New Research Shows Women Entrepreneurs Benefiting from Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy and Women Business Ownership Holding Steady

Eight diverse women smiling and posing for the camera at an event.
(L to R) Shannon Pestun, senior advisor, business & finance, WEKH; Tania Saba, BMO Chair in Diversity and Governance, and professor, Université de Montréal; Magnolia Perron, Indigenous women and youth program manager, National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association; Nadine Spencer, CEO, BrandEQ Group; Rechie Valdez, Minister of Small Business; Dr. Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director, Diversity Institute and WEKH; and academic research director, Future Skills Centre; Vicki Saunders, founder and CEO, Coralus; and Sabine Soumare, executive director, WEKH, pose together at an event to launch the preliminary findings of WEKH’s State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada report in Toronto on March 18, 2024. (Photo credit: Alexander McAvoy/Diversity Institute)

March 18, 2024, Toronto, ON: Today, the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), released preliminary findings from its annually produced State of Women’s Entrepreneurship (SOWE) In Canada report at an event featuring the Honourable Rechie Valdez, Minister of Small Business, and attended by more than 100 diverse women entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurship ecosystem partners from across Canada. 

Averaging the quarterly Canadian Survey on Business Conditions reports, WEKH researchers estimate that in 2023 18.4% of businesses, including small, medium and large businesses, are majority owned by women. (Small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] account for 99.8% of these.) In 2022, based on averages, they estimated that 18% of businesses were majority-owned by women. Previous research showed that 16.8% of SMEs in 2020 were majority women-owned, an increase from 15.6% in 2017.  

Canada’s $7 billion Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) aims to increase women-owned businesses’ access to financing, networks and expertise to start up, scale up and access new markets. Results from surveying 510 women in the WES program show that more than three-quarters of respondents (76.6%) reported that they participated in new industries following their engagement in WES. They also reported increased participation in innovation (65.9%), including new business processes and models, products and services, and sustainability practices. More than one-half (52.2%) of WES participants formed new support networks; 43.2% gained new advisors and 41.3% networked with other entrepreneurs in the same industry.

“Canada consistently ranks among the top nations in the world on indexes that measure women’s entrepreneurial activity and supporting conditions. Our research along with other global indicators shows that Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is an important and effective initiative which uses a diversity lens to understand systemic barriers and develop effective strategies among all government departments— including agriculture, infrastructure, environment and more—to unlock opportunities to advance women entrepreneurs, particularly those with intersectional identities,” said Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director of the Diversity Institute and WEKH.

Other preliminary findings from this year’s SOWE report show advancements and continued barriers for women entrepreneurs:

  • Canadian women were more engaged in total early-stage entrepreneurial activities compared to the global average (14.8% vs 10.1%).
  • Over 80% of women entrepreneurs are self-employed and women are 37.2% of the self-employed population.
  • Women entrepreneurs lag behind men entrepreneurs in earnings, with 37.1% of women entrepreneurs earning less than $50,000 annually compared to 31.7% of men entrepreneurs; and 10.9% of women entrepreneurs earning more than $150,000 compared to 14.8% of men entrepreneurs.
  • Women entrepreneurs are more likely to adopt sustainability initiatives than are men entrepreneurs. Over one-third (33%) of women-owned businesses work to reduce waste.
  • Indigenous businesses are majority-owned by women at a higher rate than the Canadian population (24.7%).
  • Around 19.2% of small businesses in Canada are majority-owned by racialized individuals.
  • 47.5% of women-owned businesses had all their employees trained in the necessary skills for their business compared to 41.9% of all businesses.

Cukier also stressed that while Canada leads in supporting equity-deserving entrepreneurs, “Canadian policy still favours the ‘too big to fail’ over the ‘too small to see.’ Policies and investments are often based on a view that larger enterprises and high-tech firms are the best route to producing well-paying jobs, maximizing return on investment, and increasing government tax revenues. However, unlike the U.S., the majority of Canadians work for SMEs. Investing in diverse entrepreneurs and SMEs generally is essential not only for Canada to stay competitive, create jobs and grow the economy, but also to advance our sustainable development goals.”

WEKH, which is supported by the WES, produces the SOWE report annually, synthesizing new research on women entrepreneurship in Canada to inform policy and practice. It tackles barriers, enablers and progress, and spans sectors and regions.

For more information, please contact:

Kathleen Powderley, 416-803-5597, [email protected]