Ottawa researchers look into what's holding back Canada's female innovators


The traditional definitions of innovation – the ones that revolve around new technology and disruptive models – are holding back Canada’s female innovators, according to a study released today from some Ottawa researchers.

Everywhere, Everyday Innovating: Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation is a report conducted by Ottawa’s The Beacon Agency, Carleton University and the Bank of Montreal examining the state of female-led small- and medium-sized businesses across the country.

Half of new businesses are started by women, Statistics Canada reported in 2012, and these firms create more jobs in general than those led by men.

Yet the report found that the current policy and discourses surrounding innovation downplay contributions from female entrepreneurs, largely because they aren’t as involved in tech. The report noted that women are underrepresented in the science and tech sectors, while 90 per cent of women-led businesses are service-based.

This is an overlooked aspect in policy formation, the study argues, and women’s businesses are suffering because of it.

The more than 1,000 female entrepreneurs surveyed in the report noted that access to capital to grow their businesses was limited, as they face direct and indirect sexism from investors as well as clients. Ageism also proves an obstacle, as some women who start companies after having children find they’ve aged out of start-up financing and mentoring programs such as Futurpreneur.

The study found conditions are even more difficult for Indigenous women. The burdens facing all women are often compounded by prejudice, inability to access business training and fundamental obstacles such as a lack of high-speed internet connections on more isolated reserves.

The report included a series of recommendations for government, financial institutions and female entrepreneurs themselves. The authors would like to see an approach to policy and program-building that includes women and Indigenous entrepreneurs, and initiatives aimed at fixing cases of institutional sexism in the financial industry.

For a more in-depth look at Everywhere, Everyday Innovating: Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation, see our coverage in the Feb. 26 edition of OBJ.