Bangladeshi Women and Self-Emplo

					                Bangladeshi Women and Self-Employment:

                         Options, Barriers and Solutions
Lead Author(s) Isebail MacKinnon, Project Manager, Dinar Ali, Development Worker

Organisation – Street Cred, Quaker Social Action

Full postal address – 45-47 Blythe Street, London, E2 6LN
Tel: 020 7729 9267 E-mail:

Type of Paper: Working Paper
Purpose:      this research explores the barriers facing Bangladeshi women entering into self-
employment and the possible solutions to such. The outcome is information on barriers faced and a
bank of solutions which might be applied so that business support can be provided which is
appropriate to the needs of Bangladeshi women. The paper will also look at the current solutions
being used to overcome these barriers.
Design/Methodology/Approach: existing research will be strengthened through the following
methods: Focus groups with members of the Bangladeshi community; observation of Street Cred
(SC) clients; surveys with SC clients; results from a conference on barriers and solutions and
discussions with existing Bangladeshi businesswomen.
Findings: this paper will show the interim findings, as the research will continue until April 2008.
Implications: entrepreneurs – business support is more accessible. Bangladeshi female
entrepreneurs: understand barriers and how to overcome them. Mainstream business support
agencies and practitioners: understanding how the Bangladeshi community operates as a whole
and their perception of business and enterprise. Greater awareness of Bangladeshi women and
their needs therefore, allowing for the creation of tailor made business support.
Community researchers – feed into existing research and provide a basis for further research. The
implications being that research can enable a better understanding of the needs of a client groups
and how that group can be better served by business support providers. Also, what steps the
Bangladeshi community can take to better enable women to start businesses. Street Cred Plan to
develop this piece of work as a resource for business support agencies, as well as educational piece
for the Bangladeshi community.
Originality/Value: This research is carried out with and by the Bangladeshi community and it
enables them to play a key role in describing the barriers faced by their community and then
developing possible solutions to those barriers. This research has been undertaken by working with
the Bangladeshi community and their organisations to get valid and valuable qualitative research
done within this community.

Key Words: Bangladeshi Community. Women. Barriers. Self-employment. Business Support.
Ethnic Minorities.

      1. PURPOSE

Our research

   Our research forms part of the „Bangladeshi Women and Enterprise Project‟, a specific piece of
work undertaken for the London Development Agency. This is a one year project with the following

  -     to engage with women from the Bangladeshi community, make them aware of the option of
        self employment and what mainstream services are available to assist them;
  -     to develop a brochure of successful female Bangladeshi business owners who can be
        appropriate role models for emerging entrepreneurs;
  -     to carry out research into the barriers faced by Bangladeshi women who wish to enter into
        self employment and identify some of the solutions to those barriers;
  -     to develop a tool kit for business support providers which will be delivered to them via
        seminars so that they are more informed about the needs of this client group and able to
        shape their services in an appropriate manner.

   From the statistics and research that exists, it can be seen that there is an untapped resource of
Bangladeshi women who could be starting new businesses. With the funding by the LDA of the
London Bangladeshi Business Network this shows that there is an effort being made to support this
community to start, grow and develop businesses. This is part of the overall aim by the UK
government to increase the number of ethnic minority and disadvantaged communities in self-
employment by 2008 (BERR, 2005). As women are the most under represented group in UK
enterprise, the Government's Strategic framework for Women's Enterprise set out a long term
vision to build a culture for enterprise with the overall objective of increasing the numbers of
women starting and growing businesses (

   Going on from this, there is a realisation that there needs to be an element of diversity in the
planning for female business support, “how is it possible to ensure that all women can obtain
information, support and advice on their business…these may for example include Black and
Minority Ethnic women..” (Business Priorities for Women's Enterprise in London Draft Consultation,
LDA). Although Street Cred has been engaging with Bangladeshi women and supporting them into
self-employment since the project started in 1999, there has not been, until now, any specific
research carried out into the barriers facing this group of clients. This arisen from a lack of
resources for such research rather than a lack of interest. Street Cred has always strived to listen
to and understand their client‟s needs, so in this way the project has developed to address specific

This paper

  The focus of this paper is upon the barriers to self-employment experienced by Bangladeshi
women in the UK and to explore various solutions that might be developed to assist Bangladeshi
women to overcome these barriers.

  This research has, to date, taken place in London within the Bangladeshi community of the east
London borough of Tower Hamlets. It is intended, before the end of the research period (April
2008), to include input from a geographically wider range of Bangladeshi women within London.
The research question explored here was; “what are the barriers that affect Bangladeshi women
entering into self-employment and what are the possible solutions to those barriers?”

   This working paper puts forward interim findings from the research. These will be added to by
further research undertaken by Street Cred and by any external input forthcoming from the
presentation of this paper. The authors and Street Cred would welcome the opportunity to discuss
the barriers and solutions identified and to take part in further research pertaining to Bangladeshi
women. Whilst this paper offers a brief outline of the history and situation of the Bangladeshi
community in the UK it is not its purpose to discuss this in depth but only to set the scene and gain
an understanding of the history and culture which informs this research topic.


   According to the 2001 census, the majority of the UK Bangladeshi population is based in the
London and southeast area. There are approximately 140,000 with most originating from the
Sylhet area of Bangladesh. Approximately three quarters of this population live in the Borough of
Tower Hamlets, where they represent 33% of the population, with smaller communities in Camden,
Newham and Westminster. The Bangladeshi community from Sylheti has a distinct dialect and a
strong cultural identity. It is recognized as a tight knit with strong internal communication networks
and traditional core values that centre on the family, community and business. The Bangladeshi
population is one of the youngest in the UK with a high percentage of women in the 15-29 age

   There are some strong recurring factors to be found in the Bangladeshi communities in the UK.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has carried out a wide variety of research on this community.
Looking at their findings, several characteristics are evident. In terms of community, there is a
preference to live in multi-generational households. Many live in wards with a predominately
minority ethnic population and are most likely to live in the most deprived wards. There is an
expectation in the older generation that the custom of arranged marriages is kept and that
traditional divisions of labour within households are maintained. There is also concern to ensure
children have access to cultural or religious activities.

High unemployment & low levels of economic activity

   There is high unemployment amongst men, low levels of economic activity amongst women, low
pay and large families. Accordingly, 60 per cent of Bangladeshi’s are categorised as poor,
with incomes less than 50% of the national average. This equals four times the poverty rate
of the white population. The social security system provides a high proportion of income for
Bangladeshi people with a third arising from means-tested benefits. In 2001, 36% of ethnic
Bangladeshi residents in LBTH were economically inactive (compared to 26% of white).
Educationally, while there are lower rates of educational attainment, those who have degrees risk
the   same     poverty    levels  as    a   white   person     with  no   qualifications at   all.

   To try to give some background to this research, it is important to get a picture of Bangladeshi
women and their rates of self-employment. In fact, there is very little data regarding Bangladeshi
owned businesses overall. The new London Bangladeshi Business Network has recognized this and
stated that one of their aims is to gather base line in order to provide appropriate support to these
businesses. Tower Hamlets note that Bangladeshi females between 16 and 74 years old have an
economic inactivity rate of 75.2% within their borough (

  A source of very useful information is recent work from the SBS (2006) regarding women‟s
business ownership drawing on an analysis of the 2001 Census. This shows that the self-
employment rates of women are lowest within the Bangladeshi community at 0.9% as
shown below in the table used in the report.

   Figure 1: Self-employment Rate by Gender of All Aged 16-74 England & Wales
   Note: White refers to White British, White Irish and White Other groups; Ethnic Minority refers
to Non-White Ethnic Minorities.

   In 2004 Bangladeshi and Pakistani women had the highest working-age economic inactivity
rates in Great Britain (75% and 69% respectively). These rates were up to three times the rates
for White British, White Irish and Black Caribbean women (between 25% and 26%). The majority
stated they were looking after their family or home (Annual Population Survey, Feb 2006).The
2001 Individual Sample of Anonymised Records gave a sample of 25,199 working age (aged 20-
64) self-employed women, which when multiplied by 33.3, estimates that there were 839,126 self-
employed women in England and Wales in 2001. This estimate can be broken down by selected
ethnic groups to show that in 2001 there were 779,919 White, 22,144 Indian, 4,861 Pakistani, 999
Bangladeshi, 4,628 Black Caribbean, 3,796 Black African, 8,857 Chinese, 6,227 Mixed ethnicity,
and 7,692 Other ethnicity self-employed women, aged 20-64, in England and Wales. Working-age
men and women from non-White ethnic groups were generally more likely than those from White
groups to be economically inactive, that is, not available for work and/or not actively seeking work.
Reasons include; being a student, being disabled or looking after the family and home. Within each
ethnic group, women were more likely than men to be economically inactive.

   Street Cred is a project of Quaker Social Action, which is a regeneration charity that has been
working to reduce poverty in east London since 1867 and therefore, has developed a strong
presence and reputation in the community. Street Cred is a micro-credit project that has been
adapted from the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Street Cred provides free advice, support,
business training and micro-credit loans to women who are unemployed or on benefits in four
boroughs of East London to develop their business ideas.

   Street Cred was developed in 1999 as a response to the needs of women, mostly Bangladeshi,
from the local community to access small amounts of start up money to enable income generation.
In the eight years that Street Cred has operated, it has engaged with the Bangladeshi community
and this has enabled it to develop its services to meet the needs of that community. At present,
Street Cred has a full time development worker focusing on Tower Hamlets and its Bangladeshi
community and this has greatly enhanced the projects ability to engage with and carry out this
research in the community.

Barriers to self-employment

    Street Cred has had experience of working with Bangladeshi women to assist them into self-
employment since 1999. From this experience we have developed a strong awareness of the
barriers faced by Bangladeshi women who would like to explore self-employment. We described a
list of these below. Whilst we have this experience and can list barriers, it was thought important
that research was carried out to ensure that the information on barriers was current and also, that
it came directly from Bangladeshi women living in the east end of London in 2007.

   The following table lists the barriers that the Street Cred team has come across when working
with Bangladeshi women in east London during 1999-2007.

             Low confidence and self-esteem

             Childcare and other caring responsibilities

             No access to networks of people in the same situation

             No identification with „business‟ as described in mainstream

             Perceived lack of experience and skills

             Prejudice and stereotyping– potentially from suppliers, and mainstream


             Lack of information about available services

             Lack of access to affordable finance

             Lack of knowledge about U.K regulations and unfamiliarity with jargon

              used in business sector/ mainstream business support sector.

             Bad previous experiences of learning

             Lack of marketing skills

             Family dynamics and expectations working against individual aspirations

             Faith and community expectations/ perceptions –in relation to finance,

              suitable types of business, ideas of success/ achievements

             Difficulties in breaking into mainstream markets

             Lack of relevant real-life role models

             Language barriers

             Appropriate business support services.


   This research has been carried out by members of the Street Cred team, using the following
methodologies: focus groups, informal conversations, Introductory Workshops, existing research,
discussions and a conference.

4.1 Focus groups - with an existing group of 55 Bangladeshi female clients.

4.2 Informal conversations - with potential new Bangladeshi clients identified through
outreach carried out by the Street Cred team.

4.3 Introductory workshops - The barriers regarding entry into self-employment were
discussed at the „Introductory Workshops‟ held where Bangladeshi women were present.

   The majority of this evidence gathering was undertaken by Dinar Ali, a British born member of
the Bangladeshi community of East London. The fact that Dinar Ali is a member of the community,
as well as having the experience of working with Bangladeshi women from the first, second and
now the third generation for the last ten years and has very strong links with the community has
made a strong contribution to the success of the research. As a development worker for this
project, Dinar supports women into self-employment by providing, basic business training, ongoing
support and micro credit loans. Through this work she has built a strong reputation in the
community and relationships with community organizations and their workers. This meant that
respondents would speak to someone who is a trusted member the community.

   It should be recognised that Street Cred provides its services to women who are unemployed or
on a low income. Consequently, the evidence that gathered came from Bangladeshi women who fit
into that socio-economic profile and is not representative of experiences of all Bangladeshi women.
This research was carried out in London and mainly in the Bangladeshi communities of east where
the Street Cred project operates. However, through our links with community organisations serving
the Bangladeshi community in other areas of London, it was possible to include Bangladeshi women
from other areas in London in this research.

4.4 Existing research - In the process of this project, we have looked at existing research;
whilst there is some work on the barriers faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities
and some on Bangladeshi women and employment, there is little focus on self-employment and

4.5 Bangladeshi Women & Self – employment: Options, Barriers and
Solutions conference

    The other main approach to evidence gathering was from a one-day conference with 58
delegates held in November, 2007. The aim being to bring together Bangladeshi women, project
staff from those working with the Bangladeshi community and business advisors who had
experience of working within the community. The first part of the conference was used to discuss
the option of self-employment and to promote it to project staff as an option that they could
promote to their service users. Through the work that Street Cred has undertaken in east London,
it is evident that many organisations and projects are not raising self-employment as an option and
this in itself is a barrier. At the conference, five discussion groups were set up, each with a
facilitator who took notes on ideas put forward which were identified as barriers to self-
employment for Bangladeshi women and then, what were seen as possible solutions to such.

The table below is a transcript of barriers and solutions raised and discussed during the conference.
These have been separated out into five different categories of Culture, Religion, Attitudes,
Education and Training and Business and Finance.

Categories              Barriers                             Solution
Culture                 Lack of family support/ lack of      Helping sisters within our families
                        independence within a family         Educate family and friends to
                        structure/ too many extended         advantages of women in business
                        family responsibility/ or no         Childcare       provision/       crèche
                        extended family for support in       facilities/ Child care facilities more
                        childcare/family given priority      geared to cultural and religious
                        therefore limited time         for   awareness
                        business development                 Getting        positive        support/
                        Cultural emphasis/ traditional       network/partnership           working/
                        reasons and values/ customs          better community support
                        might be a hindrance/ lack of        Look into culture background and
                        community support due to             community/ urban vs. village
                        narrow mindedness/
                        Perception of both sexes and         Include husband in business
                        their role in life/ not taken
                        seriously/ dress/image/ women        Family workshops involving the
                        in business                          whole family
                        Male attitude-fear of losing         Understand     power       and
                        control,    insecurity,    (Male     relationships
                        domination)/            resisting
                        change/concerned           about     Educating      matriarchs       about
                        women      progressing    more/      positives
                        power shifts when women
                        earns more then her husband,         Partner with the „right man for
                        concern about interaction with       you‟

Religion / Faith
                                                             Educate leaders in mosques and
                        Confusion over religion and          then educate people/ work with
                        culture/ lack of understanding       community Leaders (Imams at
                        of own religion                      mosques)

                                                             Educate    that business/    faith
                                                             culture do not need to clash
                                                             Emphasize     to    husband   that
                                                             marriage is an equal partnership
                                                             according to religion

                                                             Develop Islamic finance products

                        Sharia law on finance

Personal     attitude   Lack of confidence/ personal         Can do attitude/belief in oneself
towards business and    belief „I can‟t do it‟ / in your     and let be know/ find others who
self-employment         product services or skills/ low      are in your situation (build up a
                        self esteem/ fear of failing         group network)
                        again and again.                     Create a Bangladeshi women‟s
                        Self employment does not have        club to share experience and
                        a guaranteed salary, as oppose       resolves issues
                        to employment                        Allay fears
                                                             Relevant role models

                                                             More ambassadors        of   women

                                                             Using status and marketing

                                                             Encourage others and self to think

Education   Training    Language barrier                     Attain relevant qualifications
and knowledge           Lack of training knowledge and
                        education/ Lack of recognition       Better educational structure (to
                        of qualification and skills gained   promote life skills)
                        in previous country of residence

                        Highly qualified Bengali women
                        find it hard to find partners on
                        the same qualification levels.

                        Information to complex/ not in
                        the right language


Business support and   Loans have interest (haram)         Develop Islamic finance
Finance                                                    Small loan provision such as
                       Lack of capital                     Street Cred micro credit system

                       No recourse to public fund

                       Financial burden-poverty            Promote organisation such as SC

                                                           Educate all different types and
                                                           sizes of business
                       Welfare state barrier
                                                           Research extensive
                       Organisations need support to
                       support SC?                         Being     thorough     in  checking
                                                           viability of your business
                       Lack of female business advice/
                       lack of ongoing support             More validation from others

                       Eligibility criteria for business
                       support                             Network more in schools           and
                       More flexibility within support     Advertise to grow awareness
                       organisation                        More accessible loans

                       Tokenism with business support      Reacting positively to feedback
                                                           Be a good leader to self and staff
                       Business language not catering      More      organisations    offering
                       for ethnic minority                 support and creating pathways to
                                                           action/ supporting women into
                                                           Clear aims and objective/find out
                                                           what you want and then how to
                                                           achieve it

                                                           Business course/business plans
                                                           Suitable for needs of clients

   In this paper, we are discussing the findings to date and asking for comments on this research
so there is a more complete picture of the barriers and solutions. There is much work to be done to
really unpick these groups of barriers identify the underlying causes and from that, understand how
real and long lasting solutions can be developed. This will enable the rates of business start-ups by
Bangladeshi women to increase to a level with the rest of the UK population.

The findings from the research have been placed in five main categories: Culture; Religion;
Personal attitudes; Education, training and knowledge; and Business support & finance.

Although some barriers have a combination of factors they have been placed in the category that is
seen as the main one that is creating the barrier for Bangladeshi women considering and entering
into self-employment.

  5.1 Culture

    The cultural aspects that impact on Bangladeshi women entering into self-employment really
centre on the traditional family structures and expectations that exist. The family unit plays
an important role with marriage and children being of very high importance for Bangladeshi women
many of whom have an expectation of being married by the age of 20 with pressure often being
applied by the older generation. Often the family is the foundation for both 'social and economic
life'. Dependency is placed upon the eldest, whose responsibility is to care and provide for the
others in the family. The family will reside in one household and when the son marries the wife will
be brought to his home. The family and the extended family is the basis from which the family
might socialise. It is seen as a protective and closed circle where duty, respect and love are key

   After marriage the cultural expectation is that women should stay home and run the
household. For a Bangladeshi woman, household activities and taking care of a dependent family
member is almost always the case. Women who come to the UK on a marriage visa will be
particularly subject to this expectation. This group of women can find it very difficult to find
employment. The principal factors in this are that they are new to this country, unfamiliar with the
processes of gaining employment, have little or no qualifications and often have a language barrier.
Culturally within households men are seen as the breadwinner and women as the ones who have
the task of raising a respectable family. If they are to work, then ideally it should be part-time. This
enables them to devote enough time to their caring responsibilities of looking after the household
and their family duties.

   Most Bangladeshi women choose to stay at home when they have children, and those who carry
on working usually look to family support for childcare needs. For those interviewed that were in
employment, they try to work around family commitments often by taking up part time jobs and
working flexible hours. This in turn can have a negative effect on their education and career.
Following marriage, having children is important traditionally, there was a pressure from the older
generation to have children soon after marriage and this expectation persists within some families.
This can be attributed to the fact that married couples now want to provide more in terms of
financial support as well as giving time to children as they are growing up. There is now however,
within some families, a change in attitudes, as the Bangladeshi community now has members
who are of second and third generation, and many go on to further education and employment
before getting married. Some of the older clients interviewed admit that when they were younger,
they did not feel that education for women was of that much importance, as long as they knew how
to be a good homemaker. Their thinking around this has now changed and they encourage their
daughters to study and take up a career.

   Lack of family support can often hinder a business idea while support of the family unit can be
the foundation to a successful business by providing support in terms of assistance with childcare,
family responsibilities and financial resources. The pressure of family responsibilities can be a
disincentive to setting up a business. In the Bangladeshi community family responsibility is
expected to be given priority and can include taking care of in-laws, children and majority of the
household work. Otherwise, it will change the dynamics of the whole family, which is a challenging
thought for many as this is not the perceived norm. However, many of the interviewees felt that if
the family earned an income through self-employment, this would mean an improved lifestyle for
the whole family. There was a need for this vision of improved financial prospects to be shared
with the family and that this might help family members see self-employment in a positive light
and support Bangladeshi women family members in setting up a business.

   Street Cred clients from the Bangladeshi community choose self-employment as an option
because it allows them to have flexibility and enables them to work around family commitments. It
also allows them to in an environment that they are comfortable with and where they can generate
income from a source that they choose. A high percentage of the clients see part-time work as
suitable as they do not view themselves as having a role as breadwinners but they can make use
of their skills to have an independent income where they can decide where it is spent or to
contribute to the household. This is supported by the recent report from Links UK, the national arm
of Community Links entitled Self-Employment and Micro-entrepreneurs: Informal Trading and
Journey towards Formalisation. The study was based on 23 semi-structured interviews, eight of
which were Bangladeshi women from Street Cred. When asked the question, „how important is the
income from informal Trading towards the house hold income?‟ 1 said that it is marginal and 7 said
that it is partial.


In the possible solutions that were suggested there was a need for more solidarity and help from
the female members of extended families to enable those who wish to start their own
businesses. Added to this there seems to be a need to educate that extended family on the
advantages that there can be from starting a business. And that this does not need to be seen as
at odds with the traditional role of women within their families. There is a need to get both male
and female members of the community supportive of women entering into self-employment,
particularly those women with power within families and communities. Perhaps a solution would be
family workshops.
The levels of need for these solutions are dependent on the attitude and background of a particular
family group. Not all Bangladeshi families have the same attitudes and knowledge around self-
To enable women to take forward business ideas there is a need for more and better childcare
provision/ crèche facilities. There was also a suggestion of a need for childcare providers to be
educated to the cultural and religious needs of the community so that suitable facilities can be
What the overall solutions here seem to be are around the Bangladeshi community and the need
for members of that community to change their attitude to women entering into self-
employment and to develop supportive community networks and systems to enable those
women to take their ideas forward and contribute to the economic development of that community.
The suggestions were often around the needs of getting a positive support/ networks/partnership
working/ better community support.

  5.2 Religion

   There are different religions observed in the Bangladeshi community. The women interviewed
during this research were all Muslim and for the purposes of this paper the religion referred to is
Islam. Religious barriers to Bangladeshi women entering into self-employment are hard
to disengage from cultural barriers. Many members of the Bangladeshi community themselves
may not be able to decide which factors are cultural norms and which are faith based as religion
and culture are so strongly intertwined. Although each Bangladeshi Muslim woman observes her
faith on her own personal terms and in an individual manner, her faith is still a centrally important
part of her life. The main religious barriers that might emerge are around sectors to work in. the
Islamic faith prohibits being employed in certain jobs such as those involving alcohol or meat,
particularly if it is not halal. For some it is also important that they do not come into contact with
men who are from outside their immediate family. In order to gain the support of their families,
some of the business women felt that the family needed to be educated in terms of culture and
religion and the actual teachings of the Islamic faith. They saw that the Islamic faith teaches that
women in Islam have an invaluable role in the heart of their families, their communities and the
wider society and all women are need to be educated and have a place as role models, as they are
the ones that bind their families together and make their communities stronger. It was felt that
the solution lies in education and raising awareness with the assistance of people of authority
within the community such as the Imams of the mosques and reaching and influencing the
community to change attitudes through them.

    An example of this is an event on self-employment for Bangladeshi women, held in the East
London Mosque. At this event, the Imam gave a talk to the delegates about how Islamic faith sees
employment and said that it was acceptable for Bangladeshi women to be in self-employment. This
was related back to the fact that the Prophet Mohammed‟s (PBUH) wife had been a self-employed
woman. However, the Imam stressed the fact that it was important that Bangladeshi women did
not forget their family responsibilities. This type of engagement with traditional community leaders
is important in order to inform and change attitudes within the community. For business advisors it
is important that they have an awareness of the importance of faith on their clients and to have at
least a small degree of knowledge of what the elements of that faith are. An example of this is
that one of the basic rules of Islam is that men and women who are not from their immediate
family are not allowed to have any form of physical contact therefore, hand shaking is not allowed.
Having an awareness of this will prevent any embarrassment or awkward situations. This will
enable them to take these needs into consideration and provide suitable services for their
Bangladeshi female clients. Another religious barrier is around finance for business. To adhere to
the Islamic Shari-ah law on finance has been raised as an important issue. This requires a
specific financial product for business start-up finance to be developed and made available to those
that require it.


The solutions that centred on religion were on raising awareness and educating the
recognised leaders within the community. These can often be the same people who are
leaders in mosques. Members of the community may have concerns and need guidance on whether
business and faith are at odds.
There is also a need to raise awareness to husbands and perhaps to all members of the family of
what Islam says regarding marriage. Islam states that marriage is an equal partnership.
A particular area of concern to many Muslims is regarding the need to have financial products
that are compliant with Sharia’h Law. There is a huge lack of provision of this type of financial
product in the market.

  5.3 Personal attitude

   To have a positive personal attitude to self-employment is essential. If the self-belief and
confidence necessary for business start-up are missing, this will often lead to abandonment of the
idea of setting up a business. Women are more likely to let the fear of failing stop them before
they start to develop a business and this results in women often being defined by their cautious
approach to business start-up. Particularly true in the Bangladeshi community is the fact that
women lack role models and are less likely to know someone that has started their own business.
They are also less likely to feel that they have the skills needed to start a business and maybe less
likely to see and pursue business opportunities.

   The attitudes of other members of the community can impact on the attitudes of the individual
Bangladeshi female. There is often an attitude that if it is not a business where you are clearly
going to make a lot of money then what is the point in bothering with it. There may be an attitude
towards the type of business, e.g. some women consider it to be an embarrassment to tell local
neighbours about a catering business run from home, as opposed to a sari shop. This is reflective
of a class system within the community where having a catering business may be seen as
demeaning and a lower class activity. There is often a lack of information around self-
employment and some people who are actually working at home may not even see themselves as
being self-employed and most certainly not an entrepreneur.

   Often, thinking about what they see as being the perception of non-Bangladeshi’s towards a
Bangladeshi woman can further hinder them from taking the business to the next level. There may
be a level of concern regarding the negative media portrayals of Islam and what a non-Muslim
might be thinking when approached by a Muslim person. Being confident about ones appearance is
important; many clients will not leave their traditional dress to promote themselves in business.
There is an issue about whether Bangladeshi may use this as an obstacle from further developing
ones business. This is based on concern over non-Muslims perception might be. However there is
the opportunity to challenge those perceptions to enable people to gain a positive experience
by drawing people attention to what they say and do, and not the type of clothes they wear.


There was a lot of discussion around the attitudes of women in the Bangladeshi community.
However there was a realisation that Bangladeshi women are not all the same and there are some
very successful female owned Bangladeshi businesses. To develop a more positive community
attitude and to encourage Bangladeshi women to consider self-employment there is a need for
relevant role models to be given a higher profile and who could be ambassadors for self-
What would seem to be needed is the development of support structures and use of relevant role
models to encourage a can do attitude /belief in oneself. This would be also be encouraged by
perhaps networks where women who are experiencing similar situations could share and support
each other. A suggestion was to create a Bangladeshi women’s club to share experience and
resolves issues. There was mention again in this section of the need to allay fears. These are the
fears of women who may be thinking of becoming self-employed and may stem from the instability
that may be experienced. There is a second group of fears from other members of the community
who may be concerned that women who become self-employed will shift away from their family
and cultural responsibilities. Solutions for this would involve working with the community
leaders to build a more positive picture of women and self-employment.

  5.4 Education training and knowledge

   Part of the barrier here is the need for Bangladeshi women to be assisted and encouraged to
recognise the transferable skills that they have and realizing the potential that they have as
an individual. Starting a business can help with this process and inspire them to get further
qualifications and training. Conversely, there is the need to have training in place before
individuals are in a position to consider business start-up. Although education and training is a
large barrier for those from the first generation of Bangladesh immigrants it is increasingly less of a
barrier for those who are second or third generation. Language is, for some, a large barrier. Most
of the older generation have not been born in the UK and have limi ted, or no English, when they
immigrated to the UK. This, together with a lack of formal qualifications, created barriers to
both employment and self-employment, particularly in jobs that were outside the Bangladeshi
community. However, some of the clients at Street Cred have started in business despite the
language barrier. These businesses focus on using their existing skills and not on qualifications.
Often, if supplying services to their own community, these businesses do not involve the need to
gain high levels of language skills.


What came through in this section regarding solutions was the need for Bangladeshi women to gain
relevant qualifications. This may be linked to a need to have a more positive attitude to the
education of women in all areas of academic achievement. There was seen to be a need for
a better educational structure to promote life skills. This is also linked to a need to recognise
the transferable skills that women have that can be used in a business setting.

  5.5 Business Support & Finance

   The traditional language around business creates a barrier, as it does not assist individuals to
see business as something that they could do or, that relates to what they are doing, even if they
are already self-employed. The language needs to be broken down, as many do not relate to words
such as “enterprise,” and “entrepreneurs.” Business advisors need to use language that will relate
to their clients. An example of this is, instead of using “Start your own business” use instead, “earn
money for your self” or “give yourself a job”. With the consideration of the other barriers such as
culture and religion business advisors need to ensure that business support and training is not just
about profits but has a holistic approach. Also, business ideas involving small, home-based, part-
time business are often not taken seriously by business advisors.

  Another barrier is a lack of female business advisors, as many Bangladeshi women would
not feel comfortable in the company of men who are from outside their immediate family.

   Community support organizations have a role to promote self-employment to their service
users. Self-employment can provide a route out of poverty and social exclusion particularly for
Bangladeshi women for whom employment has the same, or perhaps even more, barriers than
self-employment. Many of the interviewees raised the issue about access to finance. This can be
a barrier particularly if they are on benefits or a low income. There is also an issue around the lack
of access to business start up finance that is compliant with the Islamic Shari-ah law on finance.


The solutions that came forward regarding business support were that there were more
organisations offering support and creating pathways to action/ supporting women into self-

employment. From this there was a need for those business support organisations to be
suitable to the needs of the clients. This is about service provision and about staff development
and training so that they are aware of the needs of clients so that they can shape their approach.
Part of this is the need for advice and training to be provided in a way that is pitched at the level
needed and in a way that is relevant to the types of businesses that are being developed. A lot of
this solution is around the need for less jargon in training materials, particularly in the early
stages of business development, as this has been identified as a barrier to people progressing with
their business ideas.

Another solution that was suggested was the need for more networking in schools and communities
to encourage self-employment as an option. This is something that business support
organisations could do and is linked to the need for them to advertise more to the Bangladeshi
community to raise awareness of their services.

Part of the responsibility for these solutions was also put on the Bangladeshi women who were in or
entering into self-employment. There was seen a need to have clear aims and objective and to find
out what you want and then how to achieve it. There was a need to be realistic and thorough in
checking the viability of your business ideas. This is about taking initiative and control over
what you want to do but was also tempered by the need for others to give your business ideas
validity and to give Bangladeshi women entering into self-employment a positive environment in
which to develop their businesses.

Regarding finance the solutions where focussed on the need to develop access to finance and
also to the development of appropriate financial products. The main need that was identified
was to have Islamic finance. This is one way that entrepreneurs can be helped to balance their self-
employment with observing their faith. A solution that was put forward was for there to be more
small loan provision such as Street Cred micro credit system.


   This research has implications for a range of individuals and organisations. For potential
Bangladeshi female entrepreneurs it could lead to support services being delivered in a more
appropriate manner suitable to their needs. For business advisors, this research can help to
shape services to the needs of this particular client group. They can develop a better understanding
of Bangladeshi women coming to them for business support and how to reach out to these clients.
This research can also help to remove some of the stereotypes that exist around Bangladeshi
women. The methodology can be adapted and used by others to gather information on client
groups regarding their needs and to create sustainable affective solutions to any barriers that exist.
There is also a need to develop this research unpick the causes of barriers highlighted and to
develop sustainable solutions. There are implications of this research for those involved in
education and training. There were issues raised around education, including the language used
and accessibility that can be taken on board and from which service delivery can be adapted.


   This research was undertaken to identify responses to the question “what are the barriers to
self-employment that are experienced by Bangladeshi women in the UK and what solutions can be
developed to assist Bangladeshi women overcome these barriers?‟. Initially, it was envisaged that
the solutions to these barriers would be put in place by business support organisations but, from
looking at the suggested solutions it can be seen that these involve a much wider range of
stakeholders e.g. involving community leaders to change perceptions of self-employment and
empowering Bangladeshi women to challenge the barriers that affect them.

   There are certain limitations to this research. The women interviewed are all from the
Bangladeshi community in East London and the majority are from the same socio-economic group.
It can be seen that there is a need to have a wider representation of Bangladeshi women. Looking
at the barriers, it can also be seen that the issues facing Bangladeshi women are those that can
face any woman from any culture to a certain degree, but that some are experienced at a higher
level for women from the Bangladeshi community. It is possible to perhaps look back and see that
women in the UK would have faced these barriers in the not too distant past. There is the need also
to recognise that women, and again Bangladeshi women, should not be viewed as a homogeneous
group as each will have a very personal experience of these barriers. One of the major influences
on this is their socio-economic status and, if they are married, that of their husbands‟ family.
Another factor affecting how women experience these barrier is whether they are from the first,
second or third generation of Bangladeshi immigration and is reflective of what stage of
acculturation the individual is.

   Street Cred will continue with this research until April 2008 as part of their contract with the LDA
and then use their involvement with the Bangladeshi community and organisations to develop it
further on a more ad hoc basis in the course of their project work. We would welcome any input
and support from others interested in this subject and carrying on or adding to this research. The
key contribution of this paper is that it adds to the existing body of research on women‟s enterprise
and, more particularly, to that on ethnic women‟s enterprise. The research that has been carried
out was done in the heart of the Bangladeshi community in east London and contains valuable
anecdotal evidence from Bangladeshi women. Its importance is that the members of that
community described both the barriers and the possible solutions to those barriers.


BERR, 2005. The Way Forward 2005-2008. The Ethnic Minority Business Forum. Available at: Accessed 12 January 2008
BODEN, R. 2005. The UK Social Security System for Self-Employed People. Berlin:
Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, .
Accessed 12 January 2008
CARTER, S. AND SHAW, E., 2006. Women’s Business Ownership: Recent Research and Policy
Developments, Report to the Small Business Service. London.
DCLG,2006. Engaging with Muslim Women: A report from the Prime Ministers Event 10 May 2006.
London: Department for Communities and Local Government.
DWP, 2006. Barriers to Pakistani and Bangladeshi Women into Employment. London. Department
of Work and Pensions, Research Report DWPRR 360.
DWP, 2007. Pakistani and Bangladeshi Women’ Attitude to Work and Family. London. Corporate
Document       Services,   Research       Report    458.   September      2007.    Available   at Accessed 12 January 2008.
GARBIN, D. Bangladeshi Diaspora in the UK: socio-cultural dynamics, religious trends and
transnational politics. University of Surrey. DRAFT VERSION - JUNE 2005. Available at accessed 9 January 2008
LONDON DEVELOPMENT AGENCY. Business Priorities for Women's Enterprise in London Draft
Consultation. London. Available at, accessed 10th January 2008
OFFICE FOR NATIONAL STATISTICS, 2006. Annual Population Survey, January 2004 to December
2004. London. Office for National Statistics
PROWESS, 2004. Bridging the Enterprise Gap: strategies to support socially excluded women into
self-employment. Norwich. Prowess Ltd.
WEIR, G. (2003) Self-employment in the UK labour market. Labour Market Trends September
2003. Available at
Accessed 10 January 2008.
LINKS UK, 2007. Self-Employment and Micro-entrepreneurs: Informal Trading and Journey towards
Formalisation. Draft Report. Community Links. London.
WEBSITES accessed 9 January as retrieved on 5 Jan             -   23k.
Accessed 9 January 2008
profile/population/data/ethnicity.cfm. Accessed 10th January 2008