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March 29, 2021
Women Entrepreneurs in 2021

In honour of March being women’s history month and in the spirit of ‘choosing to challenge’ we would like to shed some light on both the importance of, and barriers to, women’s entrepreneurship.

Choose to Challenge

The theme for International Women's Day this year (which took place on March 8th) is “choose to challenge”. By choosing to challenge gender inequality, a more inclusive and more prosperous world can be realized. In honour of March being women’s history month and in the spirit of ‘choosing to challenge’ we would like to shed some light on both the importance of, and barriers to, women’s entrepreneurship. The goal in Canada as outlined in the government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy is to double the amount of women-led businesses by 2025; however, the COVID-19 pandemic and the pervasiveness of gender inequality have presented new challenges in reaching this target. This is despite 85% of Canadian women expressing interest in potentially starting their own business.

Woman cleaning the house looking tired

Barriers to Women's Entrepreneurship

It is an understatement to say that women-identifying entrepreneurs face a myriad of unique challenges in their entrepreneurial endeavours, which helps to explain why in Canada, women own only 16% of businesses. Through the costs of childcare, gender-based violence, lack of access to paternity leave, lack of self confidence and role models, women entrepreneurs experience challenging barriers that can lead to a systemic cycle of poverty.  First and foremost, women entrepreneurs also carry the heavy burden of unpaid domestic labour and care work. Oxfam's 2020 Time to Care Report notes that the monetary value of unpaid care work globally for women aged 15 and over is at least $10.8 trillion annually, three times the size of the world’s tech industry. Similarly, women face huge barriers to accessing affordable childcare. The gender pay gap also exists due to gender-based discrimination and women’s work being valued as less; the gap exists in every industry and occupation. Within entrepreneurship, Canadian women who start businesses make 58% less than their male counterparts.

Mom working from home with small children

COVID-19 and the Crisis of Women's Entrepreneurship

Although the fatality rate from COVID-19 is higher for men than women, the pandemic continues to impact women at a higher rate in all aspects of life including work and homelife.  The COVID-19 pandemic has also compounded existing barriers and created new barriers for women entrepreneurs. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has described the current economic situation as a “she-cession,” meaning that women were having a harder time returning to work due to childcare issues and they often work in the services sector, which generally requires face-to-face interaction.  A survey conducted by the BDC’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub collected data and input on how COVID-19 has uniquely affected women entrepreneurs. This report identified many main areas of how the pandemic has intersected with existing patriarchal structures to constrain women’s entrepreneurship. Firstly, the focus on SME’s with employees often excludes many women that are solo entrepreneurs or self-employed without employees; Women are majority owners of 15.6% of SME owners with employees but 38% of self-employed Canadians. Women-owned businesses are often smaller and sometimes not incorporated, which prevents women from accessing a lot of services or resources. Women entrepreneurs are also most prevalent in manufacturing and technology sectors, which are sectors that have been most adversely affected by the pandemic. In the same vein, Only 11.2% of majority women-owned SMEs export, compared to 12.2% of majority male-owned SMEs.

This same survey found that while women founders disproportionately represent the amount of new start-ups launched, women are more likely to start a business or become self-employed from non-employment (as opposed to currently being employed). Relatedly, STEM based innovation, R&D, and commercialization is heavily dominated by men and men are the overwhelming recipients of innovation supports. Most concerning is that only a small percentage of women-owned companies receive venture capital or investor funding (while men are four times more likely to receive this support); women are much more likely to self-finance or rely on grants. Crunchbase News also reported that globally, the amount of venture capital funding going to women dropped 27% from 2019 to 2020. Women entrepreneurs also face unique challenges in digital adaptation and accessing technological innovation for their businesses, which is more problematic as a result of the pandemic. Additionally, women entrepreneurs have been forced to assume significantly more household and childcare responsibilities as a result of the pandemic, which has had dire impacts on their productivity, leisure time, stress levels and health.

Women also face unique challenges with respect to their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Gender-based violence has also increased due to the pandemic.  COVID-19 has led to a 50% increase in calls to the Gillian's Place crisis line and 62% more requests from the Gillian’s place community service staff.  Overall, women’s mental health is at a low-point within our communities due to lack of access to mental health support. Women entrepreneurs also oftentimes struggle with Imposter Syndrome, which is the psychological belief that one’s accomplishments are not earned and the internalized feeling that one is a ‘fraud’. This limits women entrepreneurs in many significant ways.

Women's Entrepreneurship in Niagara

Woman delivering online training

Spark Niagara and the Niagara Women’s Entrepreneurship Centre are partnering to create the Niagara Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.  We offer an approach to supporting women entrepreneurs that promotes their entrepreneurship journeys from incubation, to acceleration and beyond. Part of this initiative also includes fully-funded seats for women to participate in entrepreneurship training.

To learn more about the Niagara Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, please email Andrea Wick at andreawick@nphcr.ca or visit https://www.nwec.ca/niagara-women-entrepreneur-ini...

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