Wanted: More Women Entrepreneurs!

As far as I can tell, public debate in our society is alive and well. Our capacity to collectively debate the important issues of the day is as impressive as ever. The public discourse, lead by all the major media outlets, will often bring a sharp focus to imbalances in our society – problems like pay and gender equality to name a few. This societal quality is key, for as we all know, correctly identifying a problem is the first vital step towards setting objectives and creating a plan of attack.


Unfortunately, when it comes to finding solutions to those problems, all that creative energy seems to disappear. Solutions, in our society, have become something that we punt to government. We are in an institutional rut with a serious dependency on solutions imposed from above.


In the case of women's roles in the business world, there is nothing new to the debate. Issues like the corporate glass ceiling, underrepresentation of women in politics and pay inequality have been top-of-mind news for decades now. We've shown progress, sure, but the fact that the problems persist tells me that we need to find other solutions to augment those we've tried so far. Now, there is no doubt that governments and institutions have their role to play. But as engines of change, they are huge and heavy and difficult to steer. So assume for the moment that they are doing whatever they can to set the table for change. But as they continue to push forward as best they can, a little individual initiative may help speed things up.


I would submit that women's status in the corporate arena would become significantly better if there were more women entrepreneurs. No need to wait for a government program or a subsidy. If women started up more businesses they would, defacto, become masters of their own destiny. And, as a society we should encourage them, because in doing so, 1) they will help bring about the very changes our society desires and 2) while they are at it, they may very well save the economy.


Let me share with you some statistics to prove my point. I live in Quebec, which currently rates dead last in North America for entrepreneurship, but did you know that we have the highest proportion of SME's in Canada that are majority owned by women? In 2013, Industry Canada put that number at 19%, just ahead of Atlantic Canada and Ontario. Encouraging? Yes, but if our goal as a society is to break the glass ceiling and see more women CEO's, imagine the impact we would see if that number were closer to 50%.


According to Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey reports (Nov 2013), there were 950,000 self-employed women in Canada in 2012, accounting for 35.6% of all self-employed persons. Again, women are largely underrepresented versus men. I don't think governments are to blame for this one. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be inspired to take the plunge. Sometimes entrepreneurship is about rebelling against the status quo in order to do things differently and having the confidence to know that you can do it better. If more women decided just that, and struck out on their own, is there any doubt that we would see improved statistics with regard to pay equity as an example?


When women do start their own businesses, they tend to do a better job at stimulating the economy. According to a TD Economics Special Report (November 2013) majority women-owned firms with growth intentions are significantly more active in hiring new employees than majority male-owned firms; the proportion of women-owned businesses that plan to expand their business is generally higher than men; and when a woman does decide to start a business, she tends to stay in business longer - in other words, her businesses' survival rates are higher. If entrepreneurship is about confidence, these figures tell me that women have every reason to be confident in their capacity to start-up and run their own company.


The message for me is clear. Our economy needs a boost and we've reached the limit of what government can do on its own. Therefore, we need individuals to step forward and take the lead. We need more entrepreneurs. At the same time, we also need more women business leaders to help effect change for the betterment of women in general. For me, leadership is not something a ministry or institution can bestow someone, however. We need women leaders to step forward. We need more women entrepreneurs.


Finally, this fact. The percentage of young women (25-34) with a postsecondary degree or diploma has increased from 43% in 1990 to 71% today. Year over year, a greater share of our society's best and brightest business minds are women. We live in one of the most equal opportunity societies in the world, both in terms of law and attitudes. We also have the most complete family support structure in North America. This tells me that governments and institutions over the past 25 years have done something right and are indeed helping equip more and more women to succeed. The fact that these increased numbers are not turning out a greater number of women entrepreneurs however should be a concern. We can always discuss government incentives and programs to support the cause, but when push comes to shove, a true entrepreneur shouldn't need them. Sometimes the entrepreneur-in-waiting just needs to take the plunge.


Good luck!

Dan Nielsen.

His articles can be read on-line, in Commerce Magazine and l'Actualité alimentaire.