‘less than’ fashion compared to their white counterparts.

“The second and third parts of the study further confirmed that,” Baack continued. “Existing entrepreneurship websites, and images on those websites, very much marginalized both women and racialized minorities.”

The third part of the study, Baack said, was particularly enlightening. A sample of Daniels students provided their feedback in response to manipulated images of minority entrepreneurs on academic entrepreneurial websites.

“We found that simply by changing the imagery of entrepreneur websites—which we had found to be overwhelmingly white—changed perceptions around minority entrepreneurs,” Baack said. “It led to our primary conclusion that changing the way we talk about and depict minority entrepreneurs leads to less marginalization and increases the interest in entrepreneurship in general.”

The experiment portion of the study was conducted with heavy support from the interdisciplinary Daniels Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center (CiBiC), established to study human behavior, with an emphasis on market-driven results. CiBiC recruited students and led the website experimentation module.

The Journal of Business Ethics article uses precise, carefully chosen language to describe the people and populations it references. The term “racialized minority,” for example, is employed to reflect global differences in minority status.

“In the global context, Asians are a majority group,” Baack said, noting they make up about 60% of the world’s population. “Adopting that mindset helped us further understand how we marginalize what we consider to be minorities in the U.S.”

The study also distinguishes between racialized minorities and immigrants.

“There is arguably more literature that looks at immigrant entrepreneurship than there is looking at racialized minority domestic entrepreneurship,” Baack said. “But immigrant entrepreneurship is a different phenomenon that relates to assimilation, acculturation and segmentation. We excluded that explicitly from the paper because the racial experience of immigrants is very different than the experience of someone who is a racialized minority born here.”

Baack said that in writing the paper, he and Garcia considered multiple theoretical framings before landing on business ethics.

“Our goal wasn’t to call out racism or bad actors,” Baack said. “We thought it was important to be more transparent in this area and to make suggestions for improvement. As an academic community we must do and, in fact, can do better.

“Most important, we have an ethical responsibility to rewrite the narrative of the ‘disadvantaged’ minority entrepreneur that we helped establish in the first place. It starts with better understanding minoritized populations to overcome what has been a natural bias.”