By Stephanie Dunn
Now, more than ever before, women are spreading their wings as they explore the freedom and empowerment of entrepreneurship.
In 2009, nearly one million women were self-employed according to Statistics Canada, and over the past decade those numbers have continued to grow. Whether it’s opening a small business in a rural community or operating a corporation on a global scale, women are changing the business environment every day.
In fact, an RBC Economic Report estimated that in 2011 women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contributed $148 billion of economic activity in Canada.
However, this number is only a fraction of the potential impact women can have on the economy.
It may come as no surprise that women encounter different challenges compared to their male counterparts.
In 2017, the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE) released an economic action plan for Newfoundland and Labrador, entitled Unleashing the Potential of Women, which identified the barriers facing women business owners and women in senior leadership. Among these barriers are difficultly accessing financing, lack of access to networks, limited business skills training and family commitments.
NLOWE recognized the need for change and through a series of economic forums held across the province, an Action Plan was created.
Five actionable recommendations were proposed.
The first step is creating more supports for women entrepreneurs. This can be achieved by implementing a small-business loan program specifically for women entrepreneurs—helping women build a solid foundation.
Along with offering a loan program, providing more business training for women in the areas of financial literacy, business expansion strategies, and management training is imperative to growth. Another aspect that falls under the same umbrella is building stronger relationships with municipalities. The purpose of this is to educate them on the importance of small businesses. SMEs are the backbone of communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
The next recommendation is to promote the benefits of diversity. A good place to start is the top of the business hierarchy, ensuring that senior management are committed to diversity. With corporations and management focusing on the importance of diversity, the business culture will shift, and perceptions will begin to change.
Applying gender diversity policies and setting targets for women in leadership roles will aid in the transformation, as well as encouraging women to become more involved in all tiers of business through supplier diversity initiatives. On a broader scale, increasing the number of women appointed to provincial government agencies, boards, and commissions will help promote the benefits of diversity beyond the business realm and into the public sector.
The third actionable recommendation is implementing supports for better work-family balance. With more women entering the workforce and opening businesses, the significance of family and work life balance is paramount. It’s important to recognize that businesses need to offer flexible work policies to support employees and their schedules. Creating awareness around existing government programs that help reduce the cost of childcare is essential.
The fourth recommendation an is to increase the number of mentors and role models. Encouraging more male and female business leaders to take on mentorship roles will create an innovative environment and foster growth potential.
Role models help shape young women into strong future entrepreneurs, so increasing the number of visible female roles within organizations and communities is crucial in developing the female leaders of tomorrow.
The last recommendation is to create resources and networking opportunities for women interested in leadership positions. Identifying potential leaders and providing training to build confidence and skills is an important element of success. Accompanying training opportunities with connecting high potential female talent with senior leaders will provide strong supports for helping women meet that potential.
Implementing these recommendations will help build the foundation for a promising tomorrow for the Canadian economy. If more women owned their own businesses, imagine the impact it would have in their communities, the province, and the rest of Canada.
Growth starts with change and change happens when everyone is given a seat at the table. Change may not happen overnight, but it can start today.
Stephanie Dunn is the marketing and communications co-ordinator for Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs. She writes from St. John’s.