Take con­crete steps to close the gen­der gap

Women en­trepreneurs can boost our econ­omy, writes Prabha Mitchell

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION -

Saskatchewan is a prov­ince of firsts.

Medi­care, ATMS, air seed­ers, air am­bu­lances, wind tur­bines, even Girl Guide cook­ies — they all got their start here.

Women En­trepreneurs Saskatchewan (WESK) has just re­leased the first pub­lic re­port on women en­trepreneur­ship in Canada. What did we learn?

Only 13.7 per cent of small busi­nesses in Saskatchewan are ma­jor­ity fe­male-owned, com­pared to 15.7 per cent na­tion­ally and 17 per cent in the top two prov­inces, On­tario and B.C.

Forty-two per cent of women en­trepreneurs said fi­nanc­ing and ac­cess to cap­i­tal is their big­gest hur­dle. Not only are women busi­ness own­ers less likely to seek ex­ter­nal credit, they’re al­most twice as likely to be re­jected for a loan be­cause of in­suf­fi­cient col­lat­eral. We know un­der­cap­i­tal­ized busi­nesses fail. They have dif­fi­culty hir­ing em­ploy­ees, cre­at­ing new prod­ucts and ser­vices, and grow­ing.

Women en­trepreneurs lack net­works, men­tors and train­ing — three crit­i­cal driv­ers for busi­ness suc­cess. Twenty-seven per cent of fe­male en­trepreneurs who par­tic­i­pated in men­tor­ing pro­grams re­ported easy ac­cess to fund­ing, com­pared to 19 per cent over­all.

While women en­trepreneurs tend to be more ed­u­cated than men, they lag be­hind in STEM (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math) de­grees. For ev­ery four STEM grad­u­ates, there is only one woman — and only six per cent of tech founders are fe­male.

Im­mi­grants are much more likely to be­come en­trepreneurs than non-im­mi­grants. And fe­male small busi­ness own­ers are slightly more likely to be born out­side Canada than male own­ers (25 per cent vs. 20 per cent).

With 16 per cent of Saskatchewan’s pop­u­la­tion Indige­nous (com­pared to five per cent na­tion­ally), iden­ti­fy­ing and ad­dress­ing the bar­ri­ers Indige­nous women con­front in start­ing and grow­ing a busi­ness here is crit­i­cal.

So what can you do to close the gen­der gap?

Clos­ing the gen­der gap is an im­mense eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for us all, with the po­ten­tial to add $150420 bil­lion to the Cana­dian econ­omy by 2026.

Gov­ern­ment & Pol­icy-mak­ers: ■ WESK urges our provin­cial gov­ern­ment to cre­ate an Ac­tion Plan for Women En­trepreneurs to boost eco­nomic growth.

Founders, CEOS & Lead­ers:

Di­ver­sity boosts in­no­va­tion and growth. Re­cruit women as busi­ness part­ners. Hire tal­ented women. Cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to scale their busi­ness, ca­reer and skills. If you’re a male leader, “spon­sor” a woman en­tre­pre­neur. Cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to be men­tored or di­rectly men­tor women. If you’re a fe­male en­tre­pre­neur, be the men­tor you wish you had.

Boards: Set a tar­get to

■ re­cruit more women. Then start!

Lenders & In­vestors: Fund

■ women-owned busi­nesses. Make the terms fair. Talk to your team about con­scious and un­con­scious bias. Prabha Mitchell is the CEO of Women En­trepreneurs Saskatchewan.

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