Strong Women, Strong World: By Involving Women in National Economic Policy, Canada Is Forging a Model for Empowering Women and Building the Strength of Domestic and Global Marketplaces

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Women are stepping forward as never before. They are becoming leaders, financial managers, business strategists, risk-takers and entrepreneurs. Canadian business and government are embracing this involvement, with an understanding that women and women-led businesses are an increasingly potent global economic force.

Canadian women and micro-enterprise

Canada is a world leader in the area of women's entrepreneurship. A recent study showed that Canadian women are among the most entrepreneurial of all Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Over the past two decades, Canada has witnessed an increase in women's entrepreneurship of over 200%.

Since 1997, women in Canada have started small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) at about twice the rate of men. Industry Canada reports that in 2004, 47% of all Canadian SMEs were owned to some degree by women.

A recent Royal Bank of Canada study showed that if women experienced the same opportunities and labour market circumstances as men, personal incomes would be $168 billion higher, an additional 1.6 million women would be employed in Canada and the gross domestic product would increase by 21%. Numbers like these should make government leaders, economists and business people sit up and listen. But do they?

Another recent study, Gender Challenges for Women in the Canadian Advanced Technology Sector, showed that dramatically fewer women than men break into senior corporate management. The study, published by the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management in association with the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance's Women in Technology Forum, examined gender differences in enterprise creation, management practices and business performance.

Address work-life balance

The study shows that work-life balance is one of the main challenges to women's success in the advanced technology sector, for both employees and entrepreneurs. In fact, 60% of businesswomen surveyed cited work-life balance among their top three challenges, along with inadequate leadership skills and a shortage of women mentors.

While more women are becoming owners of SMEs, women-owned firms are generally smaller, newer, more concentrated in service industries and, on average, less profitable than SMEs owned by men.

Canadian women exporters generate almost 40% of their sales in foreign markets. Women-owned firms do business with Canada's most important trading partners: the United States, Asia and Europe. Not surprisingly, the United States is the dominant market, where 74% of Canadian exporters are making sales. Following close behind, 60% of exporters report activity in Asia and 58% sell in Europe. While the number of women exporters continues to grow, more than half (57%) of women exporters in Canada indicate that they encounter gender-specific export challenges. The two most commonly cited examples are cultural differences and not being taken seriously as business owners.

Creating conditions for women's success

Since its creation in 1976 to "coordinate policy with respect to the status of women and administer related programmes", Status of Women Canada (SWC) has worked alongside its governmental, non-governmental and private sector partners to influence policies and major initiatives that have significantly benefited women and girls in Canada.

At the helm is newly appointed Minister of State (Status of Women), Helena Guergis. With a proven interest in women's issues, and as a former small business owner herself, Ms Guergis becomes the minister responsible for this small but vibrant organization as it emerges from a period of dramatic change and redevelopment. Recognizing that a considerable gender gap remained in many aspects of Canadian life, SWC began modernizing and streamlining to make itself more accountable to the Canadian public, to be more responsive to changing needs of Canadian women and men and specifically to address barriers to women's full participation in all aspects of Canadian life. …