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$5.5 Billion Investment Required To Prevent Collapse of Emerging Women’s Entrepreneurship Sector

woman standing against a wrecking ball
Photo by Federico Caputo / Alamy Stock Photo

Monday, April 12: The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) released an emergency task force report calling for $5.5 billion to support women entrepreneurs — a sector disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“Let’s get real about this: women-owned and -led businesses are integral to Canada’s economic recovery,” says Nancy Wilson, CanWCC’s founder and CEO. “Forget leaning in — we need support to lean on as we start and scale our businesses.”

The independent task force calls for $5.5 billion in renewed funding in the 2021 federal budget for the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy; $500 million in recovery funding targeting Black, Indigenous, racialized and mature (over 40) women entrepreneurs; and the expansion of the Canada Recovery Benefit program for self-employed and startup founders left without basic income because of the pandemic.

The task force also recommends creating an inter-ministerial committee to better address the needs of all women in the economy and break down silos that currently exist between the Ministry for Women and The Gender Economy (WAGE); Industry Canada/Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED); Ministry of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade; and the Ministry of Finance.

The report, supported by leaders in the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, was developed as a response to lack of inclusion in the “Task for on Women in the Economy” and the cross-ministry feminist pandemic recovery budget process, as well as deepening concerns that the federal government “still doesn’t get” women entrepreneurs.

Who are Women Entrepreneurs?

The newly released State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada (March 21) report by Ryerson’s Diversity Institute paints a clear picture of the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and the lives of its precarious income-based participants.   

In a nutshell, the sector’s enterprises are like a million atoms that are intricately networked. In some provinces, long established women’s enterprise institutions act as supportive lenders, skills educators and data gatherers for policy makers. Some find affinity in publicly funded incubators and accelerators. But the majority of women entrepreneurs are left to resource themselves. They have created more than 180+ unfunded, regional, grassroots, mutual-aid support networks.  

Women entrepreneurs tend to build businesses in care-economy sectors and operate them in relational, innovative, inclusive, generative ways that aim to lift up their communities — not just themselves. Their enterprises may be micro when measured in dollars, but powerhouses when full and indirect impact is considered.

On average, a woman entrepreneur, once established, earns $68,000 gross per year. Their male counterparts earn 58 per cent more — a truly cringe-worthy pay gap.

Only 15.6 per cent (114,000) of all small to medium incorporated enterprises in Canada are majority owned by women; more than 92 per cent of these enterprises are defined as “micro-firms” with less than 20 employees. Another 37.4 per cent (1 million+) of women entrepreneurs are self-employed.  

Though small, this sector can have financial clout. According to a 2017 McKinsey study, an investment in women entrepreneurs could result in up to $150 billion (or about 31 times what the task force calls for) in economic growth for the Canadian economy. The report noted that “This projected increase was 6 per cent higher than business-as-usual GDP growth forecasts over the next decade. Put another way, this figure is equivalent to adding a new financial services sector to the economy.”

Eager to boost this potential, the government invested $5 billion in a Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) program in 2019. According to task force participants, this investment has had tremendous impact. However, those gains are in danger of being completely lost — not just set back — due to the pandemic’s disproportionate, multi-layered impact on all women.

Since COVID-19, more than a quarter of all women-owned firms laid off 80 per cent or more of their contractors, freelancers, employees.

Paulina Cameron, serial entrepreneur and now CEO of The Forum, a women’s enterprise support charity in Vancouver, says she is frustrated. 

“Government supports are still built around our understanding of the way men built companies in the 1990’s. The hard line between for profit, public and nonprofit policy no longer makes sense. Women entrepreneurs increasingly design enterprises that ignore these boundaries. We learned this past year that women entrepreneurs play a significant yet unseen role building social well-being and economic resilience — we are going to need a whole lot more of that in the coming decade.” 

Janice Bartley, Founder of Foodpreneur Lab

Why Were Women Entrepreneurs Left Out of Covid Relief?

Most small to medium enterprises (SME) COVID-19 relief programs focused on larger firms, which excluded the vast majority of women entrepreneurs.  Like women wage earners, women entrepreneurs were also crushed by shouldering the majority of unpaid care and home-schooling work during the pandemic.

According to a recent study on Black and Indigenous women entrepreneurs, 78 per cent face barriers to accessing financing in addition to racialized oppression by institutions including banks, incubator and accelerator programs.

Janice Bartley, a Black woman, serial entrepreneur and founder of Foodpreneur Lab,  took on side gigs to pay bills for the past two years, even though her enterprise was on the verge of providing her with an income. 

Then COVID-19 hit.

“We were in the process of negotiating some significant contracts including a college — which would have really helped us launch — but because of COVID-19, they fell through.”

Like many, Bartley’s enterprise was not big enough to benefit from small business COVID-19 support initiatives. Most of the loan programs are beyond reach for founders who don’t have net worth (say in home ownership) to fulfil the personal guarantee requirements.

“I think any founder knows that there’s going to be financial risk involved in starting and growing a business,” says Bartley. “And I think there’s a willingness for us to do that, as long as there’s some supports to help survive things like a pandemic.” 

two quotes, two women, purple background

Women Entrepreneurs Are a Good Bet — So Why So Little Money on the Table?

Preliminary research shows incredible returns on investments, says Wendy Cukier, Director of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute, “even in loan programs targeting women, whether measuring job creation or social impact.” She notes that the “WES initiative has strengthened the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and we are starting to see the results. However, if we allow these initiatives to wither and new seedling businesses to die, we should not be surprised to see negative economic and social consequences.”

So why are women entrepreneurs often overlooked by mainstream programs and financing? Cukier says it’s often because of how “innovation and entrepreneurship are framed.”

The CanWCC independent task force has put forward compelling evidence that a $5.5 billion investment in women’s entrepreneurship would go a long way to ensuring momentum gained in the past few years is not forever lost. 


Publishers Note: pk mutch, contributor and LiisBeth publisher is a board member at the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) and transparently supports their vision, mission and mandate. Mutch was also a task force member. 

Resources/Sources:

Download the full CanWCC report here

Access the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship 2020 report here. 

Read the Feminist Recovery Plan for Canada here. 

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LIISBETH DISPATCH #49

Photo: Jose Coelo, Stocksy

VIEWPOINT 

Don’t look now, but International Women’s Day (IWD) is only five weeks away. Planning is well under way.

Last week, I received a call from a Canadian subsidiary of a $1B+ publicly traded, global behemoth company. They were looking for a keynote speaker and someone to run a workshop on a subject befitting a day that is about gender equity. 

I was eager to pursue the opportunity.

Before returning the call, I checked them out and was impressed with the corporation’s commitment to gender equity in the workplace. Their Europe-based CEO was a four-year and counting “He for She” impact champion. They had been recognized by Women in Governance, received a 2018 Parity Certification and have a global family leave policy. They had an active foundation doing what appears to be meaningful work.

In short, the company sounded amazing.

I spoke with the enthusiastic, all-female organizing committee to get details and see if there was an overall fit. They told me they were looking for something that would align with their “Dare to Disrupt” theme for the day. Ideally, a 40-minute motivational talk plus questions and possibly a  follow on workshop for 60+ staff. It was to be an all-gender event. To hit the mark, the talk needed to mesh with the culture of the organization. They wanted a speaker who could inspire, motivate and ensure that women employees would be left feeling confident and empowered. Why? Improved employee satisfaction, retention and brand reputation.

In other words, they were looking to bring in the Holy Trinity for a day and deliver a corporate miracle.

They also expected this–pro-bono.”  

With unpaid labour being one of the issues for women everywhere, does anyone else find it ironic that a company who touts their support of women can’t pay an entrepreneurial woman for her work—on International Women’s Day?

As IWD approaches, a lot of corporate and institutional committees will be looking to demonstrate their support for gender equity. They will be sourcing dynamic entrepreneurial, “disrupter” women of all backgrounds to speak on panels, or as keynote presenters at a variety of IWD events…often without real compensation. Those magical “exposure dollars” don’t help to pay staff, the rent, or buy groceries. Unlike their salaried sisters, entrepreneurs work without extended healthcare benefits and are ineligible for the same social safety nets that even minimum wage salaried people enjoy, like employment or disability insurance, paid sick days, or maternity leave (not eligible if you own more than 40% of your company)…

Preparing kick-ass content takes time. It requires research. Preparation. And taps into years of hard-won expertise and, likely, some personal cost along the way. Like vampires, these “exposure” gigs feed off the blood of your story. Your experience. Your soul. Leaving you with nothing more than a swag bag and a shout-out on Twitter.

This year, let’s say no. Not just as individuals, but as a community. I know it’s tough out there. But it’s only going to get tougher if we don’t push back. It’s time we send a message.

If an enterprise wants to benefit from your expertise, or get their shine on by asking you to speak without pay to honour IWD, tell them that you have just signed a petition denouncing unpaid labour and are too busy working to stop the exploitation of women, trans, and queer entrepreneurs to oblige.

Sincerely,

THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH 

Feminists at Work : Illustration by J.J. Steeves

Ever wonder what the three most popular articles on LiisBeth were in 2018? Drum roll please….

1. Woman is Wolf to Woman, by Maria Basualdo, published August 9
2. How to Unlock Billions of Unrealized Growth Led by Women Entrepreneurs, by PK Mutch, published October 17
3. Another Brick in the Wall: Anti-Feminists in Canada, by CV Harquail, published March 15

And here is what’s coming in February…

Liisbeth is about to get even better.

We have recently updated our editorial strategy for 2019.

The new acquisition strategy will prioritize queries and articles that offer insights and practical advice about how to operate as a feminist entrepreneur.

In anticipation of a material increase in reader donations, we commit to dedicating these funds towards increasing the number of profiles and well researched, hard-hitting issue oriented essays we publish.

We will continue to work with both emerging and experienced writers and source 20% of our content from outside of Canada.  We we are looking to add several new contributors to work with us in 2019.

We pledge to ensure our content is global in nature.

We begin implementing our new plan with our February refresh line up. Watch for a sex-positive playlist by Sadé Powell, a feminist look at the billion dollar content marketing industry, and a profile we know you will love!  Watch for release dates on @liisbethhq.

2019 is the Chinese zodiac Year of the Pig.
In Chinese culture, pigs are the symbol of wealth.
Pigs, we ain’t. We need your help.

LiisBeth is open access and relies 100% on reader donations. Our impact is measurable. So if social justice and economic transformation are on your intentions and gratitude list this year, here’s your chance to donate.

If you find our content of value professionally, we hope you will consider contributing to us on Patreon. Each online magazine refresh and newsletter takes a community to create and disseminate.
We have 2,000+ subscribers, but less than 30% contribute financially.

LIISBETH FIELD NOTES 

WHERE’S MY MONEY

Remember the Canadian Women’s Entrepreneurship (WES) Fund Grant?

We called the Ministry of Small Business and Export Promotion to find out what’s up. They were quick to respond. Recipients will be contacted in March and announcements made soon after.  Cash however, won’t flow until contracts are crafted and signed. Likely April through June. Stay tuned. And run to the bank as soon as you get your first instalment. It’s an election year. As those of us in the United States, and now Ontario, know all too well, programs advancing women can be cancelled with the stroke of a new leader’s pen.

How Emily Hustles 

We could all take a few lessons from Emily Mills, founder of “How She Hustles”, a vibrant network of diverse women that connects through social media and special events, each with up to 400 guests, in Toronto.

For eight years, How She Hustles has hosted a range of buzz-worthy events, including: a wildly popular women’s brunch and a pop-up shop exclusively for women-led startups, and seasonal networking events.

How She Hustles led the creation of HERstory in Black, a digital photo series of 150 black women as seen on CBC. The project earned the attention of the Prime Minister on social media, received national press coverage, became a one-hour TV documentary, led to an unprecedented celebration at the CBC Broadcasting Centre, and earned the prestigious CBC President’s Award.

February is Black History Month. 

You can catch Mills as the MC at the Ontario Black History Society Black History Month Kick-off Brunch and as a panelist at U of T’s Hart House Black Entrepreneurs & Visionaries Round Table.

The Fearless Girl statue was first installed on Broadway in March 2017 as a marketing campaign by State Street Global Advisors ( a division of State Street Corporation with over $2.8 trillion dollars under its management) in honour of International Women’s Day.

Mastering Finance is a Feminist Act 

The Fearless Girl statue was removed from her position facing the Wall Street bull, but that doesn’t mean feminist entrepreneurs should stop facing down the iconic “Charging Bull” –a symbol of 20th century capitalism if there ever was one.

While we take a conscious critical approach to how money is made, distributed and used, and bust our butts leveraging our enterprises to end oppressions generated by modern capitalism, we know money is fuel–at least for now.

To help you think about alternative streams of revenue for your enterprise, download this super useful “26 Sources of Revenue” checklist on Eve-Volution Inc (LiisBeth’s sister enterprise.)

It does not include non-monetary value streams–something feminist entrepreneurs include when assessing the weight of their enterprise, but it does offer 26 good ideas worth considering if generating more cash is a priority for you in 2019.

Photo: By Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC) celebrated its one year anniversary on January 23.

In co-founder Nancy Wilson’s address to the 50+ crowd, Wilson introduced the 2019  CanWCC advocacy agenda adding “Achieving gender equality requires a wholesale shift in mindset and social and cultural norms. It involves re-engineering the way we conceptualize gender itself.”

CanWCC is the only women-led/women-focused Chamber of Commerce in Canada. Up until their launch in 2018, Canada was one of the only countries in the world without a Chamber of Commerce specifically representing the interests of women in business.

Women’s March, Toronto, 2019

DID YOU MISS THE MARCH?

Hmm. By our estimate, at least 1,000+ people of all genders participated in this year’s Women’s March in Toronto, despite the fact that your fingertips froze in seconds if you took off your gloves. With blowing snow and -20C weather, not even pussy hats (of any color) could keep heads warm. Sure, this year’s number was down from 2017 (60,000) and 2018 (a few thousand, despite great weather), but don’t take that as a sign that the fight for equity is in any way slowing down. If not on the streets, feminists of all genders were in front of the fireplace—getting ready and laying down plans for advocacy work during a federal election year that will undoubtedly have the feminist agenda as a central issue.

Always wanted to learn how to bucket-drum and march at the same time? Who hasn’t? Hooray! Now’s your chance.

LiisBeth has partnered up with Women on the Move, The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and Harlow Studios to offer TWO marching bucket-drumming classes in time for the Toronto International Women’s Day march planned for March 8 in Toronto. Classes are open to all genders and ages. Tickets include bucket, strap, drumsticks, two lessons, snacks and refreshments—plus a whole lot of fun, as we work out our songs for the march. FEMINIST FREEBIE! LiisBeth subscribers (this is the honour system) receive 10% off the ticket price! Use discount code PARTNERPASS. Space is limited, so sign up soon.

We would LOVE to see a #drumforequity bucket-drumming corps form in your community. To help, we decided to videotape the classes and post them, once edited, on LiisBeth’s YouTube channel. We can’t be there to hold your hand (or your bucket) in person, but we can at least show you how it’s done.

IT’S 2019. IS IT SAFE TO CALL YOURSELF A FEMINIST? 

Well, 79M women in the U.S. apparently think so. For many years, Ms. magazine (owned by the Feminist Majority Foundation, based in the United States since 2001) has been tracking an important statistic: How many people who come out to vote identify as feminists? The recently released report based on the 2018 U.S. mid-term election voter survey shows another increase in the number of people (all genders) who identify as feminists.

Efforts to collect similar statistics in Canada in the past show that Canadian women still live largely in fear of the word—but Canadian men, not so much. Given that  women in the U.S. have Trump, while women in Canada have an openly feminist prime minister with a feminist budget, does anyone find that strange?

MORE FEMINIST FREEBIES FOR 2019!

Win 2 TIX to the February Spoken Lives Toronto event at Mustard Seed on February 25th (info below) when you complete ONE ACTION ITEM from our EFF top six takeaways here.

Tell us which one you did in an email to receive your FEMINIST FREEBIE.

IT’S JANUARY. WINTER IS HERE. 

DO THIS: Treat yourself to four minutes of artistic splendour.

“Work re-imagines the familiar image of people commuting to work as a moving portrait. This video is the result of the hard work and collaboration of many intelligent, strong and compassionate women, genderqueer and trans folks close to Charlotte, myself and our crew, who invited their friends, family and complete strangers to come together in support of one another with lovewarmth and hope.” – Fantavious Fritz, Director

NEW! LIISBETH STORY VOTE 

We asked, you answered. Tack! That’s “thank you” in Swedish.

Stay tuned for a Portrait of Swedish Feminist Initiative party leader, Gudrun Schyman, in the coming weeks.

For now, have a look at her 5-minute Q&A with Women Across Frontiers where she talks about the Feminist Initiative and how it differs from other global movements, and how Sweden, “a paradise of gender quality” has the same problems as other regions with women’s underrepresentation in business.

THE EFF BY NUMBERS!

 

WHAT WE’RE READING 

Nathan Schneider has written books about God, the Occupy movement, and now, the cooperative business. From the internet to service and care, more and more industries expect people to live gig to gig, while monopolistic corporations feed their spoils to the rich. But through years of in-depth reporting, Schneider reveals an alternative to the robber-baron economy hiding in plain sight. Everything for Everyone chronicles the cooperative movement and social revolution—from taxi cooperatives that are keeping Uber and Lyft at bay, to an outspoken mayor transforming his city in the Deep South.
A gifted writer, chronicling the world he and his compatriots are helping to make—spiritual, technological, and communal.”—Krista Tippett, host of On Being

If you’re in need of some art therapy…welcome to the antithesis of the “Dick and Jane” coloring book. A coloring book!
Girls Will be Boys Will be Girls is a funny and provocative deconstruction of traditional gender roles. 32 original illustrations with captions like “Calvin, baking is fun and all, but we can make a rad drum set out of these pots and bowls” and “Don’t let gender box you in” offer light-hearted, fun ways to deconstruct gender for both children and adults. The coloring book format is a subversive and playful way to examine how pervasive stereotypes about gender are in every aspect of our lives, especially the ones that are so ingrained we don’t even notice. Girls Will be Boys Will be Girls pokes fun at the tired constraints of gender normativity, and makes it okay to step outside the lines.

AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!

  • NEW! Oxfam Canada Report: A Feminist Approach to Women’s Economic Empowerment. Globally, women earn less than men and are trapped in the lowest paid and least secure jobs. Fundamentally, gender inequality and economic inequality are inextricably linked. Unless we tackle both, simultaneously, women’s economic empowerment (WEE) will be impossible. This report details practical examples of feminist support for WEE that can be replicated or scaled up. It makes recommendations for how Canada can adopt transformative feminist programming and policies. Read the report here.

  • December 2018 Profile of Ronit Avni, Founder of Localized, an online platform that connects students in emerging economies with mentors to help them gain the skills they need to succeed. Her top tip: Become fluent in the terminology investors use. Push back on unreasonable requests and don’t take money from people who are not aligned with your mission, company stage and vision. Read the full profile here.

  • Is the Women’s March falling forward or falling apart? Read this NY Times Op Ed and decide for yourself. Let us know what you think @LiisBethHQ

  • From Mat Leave to Successful Startup
    Eva Wong, Co-Founder and COO of Borrowell, a fintech company that helps Canadians make great decisions about credit, recently spoke on a leadership panel at CPA Ontario’s Women Inc. Conference, and said “confidence is a muscle that can be developed.” Featured in the PIVOT series from MaRS Discovery District, Wong is never without a smile. Perhaps part of her startup success? Watch the 2-minute video here.

  • A New Knowledge Centre!  In late 2018, the Ontario Trillium Foundation launched a new online commmunity which connects Ontario’s 14,000 non-profits to create relationships, share knowledge, and build capacity with each other and beyond their own backyard.  We checked it out. And, naturally, started a discussion group called “Entrepreneurial Feminism”. There is a lot of good information and tools on the site. We think it’s worth the time to sign up!

That brings us to the end of our January newsletter, the first of 2019! We are excited to continue providing you with original articles, news and views on entrepreneurship and innovation via a feminist lens.

That said, as you probably learned, last week, 1000s of journalists were laid off in the U.S. The Discourse’s recent study on the status of Canada’s media landscape reports that over 260 news outlets have closed in Canada in the past 10 years. In addition, analysis shows that women and women of colour continue to be underrepresented in media. This doesn’t look like it is likely to change anytime soon, given that the majority of new startup media companies created to fill the gap are founded by white men—not necessarily bad, but not great if what we are looking for is more diversity in news, media and culture production work.

With an election on the horizon, and women’s issues likely to be a central plank for all parties, we need women-owned/led, indie and feminist media more than ever before. 

LiisBeth is the only dedicated feminist business magazine on the planet.

To date, we have published 49 newsletters and 168 original feminist business practice stories along with advocacy pieces to help shine a light on this growing community. And we do this on a budget of just $2,500/month and a lot of volunteer admin work. In addition, we have mounted two Entrepreneurial Feminist Forums with our partner, Feminists At Work.

We have loved every minute of serving this community and others, working to advance gender and social justice.

That said, we still need your help! And we need more of it in 2019.

Did you know that out of 2,300+ subscribers, only 5% sign up to our monthly donor subscription plan?

Not everyone can speak out without risking their career. But we can. And we do. 

Subscribe today. Now. Here.

NamasteCheers, and Peace,