How entrepreneurship education can be more inclusive


Organizations with resources to support entrepreneurs often overlook their own organizational roles in amplifying stereotypes of entrepreneurs as primarily masculine, white and technology-focused.

Globally, women are less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship education and training, particularly in programs supporting high-growth enterprises. When entrepreneurship programs do consider inclusion, most focus on gender without considering age, ethnicity, race or other identity factors.

From an economic development perspective, the effectiveness and inclusivity of entrepreneurship programs is important as new businesses account for most net job creation.

Entrepreneurial training is associated with entrepreneurial intentions, inspiration, tolerance of ambiguity and business start-ups. Many people will be self-employed in their careers. For these reasons, entrepreneurship education is everyone’s business.

Our research is concerned with equipping entrepreneurship educators with resources to identify biases within programs to support all learners.

Framework to analyze barriers

We collaborated on research about entrepreneurship programs with an international team including: Anita Shankar, a medical anthropologist who examines impacts of psycho-social interventions in resource-poor settings in the Global South; Candida Brush, a professor of entrepreneurship; and Amanda Elam, a sociologist and research fellow in the area of gender and entrepreneurship.

Our team developed a framework to support a toolkit for inclusive entrepreneurship education and training called the Gender-Smart Entrepreneurship Education and Training Plus (GEET+) 2.0. The “plus” refers to extending a gender equity lens to consider intersectional identity factors (like race, ethnicity, religion, age, education, sexual orientation, culture, income, language and mental or physical disability).

The toolkit also profiles lessons learned from a systematic review of literature about entrepreneurship education and highlights barriers that marginalized and underrepresented people encounter in entrepreneurship programs.

Biases in education

Scholars caution that there is a need to critically examine entrepreneurship education and training.

Research, including studies conducted at Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, document biases in entrepreneurship education programming.

When students around the world are asked to name an entrepreneur, from Jordan to Canada, most cite an American, male, tech icon. Most cannot name entrepreneurial leaders in their own countries, particularly women leaders.

19 countries and EDI entrepreneurship education

Our research found an absence of policies and criteria associated with equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in entrepreneurship education and training.

We also learned that many educators and trainers seek guidance to enhance inclusion in entrepreneurship programming, and that they define “inclusion” and “diversity” in different ways.

We asked a 19-country panel of entrepreneurship educators to reflect on entrepreneurship programming. We wanted to know:

  • How inclusive it is?
  • How do they perceive the need for change?
  • What are barriers pertaining to culture, gender and entrepreneurial identities, and indicators characterizing inclusive programming?

The first of three online surveys included questions related to the challenges people see with enrolling and engaging students from underrepresented or marginalized groups.

While some respondents said there were no problems, others identified multiple challenges seen in processes, program content and outcomes. We learned that how educators perceive who is or is not under-represented in entrepreneurship programs is context-specific. For example, Argentinian entrepreneur educators identified low-income people as “the most marginalized in Argentina.” Educators in the United States tended to discuss ethnicity when speaking about equity and who is marginalized, while German educators described how German-language programs excluded migrants.

Overall, a key finding was that EDI initiatives have generally not reached entrepreneurship programs.

Several panelists cautioned about assuming commonalities or homogeneity within groups.

The framework

The toolkit helps educators assess seven content areas of their programs: commitment to inclusive education and training; knowledge and expertise about equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI); access to resources; program design; program development; program delivery; and program evaluation.

Each component of the framework was tested in settings in the United States and Canada.

All organizations used the toolkit to assess the status of programs and identify program service or inclusion gaps. Some found the toolkit helpful in legitimizing efforts to incorporate EDI efforts with organizational leaders and funders.

Developing common understanding, goals

Educators from larger organizations emphasized the value of engaging experts in EDI through workshops and team discussions. They developed common understandings of equity and inclusion issues within entrepreneurship education and training.

In some organizations, assessment processes led to team building and ultimately, to program changes.

Some entrepreneurship programs defined knowledge and expertise requirements (such as hiring trainers with lived experiences of specific underserved communities) and gaining clarity about resources and leadership commitments required to reform programs.

To learn more, the toolkit including framework and assessment criteria can be downloaded at the University of Ottawa.

Author Bios: Barbara Jayne Orser is Professor Emerita, Telfer School of Management and Catherine Elliott is an Adjunct Professor, Telfer School of Management both at the L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa