The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub releases annual research report and receives $5 million Government of Canada investment to support women’s economic empowerment

The Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, announced $5 million from Budget 2021 for 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. Minister Ng also shared WEKH’s new The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2021 which provides an in-depth and intersectional review of the progress of Canadian women entrepreneurs, the ecosystem that supports them and, this year, included the impact of COVID-19 on women business owners.

The report shows the limitations and impact to women entrepreneurs during the pandemic were disproportionate to their male counterparts, experiencing a greater loss of revenue exacerbated by the additional burden of domestic and care work. However, despite the multitude of challenges experienced by women entrepreneurs, they have continued to demonstrate ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity.  

The report recommendations highlight that as Canada slowly emerges from the pandemic, women entrepreneurs will need targeted support to ensure that their businesses can survive the ongoing economic threat of the pandemic and resume growth thereafter.

“Entrepreneurship is a pathway to economic growth, and an inclusive ecosystem is critical to supporting diverse women entrepreneurs,” said Wendy Cukier, founder of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and academic research lead of WEKH. “It’s very important that when we develop policies and support and financing programs that we use an intersectional lens.” 

The report’s recommendations reflect a deep dive analysis of the differences between women and men entrepreneurs and between other women business owners. The report highlights that women entrepreneurs have different characteristics than men entrepreneurs – they are more likely to have a higher level of education, own smaller businesses, work in different sectors, and own slower-growing companies. However, there are substantial regional and sectoral differences, as well as intersectional divisions. By adopting a gender and intersectional lens, this report outlines some of the key barriers and opportunities women face in Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape:

  • The impact of COVID-19 is highly gendered
  • The way we define entrepreneurs matters for inclusiveness
  • More inclusive finance means more diverse entrepreneurs
  • “What gets measured gets done”
  • Advance the skills agenda to advance women entrepreneurs
  • Stereotypes around the representation of entrepreneurs need to be challenged
  • Diversity and inclusion should be advanced from the ecosystem. 

“The way we define entrepreneurs matters,” said Cukier. “Changing definitions would greatly affect measures being used by governments, financial institutions, business intermediaries, and incubators. When these organizations use a broader definition of entrepreneur, they include more women, especially Black, Indigenous, racialized, immigrants, women with disabilities and LGBTQ2S+.”

In addition to WEKH’s core research on women entrepreneurs and WEKH’s focus on organizations supporting women entrepreneurs, the extensive WEKH network of over 250 partners—including researchers, business support organizations and key industry leaders is also focusing on understanding the barriers in the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem across financial institutions, incubators, service organizations and more, with a particular focus on racialized, Indigenous and Black communities, Francophone business support organizations, persons with disabilities and other under-represented groups. 

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