More Canadian women entrepreneurs, but are they playing in the big league?

As a former W100 ranked woman entrepreneur, I am always curious to see how women entrepreneurs are faring.  Recently released figures from the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Scorecard, report that 3% of women-owned businesses in Canada report over $1 million in revenue. For sake of argument, let’s say that’s the threshold for the “big league” of business, particularly for service-based businesses which are a large proportion of women-owned companies.

The research was compiled as part of a global study of women’s entrepreneurship  commissioned by Dell as part of their ongoing commitment to women entrepreneurs through DWEN, the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network.  Conducted by Ruta Aidis, PhD and Project Director for the Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard, the research compares the conditions and characteristics of high impact female entrepreneurs in 31 countries.  2015 is the first year that Canada has been included in this study.

So the 3% figure begs some questions:  Is that % increasing? Are there more women entrepreneurs in total? Intuitively, yes.  But are there more women entrepreneurs with revenues over $1 million.  I set out to do some research to check out the answers.

Here’s what I found.  As reported in a CIBC study in 2004, there were just over 800,000 women entrepreneurs in Canada based on Statistics Canada sources.  An entrepreneur defined as self-employed vs. employee.  In that same research, it was reported that 4.3% of those women ran businesses that had revenues greater than $1 million.  That would mean about 35,000 women owned businesses in Canada with sales of $1 million or more.

According to 2011 Industry Canada research, and an input into the Dell study, there are now over 1 million women entrepreneurs.  So growth in total numbers of women entrepreneurs.  With 3% having revenue over $1 million, that translates to 30,000 women owned businesses in this revenue category.

Unfortunately, that’s not an advancement over the decade since the CIBC study.  So to answer my question — No, there aren’t more women entrepreneurs playing in the big league. We’ve seen more efforts to support startups in general, and for female founders in particular.  I’ve written about women entrepreneurs at MaRS Discovery District and recently women’s businesses at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.  Clearly we are making advances on the sheer number of women-owned businesses in the last decade.

But as women business owners, and Canada as a country, are still not yet propelling our businesses into the higher income and higher growth domain. There are many business and personal factors that play a role in the growth of women-owned businesses. One of the key factors the Dell study looks at is the economic and public climate those businesses are working within.  As was confirmed by the study, Canada has many positives in the business environment for women business owners.

While the full Dell Scorecard will be announced on June 28, 2015 at the Dell for Entrepreneurs Women’s Summit in Berlin, the preliminary research identifies some areas for improvement to support higher growth and impact for women-owned businesses in Canada:

Government: Increase public procurement policies that encourage supplier diversity and government-funded efforts to increase women’s access to capital.  In fact, the U.S. is far ahead of Canada in this measure, having long-established goals and programs to ensure women-owned businesses have support in securing government contracts.

Private Sector: Diversify the C-suite and boards so women have visible role models to know it is possible to start their businesses, and achieve success.  I would add that private sector procurement programs, and engagement with high-growth women-owned business networks can also help.

Entrepreneurial Community and Media: Work together to heighten the visibility of women entrepreneur leaders.  Indeed, I’ve written here at ITBusiness about some women entrepreneur leaders in the technology sector and look forward to doing more — please comment and be in touch.

Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester is a Leadership Coach, Brand Communications consultant and W100 Business Owner. A perpetual idea generator, entrepreneurship cheerleader, and wanna-be geek, her clients include Novell, PlateSpin, Mozilla, HP, Tenscores & Polar. She writes about Leadership, Communications, Entrepreneurship and Women in technology.

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