Bath Uni research shows starting a business can liberate LGBT people to be themselves

March 1, 2023

Setting up a business or going self-employed can give LGBT people a sense of liberation and freedom to be their authentic selves, according to research by the University of Bath.

The academics, who worked on the study of small businesses with LGBT owners with the Radboud University in the Netherlands, found that negative experiences in the workplace prove a motivating force to start up in business. 

Dr Luke Fletcher, from the university’s School of Management, said for some of the entrepreneurs they interviewed, coming out as gay and deciding to become an entrepreneur were closely linked to the concept of freedom.

“They felt they needed to hide their sexual identity in their former careers, to avoid possible barriers and negative employment consequences, and believed that becoming self-employed would enable them to express their authentic self,” he said. 

In practice, the research showed LGBT entrepreneurs continue to navigate tension in the intersection between being their authentic selves and running day-to-day business operations.

The analysis also showed that LGBT entrepreneurs often feel they are battling stereotypes of entrepreneurs as masculine, heterosexual and male and that of a homosexual as feminine, weak and different.

However, the researchers found that some people gained a sense of strength and value in aligning their LGBT identity with their status as a business owner and viewed their sexuality as an asset.

Overcoming the challenges of coming out and being lesbian or gay in a heteronormative society had enabled them to develop their competencies, including emotional capabilities, empathy, and a social consciousness that they felt strengthened their entrepreneurial identities.

They were also able to see new markets and opportunities for their business that arose from aligning themselves with the LGBT community. 

Others were uncomfortable with being open about their LGBT identity, feeling a sense of stigma or shame with being too ‘out’ in their business, particularly if they had experienced discrimination or harassment related to their LGBT identity in the past.

As a result, they placed more importance on their identity as a businessperson and minimised the potential value that their LGBT identity could bring.

Dr Fletcher added: “People may feel their LGBT identity is irrelevant or shouldn’t be part of the way they operate their business.

“However, this can create internal tensions which may not be very good for their longer term health and wellbeing.”

The study, led by Dr Caroline Essers of Radboud University and published in the International Small Business Journal, involved 11 LGBT entrepreneurs in small Dutch firms.

The researchers concluded that as patterns and similar themes emerged in the findings, it was likely that they had reached a sufficient sample.

The researchers say their findings point to the need for more tailored support for LGBT people in business. 

Dr Fletcher said: “By building and sharing knowledge and experiences across the LGBT business community, we can empower and enable people and their businesses to thrive.”   


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