In November 2016, NLOWE hosted a series of economic forums across the province to find ways that women can strengthen and impact the provincial economy. The forums, entitled Drivers of Growth, brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to identify barriers and potential opportunities for women in business.
At a time when Newfoundland and Labrador is facing serious economic challenges, it must find ways to engage the talents, entrepreneurial drive and leadership skills of its entire workforce. Women represent 51 percent of the population and hold extraordinary potential in driving growth in all sectors of the provincial economy. Yet women are under-represented at board room tables, in senior management roles and in accessing start-up and business growth funding.
There is however, strong momentum that’s happening in the province, which if supported, can pay economic dividends. TD Economics published a report on women in entrepreneurship in 2015 stating that Canadian women are increasingly opting to pursue entrepreneurship. The report, Canadian Women Leading the Charge into Entrepreneurship, also states that in terms of growth of women in self-employment from 2009 to 2014, Newfoundland and Labrador is leading the country with growth of 48 percent. This momentum can be harnessed to fuel Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy.
NLOWE’s Drivers of Growth forums resulted in an Action Plan, to be released in May, that will outline practical recommendations to shape policy and create change. It will focus on the two themes that were discussed at the economic forums: increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions, and growing the number of female-owned businesses and scaling existing companies owned by women.
Recurring themes ran through each of the five forums that affect all women entrepreneurs and senior leaders. The forums also focused on solutions that can be implemented by private sector organizations, government and individuals to support women’s economic growth in all sectors. Additional insights were also included from research on gender diversity programs and supports for women in business in other jurisdictions.
Internal and External Barriers Affect Women in Senior Leadership
Internal and external barriers prevent women from advancing to senior leadership roles in private and public organizations. One of the barriers identified is the need for organizations to make gender diversity a priority. Many organizations are not aware of the benefits of gender diversity and continue in their approach of ‘this is the way we have always done things.’ Most companies do not have a pipeline of talent and processes in place for moving women into senior leadership roles.
Balancing family life is among the greatest challenges facing women and is a key factor in determining whether women put themselves forward for senior roles. The demands of work and home life can severely limit a woman’s availability to take on additional responsibilities that come with a management position or starting a company. For women whose husbands work offshore, the bulk of family responsibilities falls on them.
Both the lack of daycare, and its high cost were also identified as barriers. Daycare costs in Newfoundland and Labrador are the second highest in the country according to a 2015 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Top 5 Barriers to Advancing Women in Senior Leadership
- Lack of awareness of benefits of diversity
- Lower self-confidence
- Lack of access to networks
- Lack of mentors and role models
- Family commitments
Access to Funding is Biggest Barrier for Women Entrepreneurs
Many of the barriers that affect women moving into senior leadership roles, also impact women entrepreneurs. As indicated in the forums, by far, the biggest obstacle facing women entrepreneurs is a lack of access to funding. Also, many women entrepreneurs expressed the need to have funding delivered with business advisory services to help them through the stages of starting, growing or buying a business.
There are glaring gaps in resources available to support the growth of female-owned businesses. Women entrepreneurs face challenges in accessing valuable business networks, tapping into business skills training, and getting into the supply chain for the large-scale natural resources projects that are taking place in the province. Juggling family demands, finding daycare and taking maternity leave while running a company are also major obstacles.
Participants identified the need for municipal government to be more proactive in supporting women entrepreneurs and small business. It was felt that some town councils do not see the economic growth that women-owned business and small business can bring to their communities. Towns such as Bonavista, Twillingate, and Port Rexton which have embraced small business development are experiencing a surge of young entrepreneurs who are moving there to set up businesses.
Top 5 Barriers Facing Women Entrepreneurs
- Difficulty accessing financing
- Limited business skills training
- Lack of access to networks
- Family commitments
- Lack of municipal government support
There is no single solution to activating women in all parts of the economy. The ideas that were put forward at the forums can be assembled into a foundational plan to increase awareness on the issue, along with collaborative ways to work together to affect change. Some of the recommendations that will be put forward in the action plan include the following:
- Promote the benefits of diversity.
- Develop and implement gender diversity policies in your organization.
- Promote gender diversity at the executive level and on your company’s board of directors.
- Include more female-owned businesses in your supply chain.
- Create more business supports for female entrepreneurs.
- Create a small business loan program for women entrepreneurs that is delivered with business advisory services and post-loan coaching.
- Provide more business skills training to women on skills gaps identified at the forums.
- Incorporate diversity and entrepreneurship learning in the public school curriculum.
- Update the province’s public education curriculum to include leadership, gender diversity and entrepreneurship learning at the elementary, junior high and high school levels.
- Implement supports for better work-family balance.
- Implement flexible work policies within your organization to support female employees who need to balance family commitments with work schedules.
- Increase the availability and affordability of childcare.
- Increase the number of mentors and role models.
- Highlight senior female leaders within your organization and profile them through existing corporate communication channels; social media, e-newsletters, etc.
- Involve more men in mentorship roles.
Women are a key ingredient for creating jobs and growing the provincial economy. According to the Canadian Taskforce for Women’s Business Growth, a 20 percent increase in revenues amoung majority women-owned businesses will mean an additional 2 million per year to the Canadian economy. Breaking down the barriers and putting the right supports in place will enable women in business to flourish and grow, which in turn will have a significant impact on the economy as a whole.
The Drivers of Growth Action Plan will be released in May,. A full copy of the plan will be available at www.nlowe.org/actionplan after its release.