(As originally published on LinkedIn, 18 November 2016)

Where are all the women entrepreneurs?

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By: François Tellier, EY’s Canadian Growth Markets Leader and National Director of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program

Things haven’t been going well for gender parity recently. Last month, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its annual gender gap index, which estimates we won’t achieve gender equality until 2186. Two years ago, EY set up a gender parity countdown clock. It went from 80 years, the prediction at the time, to 117 years and now another setback – 170 years. Clearly, something’s wrong.

Women entrepreneurs wanted

This is my inaugural year as National Director of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program, and I see gender disparity first-hand in entrepreneurship. After wrapping up five regional galas across the country last month, we just named our overall Canada winner, Murad Al-Katib at our National gala in Toronto. This year’s program, now it its 23rd year in Canada, was bursting at the seams, setting new attendance records and bringing in exciting new categories like FinTech. But we still don’t have as many women participants as men. It’s shocking in 2016, to look at the parade of finalists on stage and behold a sea of black tuxedos.

We’re dealing with the same old story – women entrepreneurs aren’t getting the support, financing and sponsorship they need to grow their businesses into market leaders at the same rate as men. While women have made much progress in acquiring capital recently, according to the CrunchBase Women in Venture report, between 2010 and 2015, only 10% of venture dollars globally funded startups that reported at least one female founder.

It’s about growing the business quickly

There’s a depressing fact from the US Census Bureau, in EY’s report Force multipliers: How three fundamental adaptations can help women entrepreneurs scale big.In the US, women start businesses at 1.5 times the rate of men and are at least half-owners of 46% of privately held firms. And yet, only 2% of women-owned businesses in the US break $1 million in revenue (and an even smaller percentage in Canada), let alone grow into market leaders. In contrast, businesses owned by men are 3.5 times more likely to reach that $1 million threshold. We need to change that.

We just announced our 2016 class of EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women. The program is one way we try to tackle gender disparity in entrepreneurship. We identify women entrepreneurs with the potential to scale their businesses, and then help them access the tools and resources to do it. In this program’s nine years in North America, our Entrepreneurial Winning Women have shown they can grow their companies with the right support. The proof is in the facts: after the first year of the program, participants average approximately 20% revenue growth annually. In the second year of participation, when they really begin to internalize the information and leverage connections they’ve made, revenue growth can be up to 50%. 

Why don’t women scale as much as men?

It all goes back to education. In EY’s recent Disrupting the Disruptors report,Canada placed 5th in entrepreneurship education among G20 nations, behind the US, Australia, Japan and France. We need to create more entrepreneurship and STEM-focused programs for girls (and boys), and encourage them to participate. There are already many organizations filling this need across the country, but we need more. We need to make sure that girls, especially, see themselves as growth-focused entrepreneurs with no limits. When we talk with women who are finalists or even winners in our Entrepreneur Of The Year program, they seem shocked to have gotten that far. But they didn’t win by luck – they deserve to be there, and they can go much further. We need to help them be sure of that through education early in life.

We simply can’t wait another 170 years for gender parity. One small step at a time, I hope soon enough we’ll be turning our gender parity clock forward, not backward.