Founder, Director, & Principal, Onyen Corporation & Canchek Corporation
Despite declines in gender inequality, women dreaming of owning their own business in Canada often face biases and seek funding outside Canada.
Even before working in the male-dominated financial industry, I loved numbers and using them to prove why my observations added up in a ‘dollars-and-sense way’. My favourite statistic? Profits rise when women lead.
The winning equation? Simple: fair treatment based on merit alone plus equal access to resources and networks equals the same chance of success for men and women.
I’m not alone in thinking that we’re wasting a huge Canadian resource — the female half of the adult population. The federal government estimates that advancing gender equality and women’s participation in the economy could boost GDP by $150 billion.
Understanding the problem
Despite the steps that have been taken to reduce unfair practices and inequality in entrepreneurship, biases still make it harder for women to have what men may take for granted. Women must:
Go further to overcome old-school stereotypical assumptions of their commitment, capacity, and leadership/management capabilities; Overcome the absence of support networks and mentors that help startups grow; and Work harder for the investment capital and operating financing that allow business ideas to take flight.
What proof is there of this? One example is Hardpops, the alcohol-infused freezie brainchild of two B.C. women who had to go to the U.S. to become successful after the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch turned them away. Another example? A woman of colour was told she “should get a white male to lead [her] team if [she] want to move ahead faster.”
I’ve always funded my own companies, but if I’d needed lenders, would I have had to go elsewhere despite my success record? Probably.
Uncertain hope for the future
I’m hopeful for the future in the sense that there have been many advances. Many men, now more aware of unfair practices and the challenges women face, support equal treatment.
Part of me is not hopeful. While more men “get it” — the value, ideas, energy, and passion women entrepreneurs bring to the table — there have also been steps backward. Politicians lying to score political points by promoting misogyny and influencers profiting from perpetuating toxic masculinity feed today’s attack environment, breeding future problems for women.
And part of me thinks the jury is still out. On one hand, a recent study showed that women own just 17 per cent of Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses. Clearly, this must change. On the other hand, while a serial entrepreneur, I’m a staunch believer in free markets, but agree that governments must ensure markets are equally accessible by all. As stewards of fair play in Canada, governments can accelerate fair access to finance, information, and infrastructure.
While criticizing governments for failures to support business, I’m cautiously optimistic after this present government recognized that “…full equal participation of women in the economy [isn’t] just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing…” The federal government launched the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) — a global-first whole-of-government approach — to “increase women-owned businesses’ access to the financing, talent, networks, and expertise to start up, scale up, and access new markets.”
Involving 20 departments/agencies, WES includes a micro-financing Women Entrepreneurship Loan Fund helping women business owners/entrepreneurs build businesses; a WES Ecosystem Fund helping women entrepreneurs grow their businesses through support/mentoring; and a one-stop Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. The Government of Canada, as long as gender discrimination and bias persist, must address barriers to gender equity in entrepreneurship, as this is essential to a more inclusive and equitable — and profitable — business environment.
This International Women’s Day, let’s admire determined women starting their businesses and salute the men championing equality in entrepreneurship and these businesswomen’s journeys.
Visit onyen.com, a Canadian women-run-and-operated company launched into the stratosphere two years ago providing affordable, quality ESG reporting and monitoring services, which help clients improving access to capital sources.