Businesswoman at whiteboard leading meeting in conference room
Small business

Canadian women taking on the business world despite barriers

While a sizeable gap still exists between the number of self-employed women and men, it hasn’t stopped enterprising females from forging their own paths

Businesswoman at whiteboard leading meeting in conference room On a global scale, Canadian women hold the number one spot when it comes to creating and running their own businesses (Getty Images/Hero Images)

Women face undeniable barriers to self-employment in Canada. 

The last Women and Paid Work report from Statistics Canada published in 2017 showed around 39 per cent of self-employed people were women and 61 per cent were men in 2015. While this data represents a sizable increase over 1976, when about 17 per cent of self-employed people were women and 83 per cent were men, the gap still remains significant.

Although progress has been slow, it hasn’t stopped female entrepreneurs from contributing 148 billion annually to the country’s economy, according to Startup Canada. In fact, on a global scale, Canadian women hold the number one spot when it comes to creating and running their own businesses, says a 2015/2016 report titled Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Canada Report on Women’s Entrepreneurship.

“Canada has seen a surge of entrepreneurship in our economy over the last 20 years, and women have been at the forefront, launching businesses at rates that often outpace men,” said Karen Hughes, author of the GEM study and a professor at the University of Alberta’s Alberta School of Business and Department of Sociology.


In its 2018 budget, the federal government introduced The Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, which has stated a goal of doubling the number of women-owned businesses in Canada by 2025 and addressing the challenges they face, such as accessing capital.

As part of that strategy, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a crown corporation and the only bank in the country devoted to entrepreneurs, will make $1.4 billion available to majority women-owned businesses by 2021. The bank has also committed to helping women gather the knowledge they need to get to the next step in their entrepreneurial journeys.

To address the need for education targeted at women, CPA Canada and BDC have partnered up. A series of free, full-day business boot camps hosted by BDC and including content developed by CPA Canada have been offered in 13 cities across Canada in 2018 and 2019 with the final session set to take place in Ottawa on March 19, 2019. 

“These are women who have a business and want to scale up,” says Laura Didyk, CPA, CMA, vice president and national lead, women entrepreneurs at BDC. “The day focuses on all the foundational aspects they need to look at, including people and culture, their numbers, their strategy and what they need to get there.”


CPA Canada developed a one-hour finance workshop that is presented as part of the boot camp. Your Numbers…Your Story is designed to address a gap in the financial literacy landscape—looking at the numbers from a narrative perspective. 

“We don’t specifically say this session is for women entrepreneurs,” says Li Zhang, CPA Canada’s principal of corporate citizenship. “It’s for anyone who wishes to learn from a narrative perspective. So rather than, ‘These are the ratios you need to know,’ for example, it’s ‘These are the ratios you need to know, and this is the story they tell you about your business.’”

Hosted by Janice McDonald, award-winning entrepreneur and president of The Beacon Agency, and Clare Beckton, executive in residence at the Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work at Carleton University, the day is designed to give women a break from the daily grind.

“So many entrepreneurs are in their businesses constantly,” says Didyk. “This removes them for the day, so they have time to think about what they need to get to the next step.”

Feedback from last year’s BDC suggested the most valuable part of the day was the relationship-building, according to Didyk.

“For all entrepreneurs, networks are important,” she says. “But women tend to start with smaller networks, and they realize that’s one of the areas they need to expand.”


Women account for 44 per cent of current CPA Canada members (active and retired). 

According to the latest Disclosure of Corporate Governance Practices review* by the Canadian Securities Administrators, 66 per cent of issuers had at least one woman in an executive officer position (four per cent of issuers had a female CEO and 14 per cent had a female CFO). Also, the number of women on boards stood at 15 per cent, a three per cent increase from the previous year.

If you’re a female entrepreneur and looking to expand your business, you can register for the next boot camp until March 15. 

*The review was conducted by securities regulatory authorities in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan.