Canada

Population: 
35,540,419
Number of Business Networks: 11
Number of Private Sector Initiatives: 7
Number of Government Services: 7
Labor Force Participation Rate: 
75

Introduction

Canada has long supported women’s economic empowerment through its domestic and international policies. Canada has a number of government departments, financial institutions, NGOs, business associations, and women-owned enterprises aimed at advancing the economic contributions of women, within Canada and beyond. More...

Canada has long supported women’s economic empowerment through its domestic and international policies. Canada has a number of government departments, financial institutions, NGOs, business associations, and women-owned enterprises aimed at advancing the economic contributions of women, within Canada and beyond. In 2013, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Canada 20th out of 136 world economies surveyed with respect to existing gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity, political participation, education and health.

For the past 20 years, Canada has experienced steady growth in the number of woman-owned enterprises. A 2011 report by the Telfer School of Management at Ottawa University found that the number of woman-owned enterprises is growing faster than the number of man-owned businesses, and overall, 16% of Canada’s SMEs are majority owned by a woman or women.  In 2013, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) estimated the contribution of women-owned enterprises as $130 billion in 2012, approximately seven percent of GDP of that year.

Also in Canada, there increasing policy emphasis on building legal, regulatory, and institutional foundations that empower women. Areas of activity include labor regulations and economic decision-making; job creation and support for efforts to establish, nurture, and grow viable women-led microbusinesses and SMEs; and promotion of demand-driven skills and knowledge among women so that they can take advantage of economic opportunities. In step with this proactive orientation, the gap between women and men in labor market participation has narrowed. In 2014, women represented 47.2 percent of the labor force, an increase from 37.1 percent in 1976, while men’s participation stood at 52.7 percent.

From 1976 to 2008, Canada’s rate of women’s employment rate rose by almost 20 percentage points, from 41.9 to 59.3 percent, compared to a decline of approximately 5 percent in the employment rate for men, from 72.7 percent to 68.1 percent, throughout the same period. At the same time, families with female breadwinners have almost quadrupled, from an 8 percent share in 1976 to over 31 percent in 2010.

Today, the majority of women in Canada continue to work in traditional female occupations, such as healthcare, administration, sales, and services.  Still, women have expanded their representation in professional fields traditionally dominated by men, such as in business and finance, medicine, and engineering – although they still constitute a minority. Women are also increasingly taking up managerial positions. In 2009, women comprised 37 percent of those employed as managers, a six percent increase from 1987.

Also in Canada, progress is being made in narrowing the wage gap. Statistics Canada found in a 2013 report that the wage gap has narrowed from women earning 77 percent of men in 1981 to women earning 87 percent of men.   When different factors such as industry, age, tenure and location are taken into account, women earned 92 percent of men in 2011.  Progress is especially evident among female earners with more education. Between 1976 and 2010, the median yearly earnings of men with full-time jobs barely moved, while the median earnings for females jumped by over 25 percent. In absolute terms, however, females still earn less. According to the OECD’s "Better Life Index," Canadian women in 2013 spend more time than men in caring for children, carrying out domestic work, and assisting senior family members. 

As detailed in this section, Canada offers numerous best practices for the development of female entrepreneurs. The examples set forth here do not represent a full account of Canada’s extensive activity; rather, they highlight those business networks, private-sector initiatives, and government services that have proven to be among the most active, impactful or far-reaching in terms of their engagement of women in business in the Canadian economy.

In recent decades, Canada has seen numerous business networks and communities flourish and provide increasingly comprehensive support to women entrepreneurs, at the local, provincial and economy-wide levels. Canada’s various networks build on and partner with existing resources, as well as address gaps that are not served by government services or private sector initiatives. These networks provide such opportunities as peer connections, training, technical assistance, mentoring, financial resources, access to credit and capital, and access to markets, including opportunities to market goods and services for federal government contracts.

Business networks in Canada address three primary areas of interest. First, networks are often formed to address the specific interests of individual communities within the economy’s diverse social fabric. For example, the representation of businesses owned by aboriginals and minorities remains low— accordingly, these enterprises engage in both formal and informal networks of individuals with shared interests. Also, nearly a quarter of female business owners in Canada were born outside of Canada—this holds promise as their businesses can foster greater avenues for capacity building with both domestic and international connections. Moreover, Canada has significant regional differences, and indeed different languages—English and French—predominate in different regions. Business networks drawn from these groups serve as an additional opportunity for further growth; within communities of interest, they allow for discussion of shared challenges, concerns, and opportunities.

Second, and in line with the general trend of Canada’s aging population, networks increasingly focus on young female entrepreneurs. As the distribution of female owners shifts to older cohorts, a higher share has more than 10 years of experience and a greater share of women-owned firms has existed for more than two years. These trends coincide with a drop in the number of younger firms. To engage younger entrepreneurs, business networks are expanding their reach through social media outlets including Facebook, LinkedIn, MeetUp and WhatsApp Messenger.

Last, many networks now work with the federal government and private sector partners to supplement policy initiatives focused on technology and international trade. This can be seen in the rise of business networks and programs that facilitate highly integrated networks to include various multilevel professionals and stakeholders in those sectors. In this way, they are better equipped to access to both domestic and global markets.

Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

Founded in 1996, Futurpreneur is a nonprofit organization that supports Canada’s young entrepreneurs and their enterprises. Futurpreneur provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners ages 18–39. The organization maintains a comprehensive ...more

WEOC is an association of organizations that support female entrepreneurs and woman-owned enterprises. WEOC’s members include: Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE), Quebec Women’s Network (...more

Networks that support women’s access to markets: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

Founded in 1976, CAWEE is a nonprofit, member-run association based in Toronto, Ontario. CAWEE represents professionals from a “range of disciplines, markets, and perspectives who are interested in helping build other members’ businesses and paying it forward.” CAWEE...more

Company of Women is a community of 420 members, who are women entrepreneurs and business professionals.  The network is active both online and in-person. There are currently four chapters: 1) Halton and Hamilton, 2) Toronto and Mississauga, 3) Waterloo, and 4) Aurora. ...more

Established in 1995 by Western Economic Diversification Canada, WEI is a business resource center that caters to women entrepreneurs who are starting or growing their business in Western Canada. WEI has offices in Manitoba, British...more

Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

Established in 2014, AWBEN is a nonprofit foundation that supports active and aspiring Aboriginal female entrepreneurs. The foundation provides its members with a spectrum of programs and resources which include a mentoring program, and training and webinars on...more

Established in 1930, BPW Canada works on expanding the professional and leadership potential of women in Canada through “education, awareness, advocacy, and mentoring within a supportive network.” BPW is a nonsectarian, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to...more

The Quebec Women’s Network is a business network that actively contributes to economic development and the professional growth of its members. Active for 32 years, the organization encourages members’ leadership skills and supports their professional development. RFAQ...more

Created in 2001, WIL is a domestic, nonprofit organization that committed to the leadership development of women across all career stages and backgrounds.  Since its launch, the group has invested over CAN$3.5 million (US$2.8 million) in encouraging female leadership...more

Networks that support women and innovation and technology: 

Established in 2005, CanWIT is a nonprofit trade association based in Ottawa that advocates for Canadian women in the technology sector. As a division of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance), the association supports...more

Established in 1991 and headquartered in Ottawa, WCT is a business network which helps women advance their careers in communications, digital media, and technology.   WCT harnesses its economy-wide network to provide members with one-on-one and cross-economy mentoring...more

Canada’s private-sector initiatives in the past have typically supplemented institutional reforms at the government level which aim to create business-enabling environments and promote activities  which can lower the political, social, and economic barriers to women’s participation in the economy. However, in recent years, and in line with Canada’s 2010 Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy, the private sector has seen a shift in its focus. Specifically, the private sector increasingly recognizes that while industry growth is a key factor in providing a healthier environment for women-owned and led enterprises, complex and independent issues still hold back the growth of women entrepreneurs. These issues require the private sector to address existing gaps in 1) management skills and knowledge; 2) access to capital; 3) sufficient and broad mentorship opportunities; 4) over-representation in low-productivity and low-growth sectors; and 5) restricted access to supply chains. An increase in the number of educational and entrepreneurial programs at high schools and universities are addressing some of these gaps. In addition, a variety of resources are increasingly available for women to access capital outside of private banking institutions through angel networks and other sources of equity.

Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

The Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders (GWEL) Scorecard, sponsored by Dell Inc. and produced by ACG Inc., is a new data driven diagnostic tool that identifies the impediments to high impact female entrepreneurship and introduces actionable steps that can be taken to...more

The SheEO accelerator program was launched in 2013 by entrepreneur Vicki Saunders to provide a ‘start up space’ for Canadian women.  The program recognized the need to help women entrepreneurs access capital, particularly in the face of systemic gender bias in the...more

WEConnect International in Canada identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women's business enterprises that are at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women.

WEConnect International has been active in Canada since the beginning of 2008...more

Initiatives that support women’s access to markets: 

The Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders (GWEL) Scorecard, sponsored by Dell Inc. and produced by ACG Inc., is a new data driven diagnostic tool that identifies the impediments to high impact female entrepreneurship and introduces actionable steps that can be taken to...more

Established in 2014, WBE Canada offers Canadian women entrepreneurs the opportunity to qualify as “majority women-owned businesses.” It does so by certifying firms that are at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by women and introduces them to opportunities...more

Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

The Rotman School of Management in the University of Toronto established its Initiative for Women in Business in 2008, which is committed to “strengthening the female talent pipeline.” At the time of its start, the initiative was one of 16 new bridge training programs...more

RBC has developed specific services to meet the needs of women entrepreneurs. These services are offered through Bank’s Small Business Financial Services Resource Centre. The Resource Centre allows female entrepreneurs...more

WEConnect International in Canada identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women's business enterprises that are at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women.

WEConnect International has been active in Canada since the beginning of 2008...more

Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

The Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders (GWEL) Scorecard, sponsored by Dell Inc. and produced by ACG Inc., is a new data driven diagnostic tool that identifies the impediments to high impact female entrepreneurship and introduces actionable steps that can be taken to...more

MCW is a seven-month professional program designed for highly motivated women who wish to enhance their management and leadership skills and elevate their influence. The program is offered by the Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work (CREWW) in the Sprott...more

Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

The Canadian government supports programs and creates policies that assist women entrepreneurs from start-up through to expansion. In general, the federal government has a broad geographic scope in reaching women entrepreneurs. The government has dedicated space to women entrepreneurs within its provincial, economy-wide, and global policy agenda, and it has also focused on international trade and supply chain expansion. The Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) initiative at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development is one such example. The public sector is actively addressing barriers to women entrepreneurs’ access to capital and access to markets through export financing.  

Services that support women’s access to capital and assets: 

BDC, (Banque de Développement du Canada) is a federal Crown corporation wholly owned by the Government of Canada. Founded in 1944 in Montreal, Quebec, the Bank’s mandate is to help create and develop Canadian businesses through financing, growth and transition...more

TCS was established in 1894 and is funded by the Federal Government of Canada. It is a network of over 1,000 trade professionals and has on-the-ground presence in 150 cities worldwide and offices across Canada. TCS’s mandate is to assist Canadian companies and...more

Services that support women’s access to markets: 

Established in 1987 and funded by the Canadian Government, ACOA strives to create opportunities for economic growth in Atlantic Canada by delivering support to enable businesses to become more competitive, innovative, and productive. ACOA has a network of 41 Community...more

This program exists also within the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). BWIT provides a number of services to support women entrepreneurs to export.  BWIT’s annual newsletter covers regular success stories of Canadian women exporters, promotes the benefits of exporting,...more

Founded in 1944, EDC is a “self-financing, crown corporation that operates at arm’s length from the Government of Canada.” EDC provides insurance, financial services and bonding products to Canadian exporters and investors alongside their international buyers. In...more

EMA is a CAN$5 million (US$4 million) initiative jointly sponsored by the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) designed to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) increase their access to global markets. EMA facilitates access to potential...more

Services that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.

Services that support women’s leadership, voice and agency: 

CBN is a government information service which caters to start-up businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs in Canada. CBN collaborates with federal, provincial and terroritorial departments and agencies as well as nonprofit entities to support Canadian women entrepreneurs to...more

Services that support women and innovation and technology: 

No information available. Contact us if you know of a network that fits this criteria.