I am just going to say it: Canada has a massive blind spot when it comes to the 1.5 million women entrepreneurs operating in this country. And it won’t change until women entrepreneurs wake up, organize, and demand to be taken seriously.
Time after time, policy-makers, startup gurus, and institutions seem to think that women who work for others (i.e., corporations) and women who found companies are one in the same.
News flash: they are not. While these two groups of women are sisters, women entrepreneurs have very different priorities.
The failure to recognize this difference and develop productive initiatives to address the needs of women entrepreneurs has long been highlighted in several task force reports over the past decade. The new McKinsey Global Institute report called The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Canada packs a powerful punch as it reveals the impact of the failure to act: $150 billion in overall lost economic potential in Canada alone. An estimated 40% of this lost potential is attributed to the state of women’s entrepreneurship in this country.
The report also says that at the present rate we’re going, it will take another 180 years for Canada to achieve gender parity in entrepreneurship. And, while there has been some progress for women in the workplace in terms of narrowing the wage gap, career advancement opportunities, and representation on private boards, the report concludes that extreme inequality still exists in just four out of 15 indicators: political representation, STEM education and occupations, and entrepreneurship.
Since 2008, conditions for women entrepreneurs have actually gotten worse, despite incredible spending on entrepreneurship and innovation support in the form of incubators, accelerators, and other programs galore across the country, at both provincial and federal levels. Why?
On the upside, Canada’s new “feminist” government seems to have the will to change this, though many are beginning to question its commitment. One only has to look at the composition of the much-lauded bi-national Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders launched by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and American presidential advisor and first daughter Ivanka Trump. The appointees (listed below) are all smart, accomplished, mostly white ladies. But how many are representative of mainstream owner/operator entrepreneurs, women who have funded and built new businesses from scratch?
Spoiler alert: The only one to have raised money for her own new venture is Ivanka Trump. Enough said.
Mainstream media coverage of women’s advancement tends to focus on the dearth of women on corporate boards, or the lack of career advancement in corporations and initiatives to address them such as the 30% Club or corporate internal male-female sponsorship programs.
The needs of our corporate sisters are real and important, but they dominate the agenda.
So how do we bring similar levels of attention to the issues that matter to women entrepreneurs?
I say it’s time women and other gender-minority entrepreneurs organize and use their own voices to advocate for systems change. We are 1.5 million strong, represent 16% (or 36% jointly owned) of all enterprises in Canada, and over $2 billion in GDP.
If not us, then who?