On June 13, 2019, the University of Ottawa Telfer Centre for Executive Leadership, in collaboration with Ryerson University Diversity Institute, launched the report Strengthening Ecosystem Supports for Women Entrepreneurs and related i2 video. The Canadian gender-based diversity assessment of small business and innovation organizations offers new insights and strategies to support diverse women entrepreneurs.The report is among the most extensive, gender-based assessment of a small business support ecosystem in the world. Like many economies, in Canada the majority of public investments targeted for ‘high growth’ small business or business support organizations often fail to consider equity and diversity for the fund recipients. This study is important given that most Ontario (Canada) small business programs favour older, established small and medium-sized businesses. The study found that close to 70% of organizations do not provide gender equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training for staff or clients, the report considers recruitment, engagement, tracking and information on under-represented groups essential.
According to Telfer School of Management Dr. Barbara Orser, i2 Project Leaders and WEI Board member: “This report provides us with a better understanding of the challenges for small business and innovation organizations in supporting the inclusion of diverse women entrepreneurs. The study establishes Canadian benchmarks to monitor progress, and presents new insight about assessing organizational practices. The findings can be used by other economies to construct ‘gender-smart’ organizational and entrepreneurship education and training criteria.” The i2 report recommendations include:
- Not assuming that “all are welcome” with small business and innovation support organizations.
- Build equity, diversity and inclusion assessment criteria into all government agency funding RFPs.
- Recruit, engage, track and report on under-represented groups, including women.
- Establish funding to support expert advice on organizational gender diversity assessment, and strategies to address gender-related barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation.
- Employ an intersectional lens in all training and program development, design and delivery.
- Expand mandate of innovation support centres to all types of innovation: process, organizational, marketing, and product.
- Encourage collaboration among mainstream and women-focused support organizations (e.g., co-development of programs).
- Better co-ordinate funding from various levels of government, particularly women-focused initiatives. The reporting and administrative burden of women-focused programs was viewed as particularly difficult.
- Emphasize support for scaleup, not only # of women-owned startups.
- Recognize i2 requires change at social, organization, program and individual levels.
The report is particularly relevant to small business and innovation support organizations, including executive directors, educators, trainers and entrepreneurs. A day-long conference at uOttawa Telfer Centre for Executive Leadership brought together leaders of small business and innovation support organizations, scholars, policymakers and champions of Canadian entrepreneurs to discuss the assessment and strategies to improve practices to better support diverse women entrepreneurs.