Women own or partially own nearly half of all small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in Canada, however, only 11% of these businesses represent Canadian exporters. This is often attributed to the fact that women owned businesses are more prevalent in service industries. Women-owned enterprises is highest in the educational services industry at 35% and lowest in the goods-producing industries. It could be that some women are content with servicing the local market and have no interest in expansion, however others may not be equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to explore markets outside of Canada. Chief among these deficiencies are lack of financial resources and networking.
Women do not always have the same access as men do to growth capital and networks, especially considering these networks have traditionally been male-dominated and consequently still adopt approaches tailored towards men. Many organizations now acknowledge the problem and offer women entrepreneurs opportunities that can empower them to overcome these obstacles. Such initiatives include, WEConnect International, Organization of Women in International Trade and the APEC Women Connect programme. These facilitate connections for female entrepreneurs that they may not otherwise have the time and resources needed to establish the connections themselves.
Starting from such a low base there is a lot of potential in the expansion of women-owned enterprises in Canada in international markets. Women-led SMEs have experienced higher growth and employment rates than that of men-owned and equally-owned enterprises. Studies have shown that Canadian companies that engage with international markets routinely enjoy higher profitability and stronger growth than those that do not.
Women leaders are underrepresented and underestimated in the global market, but many have a competitive edge with their common concern to connect their profit to a purpose. Many women entrepreneurs go beyond producing economic growth and encourage social change as well with the integration of cause marketing in their drive to make a global positive impact. This is not always easy to replicate yet increasingly global markets are requiring SMEs to incorporate a social enterprise dimension to their operations. Encouraging such enterprises to expand globally would benefit more than just the Canadian economy. If they were equipped with the proper resources, women-led SMEs could bring about significant social changes around the world.
In the attached article, BDC Vice President and National Lead Women Entrepreneurs Laura Didyk outlines unique financial resources and networking support available to Canadian women entrepreneurs to help them reach their international potential.