Female entrepreneurs in Canada are increasing in number, tend to be younger than their male counterparts and are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, however gender equality among STEM industry business owners still has a ways to go.

The number of female-led businesses in Canada is growing, and will continue to do so according to a recent report by Salesforce in partnership with The Gandalf Group, but even with more Canadian SMBs being led by women, men are still twice as likely to own a business in areas such as technology, science and engineering, with women leaders in these industries facing significantly greater challenges than men.

Young people leading the way

However, a bright spot is Canada’s increasingly younger, female SMB owners; the number of female entrepreneurs under 45 years old is growing, with 59 per cent between 18 and 44, compared to only 42 per cent of men in the same age range, and younger leaders are typically more open to using technology to drive their business than those over 45 years of age. The report found that entrepreneurs in the older age group are two to three times more likely to feel that technology is not relevant to their business.

According to the report however, technology adoption is going to be key in not just gender-parity but in the Canadian SMB industry as a whole,”as we enter a time of significant technological disruption predicted to affect business of all sizes and across industries, it is critical for SMB owners to consider how they will adapt their business models to stay competitive and avoid the risk of becoming irrelevant.”

It states that this increasing number of young, female leaders who are more comfortable with technology will play a key role in leveling the playing field for gender parity.

Women are more likely to be creating new startups with more than half of female-led businesses having been started in the last five years compared to only 34 per cent of male-led businesses. And even with 75 per cent of women tending to develop SMBs in the service industry, those surveyed reported that they are still likely to use technology despite the industry they work in.

Tech industry still presenting challenges

STEM-related businesses themselves still have a ways to go when it comes to gender equality, men are twice as likely as women to start a business in these fields, with only 13 per cent of female-led SMBs focusing on tech, science, engineering or mathematics. Statistics show then even when women start these types of businesses in Canada they face more challenges then male counterparts.

“Differences in the experience of men and women entrepreneurs are extremely stark within the STEM sector. Women entrepreneurs report that factors, like accessing capital and achieving work-life balance, are much more challenging than do men,” stated the report.

The four main areas where female leaders said they face their greatest challenges are: dealing with a heavy workload, achieving a work-life balance, difficulty accessing capital to grow their business and feeling that their services are undervalued by customers. The women surveyed were more likely than the men to note these as challenges creating barriers to running their STEM-related business.

Compared to other industries like retail, hospitality and consumer products the gender differences are less prevalent, with men and women almost equally naming these as challenges and in areas like healthcare, education, and professional services men were even more likely than women to list achieving work-life balance as an issue.

While women in technology continue to face challenges the report concluded that things are looking up.

“With an increased focus on attracting girls and women to STEM subjects and careers, as well as the democratization of technology that has the ability to level the playing field between genders and widen the gap between generations, women, and youth are poised to irrevocably alter the face of Canadian entrepreneurship in the coming years and decades.”

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