How can you close the gender gap? Yes, you

Saskatchewan can realize our collective economic potential — if we work at it together.

PRABHA MITCHELL

 

Even if our beloved Riders didn’t quite go all the way this year, Saskatchewan is a province of firsts.

Medicare, ATMs, air seeders, air ambulances, wind turbines, even Girl Guide cookies — they all got their start here. And Women Entrepreneurs Saskatchewan (WESK) has just commissioned and released the first public report on women entrepreneurship in Canada.

What did we learn?

Only 13.7% of small businesses in Saskatchewan are majority female-owned, compared to 15.7% nationally and 17% in the top two provinces, Ontario and BC.

42% of women entrepreneurs said financing and access to capital is their biggest hurdle. Not only are women business owners less likely to seek external credit, they’re almost twice as likely to be rejected for a loan, because of insufficient collateral. We know undercapitalized businesses fail. They have difficulty hiring employees, creating new products and services, and growing.

Women entrepreneurs lack networks, mentors and training — three critical drivers for business success. 27% of female entrepreneurs who participated in mentoring programs reported easy access to funding, compared to 19% of female entrepreneurs overall.

While women entrepreneurs tend to be more educated than men, they lag behind in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees. For every four STEM graduates, there is only one woman — and only 6% of tech founders are female. Given the fast-paced digital revolution and its impact on the service sector, we need more women to pursue STEM education and create high-tech enterprises.

Immigrants are much more likely to become entrepreneurs than non-immigrants. And female small business owners are slightly more likely to be born outside Canada than male owners (25% vs. 20%).

With 16% of Saskatchewan’s population Indigenous (compared to 5% nationally), identifying and addressing the barriers Indigenous women confront in starting and growing a business here is critical.

So what can you do to close the gender gap?

Yes, you. This is more than a moral imperative. It is more than an equality issue. Closing the gender gap is an immense economic opportunity for us all, with the potential to add $150-420 billion to the Canadian economy by 2026.

Government & Policy Makers:

Saskatchewan data on women entrepreneurs is scarce. WESK urges our provincial government to work with business to examine Saskatchewan’s gender gap, build a provincial database to better inform policy and create an Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs to boost economic growth.

Founders, CEOs & Leaders:

Diversity boosts innovation and growth. Recruit women as business partners. A 10-year study by venture capital firm First Round found startups with at least one woman on the founding team perform 63% better and tech startups with women executives achieve a 35% higher return on investment.

Hire talented women. Create opportunities for women to scale their business, career and skills. If you’re a male leader, “sponsor” a woman entrepreneur. Create opportunities for women to be mentored or directly mentor women. If you’re a female entrepreneur, be the mentor you wish you had.

Boards:

Set a target to recruit more women. Then start! At the end of September 2018, the UK’s top 100 companies had an average 30% women on their boards — well over twice what they had in 2010 when executive Helena Morrissey started the 30% Club.

Lenders & Investors:

Fund women-owned businesses. Make the terms fair. Talk to your team about conscious and unconscious bias. (Are any of those colleagues women? Recruit more!)

Everyone:

Share this article. Read the report on our website (wesk.ca/press-releases). Make a conscious effort to support women-owned businesses. And, yes, if you’re in business or dream of starting one, contact WESK.

When I moved to Saskatchewan in 2001, I was one of just 1,800 immigrants that year. Seeing another East Indian was rare and a big deal! Fast forward to between 2011 and 2016 when almost 50,000 immigrants moved here.

Saskatchewan is changing and I don’t just mean demographics. We are home to entrepreneurs of national and global standing (Rachel Mielke, Kendal Netmaker and Murad Al-Katib, to name a few), a burgeoning innovation and tech sector (Vendasta, Coconut Software, 7shifts, sMedia…), exciting co-work spaces and tech and business incubators.

No longer does Canada or the world ask “Why Saskatchewan?”. I say “WHY NOT Saskatchewan?”. Our province shows the fastest growth in women-owned businesses when you include companies women co-own with men. Why can’t we lead the country in majority female-owned businesses?

Together, we can. SASKATCHEWAN CAN!

PRABHA MITCHELL, CEO, WESK

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