Growing Their Own Way: High-Growth Women Entrepreneurs in Canada

Women’s representation at the helm of high-growth firms is an important means of increasing their overall inclusion in the labour force and ensuring that Canada benefits from the innovations they have to offer. Women entrepreneurs are also more likely to be involved in social enterprise; finding ways to enhance their scaling efforts thus offers broad social benefits beyond any one firm’s profitability. Despite the importance of women’s inclusion as leaders of high-growth firms, women remain underrepresented and under-financed within this phase of growth.

This report examines the experiences of 30 women entrepreneurs in Canada as they scaled their high-growth firms with the goal of better understanding the challenges and opportunities facing this important population. It offers a summary of what we heard from entrepreneurs across the country as well as recommendations for governments and policymakers, financial institutions and other funders, business support organizations and other stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem seeking to better serve high-growth women entrepreneurs.

Participants shared insights into the factors that helped them grow as well as persistent challenges they faced throughout the high-growth phase. We outline the divergent pathways that women entrepreneurs in our study followed to achieve high growth, and the ways that such entrepreneurs approach planning their organizations’ growth to accommodate their life-course and lifestyle.

We heard from interviewees about system-wide barriers they have overcome and continue to confront along their growth journeys, including stereotypes about women entrepreneurs and perceptions of women’s confidence and risk-taking. Participants also highlighted persistent issues related to access to funding that make it difficult for high-growth enterprises to access the capital they desperately need to grow. They also described how systemic bias against enterprises with a social benefit or orientation hinders women from both doing well, in an economic sense, and doing good, in the sense of one’s social, environmental, and other impacts.

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