New report shows more women-owned SMEs are exporting but customized supports could support further growth

Ottawa, ON, October 8, 2020: New research released today shows that women-owned small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have made significant gains in exporting, but increased and customized support could further their growth. From 2011 to 2017, the proportion of majority women-owned SMEs that export more than doubled, from 5 percent to 11.1 percent, narrowing the gap with majority men-owned SMEs (12.2%). 

Exporting is critical to Canada’s economic recovery because exporting companies tend to be larger, grow faster, and be more innovative than those that don’t. Exports are an important driver of economic growth and innovation and in an effort to further narrow the gap between men and women entrepreneur exporters, BDC, Export Development Canada (EDC) in collaboration with the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub supported the research of co-authors Clare Beckton Founder, Own Your Own Success, and Executive in Residence at Carleton University’s Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work, and Janice McDonald, Founder of The Beacon Agency to better understand the barriers that women-led businesses are experiencing and identify strategies which could advance export activity by women entrepreneurs. 

The findings from the Grow Global: Women Entrepreneurs and Export report show that while the exporting gap between men and women entrepreneurs is narrowing, there is still a lot of potential. Some women entrepreneurs are benefiting tremendously from access to global markets, access to information, networks and capital, but other women-led SMEs are less aware of the opportunities and help to do so. The report shows that women entrepreneurs need access to timely and relevant information, more inclusive networks, and capital.

Characteristics of Successful Exporting Women Entrepreneurs

There are some common factors that successful exporting women entrepreneurs share. These include:

  1. Structural characteristics: their companies tend to be larger, incorporated, and in sectors which lend themselves to exporting.
  2. Processes: exporting women recognize the challenges of exporting but seek out the information, networks, mentors, and supports they need to develop an evidence-informed strategy.
  3. Individual characteristics: exporting women tend to have been in business longer and share ambition, risk tolerance, clarity of vision, tenacity and have strong networks who can help them. Immigrant women entrepreneurs are slightly more likely to see the opportunities for going global.
  4. Experiences: exporting women appear to be more aware of, and likely, to use the resources available. Many indicated that they became aware of the opportunities or translated their ambitions into plans because of the programs they found.

The research also shows that women need information and the report recommends investing in the following. 

  1. Organizations supporting women entrepreneurs and women’s business centres to help women entrepreneurs and encourage them to consider growth through export; provide assistance, training, and knowledge from partners in the ecosystem and facilitate ready access to this information and support; and then assist entrepreneurs to develop an export plan.
  1. Women entrepreneurs need to grow their networks and join relevant associated organizations such as the Organization of Women in International Trade (OWIT), Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, and relevant industry associations to obtain support, advice, and information. 
  1. Women entrepreneurs can accelerate their business growth by seeking mentors either through their own networks (from partners) or others in the ecosystem. In addition, they should reach out to the TCS and EDC for information and assistance to develop an export strategy
  1. Women entrepreneurs should consider participating in supplier diversity programs to increase export possibilities and take the steps needed to be certified for these programs through organizations such as WEConnect, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and WBE (Women Business Enterprises) Canada.

The research was conducted in 2019 and includes a review of existing literature; 96 in-depth interviews with women entrepreneurs; and a survey of 815 entrepreneurs and some decision makers. 


“Opportunities that come with going global are limitless and even now technology knows no borders,” said Jennifer Cooke, EDC Corporate Lead for Women in Trade. “These research findings reinforce what we already know, women owned and -led companies can benefit tremendously from accessing new markets. EDC’s core strength is helping entrepreneurs navigate risk with our international trade insights and we can help businesses achieve success on the global stage through financial solutions and knowledge to grow with confidence.”

“At BDC, we know women entrepreneurs have enormous untapped potential,” said Laura Didyk, Vice President and National Lead Women Entrepreneurs, BDC. “Our hope is this report will inspire more women business owners to consider growth through export. Growth that could make a substantial impact on their business and the economy. BDC is here to help them at every point on their journey.”

“Data shows that women entrepreneurs are bridging gaps and taking advantage of international markets while at the same time revealing that there are untapped opportunities for women entrepreneurs,” said Wendy Cukier, Founder of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and Academic Lead of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.  “We need to make sure that women entrepreneurs understand, particularly with Canada’s new trade agreements in place, and have the supports they need to succeed. COVID has come near to crushing self-employed women and women-owned SMEs who are juggling their enterprises with unpaid work and child care. However, at the same time, many women entrepreneurs have pivoted their work, expanded their digital offerings and are no longer constrained by geographic barriers and are poised for growth.” 

“Understanding the characteristics of successful women entrepreneur exporters can go a long way in shaping and extending the supports and programs available to women-led SMEs,” said Clare Beckton, co-author, Founder, Own Your Own Success, and Executive in Residence at Carleton University’s Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work. 

“We know that access to international markets provides entrepreneurs with knowledge gain, increased networks and valuable contacts; access to new markets and diversified customers; the potential to develop new products and services and creates access to diversity and talent on a global scale,” said co-author Janice McDonald, founder of The Beacon Agency. Further promotion to more women-entrepreneurs is needed to increase export.”

About BDC

BDC is the bank for Canadian entrepreneurs. It provides access to financing, as well as advisory services to help Canadian businesses grow and succeed. Its investment arm, BDC Capital, offers a wide range of risk capital solutions. For more than 75 years, BDC’s only purpose has been to support entrepreneurs in all industries and at all stages of growth. For more information and to consult more than 1,000 free tools, articles and entrepreneurs’ stories, visit

About EDC

Export Development Canada (EDC) is a financial Crown corporation dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage. As international risk experts, we equip Canadian companies with the tools they need – the trade knowledge, financing solutions, equity, insurance, and connections – to grow their business with confidence. Underlying all our support is a commitment to sustainable and responsible business. To help Canadian businesses facing extreme financial challenges brought on by the global response to COVID-19, the Government of Canada has expanded EDC’s domestic capabilities until December 31, 2021. This broader mandate will enable EDC to expand its support to companies focused domestically. For more information and to learn how we can help your company, call us at 1-800-229-0575 or visit

About Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub

Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) is a national network and accessible digital platform for sharing research, resources, and leading strategies. Led by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, in collaboration with Ryerson’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship and the Ted Rogers School of Management, WEKH has ten regional hubs across Canada and is leading a team of researchers, business support organizations, and key stakeholders to create a more inclusive and supportive environment to grow women’s entrepreneurship in Canada.

About Carleton University

Located in the nation’s capital, Carleton University is a dynamic research and teaching institution with a tradition of leading change. Its internationally recognized faculty, staff and researchers provide more than 30,000 students from every province and more than 100 countries around the world with academic opportunities in more than 65 programs of study, including public affairs, journalism, engineering, high technology and international studies. Carleton’s creative, interdisciplinary and international approach to research has led to many significant discoveries and creative works. As an innovative institution, Carleton is uniquely committed to developing solutions to real-world problems by pushing the boundaries of knowledge and understanding daily. 

About The Beacon Agency 

The Beacon Agency is a strategic consulting firm that advises clients in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. They have a special focus on working with innovative brands to make the good they do count. Headquartered in Ottawa, it is led by award-winning entrepreneur Janice McDonald.