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We have come a long way, (maybe) but still have a long way to go?

Whether full-time or side-hustles, women’s entrepreneurship is on the rise and more and more women leaders and public figures have raised their voices to spark social and economic change in their industries — yet they still face roadblocks. Wendy Cukier, founder, Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute, shares her insights.



By Wendy Cukier



I’ve been researching diversity in the workplace and entrepreneurship for a long time. We have definitely made progress, but there is still a way to go.  In 2016, 13.3% of Canadian women were entrepreneurs, up from 10% in 2014. In 2019, 11.8% of working women were self-employed while for men it is 18.2% yet, women are much more likely to be sole proprietors than men (78% versus 67%).

New policies and programs introduced by the Canadian Government are clearly a step in the right direction. From Bill C-25 which requires target setting and strategy development for women and other designated groups in corporations to Pay Equity legislation, and policies and programs targeting women entrepreneurs. But, we need more.

My fellow Diversity Institute researchers, along with a network of international research colleagues and I hear from women entrepreneurs about their perceived barriers to their success. Women entrepreneurs often feel that they are held to a different standard, that it’s harder to get support and that many of the programs aimed at helping entrepreneurs are not designed for them.  

We need concerted effort to tackle stereotypes, to apply a gender lens to the full range of policies and programs, whether child care or tax deductible expenses. Laws and policies reflect but also shape values. We need to challenge the “think entrepreneur, think STEM and think Male” reflex, celebrating women’s ways and successes. We need to take a hard cold look at processes in organizations in the ecosystem, whether universities, incubators, funders, investors or business support organizations.

While there is no doubt we need to tackle structural problems, and promote intentional and accountable organizations, there is lots we as individuals can do.  We can all drive change.


Here is some sage advice from some remarkable entrepreneurs:


  1. “Do not just level the playing field. Change the game” says Vicki Saunders, SheEO of SheEO.

She argues that we need to create female friendly approaches and change the game. This is not just about creating safe spaces for women, or female centric approaches but also to value social outcomes as well as profit. Vicki also promotes the importance of creating a growth mindset. Finding ways to embrace challenges, learn from failure, and have confidence in your abilities and skills.


  1. “If they can do it, how hard can it be?” says Lynne Hamilton, past chair of Equal Voice and consultant.  

Confidence and resilience are key but many women suffer from the imposter syndrome setting their sights too low. Whether it’s in the halls of large corporations, the rough and tumble of political office or the bro culture of incubators, men who have 50% of what it takes are likely to go for gold while women who have 90% of what it takes, are not. We need to build environments in which we support each other and we also need to continuously challenge ourselves. Finance and technology are not rocket science but there is core knowledge and skills we need regardless of sector.


  1. “Ask for what you need. Ask for what you want.” In their book, “Women Don’t Ask”, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever claim women lose out by not making demands.

We are socialized to be giving and generous and to respond to the needs of others, but often we miss opportunities simply because we do not make clear what it is that we want and need. Networking, mentoring and sponsorship are all proven to be critical to success but hiding your light under a bushel or waiting for help to be offered may mean you miss out. What is the worst thing that can happen? Someone may say no. But chances are very good that they will actually say yes.