The state of women’s entrepreneurship in Canada examined in new Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub research report

Rates of women entrepreneurship remain steady and in the face of unprecedented challenges, women entrepreneurs remain optimistic and have continued to exhibit great resilience and innovation according to an analysis of existing and new research released today in The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship 2022 report by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), which is led by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and one of the pillars of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.

The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development participated in an event to launch the report and announced  a new contribution agreement totaling $4.25 million to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), which is led by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and one of the pillars of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a now $6-billion program to advance women’s economic empowerment.

The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development said, “we know that women entrepreneurs have been facing systemic barriers long before the pandemic. As we support women entrepreneurs and business owners with our $6 billion Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, we are ensuring that our efforts are data-driven, and that best practices are shared across the country. Through the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), we are providing a one-stop source of knowledge, data, and best practices to help women entrepreneurs across the country succeed.

Women continue to be drawn to entrepreneurship. The proportion of majority women-owned businesses (over 50% of a business’s ownership) among all  small and medium enterprises (SMEs) has steadily grown hitting 16.8 percent in 2020. However, the number of self-employed women in Canada peaked at 1,065,200 in 2019, or 37.2 percent of all self-employed individuals, before falling to 982,600, or 36.8 percent in 2021. Over the long-term, from 1976 to 2020, the proportion of self-employed increased from 26.3 percent to 37.8 percent or more than 1 million.

Women entrepreneurs are also showing high-growth and earning potential. The number of new start-ups with a valuation of more than US$1 billion (unicorns) in Canada with women-founders has almost doubled since 2019 and the gap in exporting between men and women entrepreneurs has almost closed.

Yet, barriers to growth still exist for women entrepreneurs and the pandemic hit their businesses harder. For example, during the first quarter of 2021, fewer majority women-owned businesses remained fully operational, compared to other businesses. More (38.5 percent) majority women-owned businesses had laid off at least one employee since the beginning of the pandemic, and 71.9 percent of those who laid off employees had reduced their workforce by at least half.

The economic impact of the pandemic is exacerbated for Indigenous, Racialized and Black women entrepreneurs and those who are in rural areas. However, case studies from organizations that support women entrepreneurs reinforce the positive impact of investing in women entrepreneurs and suggest that the return on these investments is more consistent and the risk much lower compared to other programs.

“Entrepreneurship is a pathway to economic growth and an inclusive ecosystem is critical to supporting diverse women entrepreneurs and women entrepreneur are also more likely to help advance environmental and social goals,” said Wendy Cukier, founder of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and academic research lead of WEKH. “When we develop policies and programs we must apply a gender and diversity lens. Most of our entrepreneurial financing and support systems were designed by men for men.”

Report author, Wendy Cukier, provides several recommendations in the report to support women entrepreneurship and the ecosystem that support them including:

  • Continue to collect granular, disaggregated, and intersectional data on women entrepreneurs who are self-employed and majority owners of SMEs across sectors;
  • Apply a gender and diversity lens to government policies and programs with an eye to identifying how diverse women are impacted and how to better meet their needs;
  •  Challenge stereotypes and embedded bias at all levels, reconsider framing of economic development and innovation goals and ways in which impact is measured
  •  Continue to strengthen targeted program as well as outreach and program navigation support;
  • Consider mechanisms to strengthen access to financing at all levels, including regulatory frameworks of voluntary codes to provide more accountability and transparency in the financial services sector
  • Invest in skills and capacity building for women entrepreneurs

The report provides an in-depth and intersectional review of the progress of Canadian women entrepreneurs including profiles and challenges of Black, Indigenous, Immigrant, 2SLGBTQ+ Entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs living with disabilities. It also provides insights and analysis of the ecosystem that supports women entrepreneurs and, for the second consecutive year reports on the impact of COVID-19 on women business owners.

The sponsors of this report include the Government of Canada and Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

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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.

For more information, please contact Kathleen Powderley, kathleen@responsiblecomm.ca, 416-803-5597

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