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:
Networks that support women’s access to markets:
Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Networks that support women and innovation and technology:
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:
Initiatives that support women’s access to markets:
Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology:
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.