Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Management Science

First Advisor

Margaret A. Shaffer

Second Advisor

Satish Nambisan

Committee Members

Romila Singh, Hong Ren


Basic Psychological Needs, Entrepreneurship, Ethnic Discrimination, Self-Determination Theory, Well-Being, Women Entrepreneurs


There has been a recent surge in the growth of women entrepreneurs and particularly minority women entrepreneurs in the United States. Women owned businesses play a key role in the United States economy – they are almost 10 million in number and represent over 35% of the total number of firms (U.S. Census, 2012). As the role of women entrepreneurs, and particularly, minority women entrepreneurs, in the U.S. grows, the need to understand this group becomes ever more important. Traditionally, the entrepreneurship literature has assumed the masculine perspective, with much of the foundational theories built upon research based on male entrepreneurs (Ahl, 2006). In an effort to counter this bias, research on women entrepreneurs began to appear in the entrepreneurship literature approximately thirty years ago and has flourished in recent decades (Jennings & Brush, 2013). This study contributes to this growing women’s entrepreneurship literature.

In this study, I develop and test a model of the influence of perceived ethnic discrimination on women entrepreneurs’ well-being, which is conceptualized in terms of authenticity at work (authentic living, self-alienation, and social influence), entrepreneurial work engagement (attention and absorption), and work-life balance. This model is grounded in self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2002), which suggests the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) contributes to well-being and mediates the effect of perceived ethnic discrimination on well-being. Additionally, I consider two research questions by applying social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 2001) and rejection sensitivity theory (Downey & Feldman, 1996) to explore the interactions of ethnic identity on the relationship between perceived ethnic discrimination and needs satisfaction and to examine model differences across ethnic/racial groups.

Data was collected using a multi-wave online survey administered through a B2B self-employed Qualtrics online panel that targeted full-time women entrepreneurs across various races/ethnicities in the United States. The race/ethnicity of the sample consisted of 46.5% (n=60) from the majority, or White race and 53.5% (n=69) were from the minority racial/ethnic groups, which included 24.0% (n=31) Black or African American, 19.4% (n=25) Hispanic or Latina, 4.7% or (n=16) Asian, and 5.4% (n=7) American Indian or Native American. Regression analyses were conducted using IBM SPSS24 and the PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2013) to assess the hypotheses and to answer the research questions.

The key findings of this study include significant relationships between the satisfaction of the need for competence across almost all of the measures of well-being (authenticity at work: authentic living and self-alienation; entrepreneurial work engagement: attention and absorption; and work-family balance) with the exception of authenticity’s social influence. Next, there were significant relationships between the satisfaction of the need for autonomy and authenticity at work (self-alienation and social influence). Additionally, strong ethnic identity was found to buffer the pernicious effects of perceived ethnic discrimination on needs satisfaction. Support was not found for the relationship between perceived ethnic discrimination and needs satisfaction, the mediating role of needs satisfaction between perceived ethnic discrimination and the well-being outcomes, nor any significant differences across racial/ethnic groups.

Theoretically, this study advances SDT in several ways. First, the study offers further understanding of how the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs contributes to well-being in the particular context of women entrepreneurs. Second, it sheds light on the differing roles that each need plays in this context, with the satisfaction of the need for competence playing a primary role, and autonomy playing a secondary role. Third, the lack of relationship between perceived ethnic discrimination and needs satisfaction implies support of the developing arguments for the independent role of needs frustration in the contexts of needs thwarting antecedent variables. Additionally, in the debate of the role of ethnic identity as a buffer or an exacerbator in situations of discrimination on various outcomes, this study provides evidence for ethnic identity playing not only a buffering role for the satisfaction of the need for competence, but also an enhancing role for the satisfaction of the need for relatedness on the relationship between perceived ethnic discrimination and needs satisfaction.

This study’s benefits extend to practical applications as the study results can be applied to programs to promote the well-being of women entrepreneurs. For example, programs to support women entrepreneurs can be beneficial by providing additional means by which women can meet their needs for competence and autonomy in particular. The role of ethnic identity as a buffering (competence) and enhancing (relatedness) mechanism against perceived ethnic discrimination can become part of the discussions for women entrepreneurs. Educating these women about the theory and research on ethnic identity can help them make more informed decisions about their individual identity development.