(As originally published on LinkedIn, 31 March 2017)

Innovation agenda in Canada’s 2017 budget puts talent front and centre

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By: Fiona Macfarlane, EY’s Canadian Chief Inclusiveness Officer, and Managing Partner in British Columbia

Last week’s federal budget outlined several key priorities for the Canadian government. Of these, innovation is an important one from a diversity and inclusiveness perspective.

Removing barriers for women

Canada has a high population of well-educated women. According to the last National Housing Survey by Statistics Canada, 58% of women aged 25 to 34 held a university degree. Despite the advancements made in education, women continue to be underrepresented in the workplace (only 46% according to the 2017 report from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth), in senior leadership positions (less than one-third of all management positions) and on board of directors — just 12% of all board seats.

The budget’s spending priorities are expected to have a knock-on effect on removing barriers for women to fully participate in the economy. These include:

  • Flexibility in parental leave and EI benefits extended to 18 months, plus the option to go on maternity leave earlier.
  • $7b in new investments toward early learning and child care over the next decade.
  • New consolidated tax credits for caregivers as well as EI caregiving benefit of up to 15 weeks for time off work.

Talent for a new world

From funding for STEM skills development to easier mobility of labour, measures announced in the budget may, over time, change the demographics of our workforce. The 2016 Fall Economic Statement introduced the Global Skills Strategy to facilitate access to top global talent for businesses in Canada. The 2017 budget builds on that program by providing additional funding and proposing amendments to the immigration act so that it’s reflective of the skills needed to grow the Canadian economy.

As businesses adapt and evolve through digital disruption, the skills needed will be very different from what they would have been five, ten years ago. The budget addresses this by:

  • Allocating $50m over two years to support coding and digital skills development for Canadian girls and boys from kindergarten to grade 12.
  • Introducing a new Digital Literacy Exchange program for low-income individuals, families and seniors.
  • Investing $10.8m in the PromoScience Program to expand STEM learning for Canadian youth.
  • Making it easier for adult learners, many of whom are women, to qualify for student loans and grants so that they can add to or upgrade their skills.

Supporting women entrepreneurs

Women owned or led businesses have access to a much smaller funding pool compared to those owned by men, despite the fact that half of all new businesses in Canada are started by women. In the 2017 budget, the government added another $10m in funding to the $40m-fund announcement last fall that supports women-led technology firms. The additional money is intended to support regional initiatives for women founders.

EY has long been a supporter of women entrepreneurs through our Women Fast Forward and Entrepreneurial Winning Women (EWW) programs. Now in its 10th year, EWW found that 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%.

So, providing women business leaders and entrepreneurs access to funding, to advice and mentoring, as well as growth opportunities can only help the Canadian economy.