Report analyzes a decade of Indigenous women entrepreneurship in Canada

Offers recommendations to benefit Indigenous women, communities and the economy

December 10, 2020: The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) and Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) today released a report Breaking Barriers: A Decade of Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada which shows that Indigenous women-owned businesses in Canada are growing in terms of revenue and number of employees but continue to face existing and amplified barriers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Historically, there has been a lack of data on Indigenous entrepreneurs, specifically Indigenous women entrepreneurs,” said Tabatha Bull, President and CEO, CCAB. “Notably, this first-of-its-kind report found that Indigenous women entrepreneurs are contributing to the economy at an alarming rate and have immense potential.  Additionaly the data proves that they put a high value on relationships with communities and are more likely to employ Indigenous people. Finding ways to support these businesses – including continued research – will have major benefits to  Indigenous women, communities, and the Canadian economy.”

Key findings of the report:

  • Indigenous women make up 40% of self-employed Indigenous people, while all self-employed non-Indigenous women in Canada make up 36% of self-employed Canadians. 
  • While the majority of Indigenous women-owned businesses are sole-proprieters (60%), the percentage with employees other than themselves has nearly doubled in the last decade, up from 23% in 2010 to 42% in 2019.  
  • The proportion of Indigenous women-owned business respondents with revenue greater than $1 million has also doubled in recent years, from 4% in 2015 to 9% in 2019. 
  • The proportion of Indigenous women-owned businesses that are incorporated has also increased over time, from 17% in 2010 to 21% in 2019.
  • The report also provides comparison to Indigenous men-owned businesses. Notably, women-owned businesses are more likely to have; innovated by introducing new products and services (47% vs. 41%) or processes (34% vs. 31%),  exported to the US (32% vs 25%), and used traditional knowledge or traditional cultural expressions in their business (73% vs. 55%). 

Although Indigenous women entrepreneurs have made significant strides in the past decade, along with the information in this report, the impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous women entrepreneurs will be important to consider moving forward. Women-owned businesses continue to navigate   prevous barriers while facing new challenges brought on by the pandemic. CCAB’s recent report on the impacts of COVID-19 showed that Indigenous women entrepreneurs are more likely to experience a very negative impact than Indigenous men-owned businesses and are less likely to have lending relationships with banks or financial institutions. 

“Indigenous women entrepreneurs continue to face systemic disadvantages such as access to services, financing, information, and basic infrastructure – and we know that many of these barriers are felt more heavily amid a global pandemic,” said Wendy Cukier, Founder of the Diversity Institute and WEKH research lead. “Yet, they are an important contributors to Canada’s innovation and the entrepreneurship ecosystem. While innovation is deeply embedded in Indigenous communities, it is often not recognized in the dominant discussions of innovation. Understanding the unique experiences, challenges and successes of Indigenous women entrepreneurs is essential to be able to provide data-driven reconciliation strategies and to better support their needs.” 

The report advises to support Indigenous entrepreneurs’ success, it is crucial for governments, financial institutions, non-profits, and the private sector to partner with and provide resources to Indigenous women entrepreneurs. The report also offers several recommendations:

  • Apply a gender lens to research on the impact of the COVID-19 on Indigenous businesses and tailor programs and strategies to support Indigenous women entrepreneurs. 
  • Continue to research strategies and motivations of Indigenous women in business so that appropriate resources and policies can be developed in collaboration with Indigenous women entrepreneurs. 
  • Ensure that financial institutions and government funding mechanisms provide equitable, flexible, and accessible funding options to Indigenous women-owned businesses. 
  • Create or invest in innovative approaches to meet the needs of Indigenous women entrepreneurs, including partnerships, crowdfunding, microgrants, customized counselling, mentoring and sponsorship. 
  • Create Indigenous and women-focused procurement strategies that are measured, tracked, and reported annually. 
  • Recognize Indigenous methods of innovation, processes, and services as legitimate strategies. Partner with Indigenous businesses to develop tools that support and protect the use of traditional knowledge. 
  • Invest in basic services, infrastructure, and broadband internet in Indigenous communities so that Indigenous women have the resources they need to run and grow their business. This will help to narrow many of the existing socioeconomic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians

About WEKH: 

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 Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business:

CCAB is committed to the full participation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s economy. As a national, non-partisan association, its mission is to promote, strengthen and enhance a prosperous Indigenous economy through the fostering of business relationships, opportunities, and awareness.  CCAB offers knowledge, resources and programs to its members to cultivate economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples and businesses across Canada. For more information visit

For more information, please contact: Kathleen Powderley, Responsible Communications, 416-803-5597, [email protected] or Amanda Charles,  Communications Associate, CCAB, [email protected], 647-289-2753