Women entrepreneurs’ innovations need to be recognized
Women entrepreneurs contribute billions of dollars to the Canadian economy and to the communities in which they live. Our recently released national study, Everywhere, Everyday Innovating – Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation examined how and where women entrepreneurs are innovating in Canada. Riding in planes, trains and automobiles, we crossed the country to interview 146 entrepreneurs in all sectors and regions ranging from startups to high growth companies. We took in the beauty of the country’s regional differences while hearing the accounts of risk-takers who forgo pensions and security to chase their entrepreneurial goals.
The stories we heard were powerful. Themes emerged. The constants were resilience, passion and ingenuity as well as frustration. Financial institutions, incubators and accelerators and closed business networks were typical sources of frustration. We heard that sexism is alive and well in many business encounters. As one entrepreneur said about sexism, “Get used to it. It doesn’t make it ok, but you need to get used to it.” Racism for Indigenous women entrepreneurs is an everyday experience. Despite these and other challenges, women entrepreneurs and Indigenous women entrepreneurs are innovating throughout their businesses. As one entrepreneur told us, “If you don’t innovate, you die.” Another said, “Innovation is the implementation of an idea, not just coming up with it.” rnfortunately, their innovation often goes unrecognized.
We tend to equate innovation only with technology. The OECD and Canada 2020 definition of innovation is broad and yet, because innovation is perceived as technological, women entrepreneurs’ significant contribution to Canada’s innovation is unrecognized. This means they are often ineligible for grants and other opportunities offered to technology-focused companies. This is a mistake.
Budget 2018, with its focus on equality and growth, was the first complete gender budget in Canada. It included a strategy for women
entrepreneurs. This is good news indeed. We welcome the 1.4 billion given to BDC for loans to women entrepreneurs. With access to capital an ongoing challenge, this money is an important step in the right direction. Funding was also increased for regional development agencies to continue to build and strengthen regional opportunities for women in recognition of the regional differences that do exist. This is helpful as well.
Overall, we’re encouraged that many of our recommendations helped to shape the women entrepreneurs’ strategy in the budget. Women entrepreneurs were heard and their needs addressed. Now, there is a clear pathway laid out in the budget for advancing women entrepreneurs. The next step is crucial; implementation. For it to be successful, government cannot do it alone. It needs partners who are committed to ensuring a better way forward for women entrepreneurs. Key stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem need to work together. This includes financial institutions. They play a critical role in changing their approaches to better reflect the needs of women entrepreneurs. Women’s business networks and the women themselves all have a role to play. With all partners in the ecosystem working together, there is a greater likelihood of success. The time to make this happen is now.
Janice McDonald is the Founder The Beacon Agency and Clare Beckton is Executive in Residence with Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work.