Why it (mainly) rocks to be a female entrepreneur in North America

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The U.S. and Canada are the top two countries to be a female entrepreneur, says a new study conducted by Ruta Aidis at George Mason University.

There were several factors that propelled the US to the top of the ranks and Canada to the #2 place on the Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard.

“It’s a combination of a good business environment; relatively high R&D investments, strong innovation ecosystem, availability of capital combined with relatively low levels of business regulations, corruption and market monopolies: which creates favourable conditions for innovative businesses to start and scale with ensured equal legal rights for women and access to education and SME training programs,” the study’s head researched Ruta Aidis said in an email interview.

We also learned this week that a new all-female crowdfunding initiative  in Canada “aims to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to raise money and get the support  they need to build their businesses,” as CBC reports.

That does not mean everything is rosy for women entrepreneurs in North America. Aidis cautions that “gender impediments persist in both the US and Canada most notably for capital availability and innovation ecosystem. Female entrepreneurs continue to be undercapitalized with only 3 percent of women-owned businesses receiving Venture Capital funding in 2014 based on the results from The Diana Project Study 2014.”

It isn’t just access to money that is holding women back in even the most women-friendly business environments like the US and Canada.

“Women are also underrepresented in innovation ecosystems in the US and Canada. According to the most recent 2015 Start-up Ecosystem Index, though the rate of female start-ups in the world’s 20 largest start-up hubs has increased, the percentage of female start-ups is still very low,” Aidis says. “In the US, it ranges between a low of 9% in Seattle to a  high of 29% in Boston (with 24% in Silicon Valley) while in Canada it ranges between a low of 16% in Vancouver to a high of 22% in Montreal ( with 19% in Toronto).”

Breaking down the pros and cons

The good news-bad news scenario the results of Aidis’ study make clear is part of a broader business culture female entrepreneurs in both the US and Canada are long familiar with.

“I do believe that Canada is a great place to be a female entrepreneur,” says Jennifer Osbourne, President of SearchEnginePeople based in Canada. “Starting and running a business is difficult enough I couldn’t imagine doing it in a country where women didn’t have access to fundamental resources like access to education, financing and smb programs.  Having said this there is more that we can do in Canada given that only 3% of CEOs in Canada are female.”

It’s a situation as relevant in the US as it is in Canada.

“Gender is definitely not irrelevant, although I believe it’s better for women entrepreneurs than it is for women as employees,” says Dana Robb, CEO of US-based Barefoot Marketing, in an interview with B2Bnn. “The number of women who own businesses — including large, high-level companies — is growing rapidly. The number of women in C-suite positions in male owned companies has been stagnant for a long time.”

Both Robb in the US and Osborne in Canada have seen positive changes in the business environment for women entrepreneurs, but state that more work needs to be done to create a truly equal economy.

“I see less and less of the old boys club and outright gender discrimination,” says Osbourne.  “But I think that gender issues in Canada tend to be more systemic. It’s a catch-22. The shortage of female entrepreneurs … means that there is also a shortage of female mentors.  But unless we build a strong pipeline of women in senior management positions and have people willing to mentor them, we won’t be able to fix this imbalance.”

Correcting the imbalance, can even mean choosing to ignore clients who aren’t supportive and nurturing the successes of clients who are.

“There have been times when I get the impression that male clients think I will not be an aggressive negotiator, or that I’m easier to disregard when I make a request for information,” says Robb. “Over time I’ve gone out of my way not to work with people like that. I’ve done a lot of networking within the world of women business owners, and it’s paid off in my client base.”

Osbourne and Robb, however, are both success stories. In much of the world, their goals and accomplishments could be quashed by something as simple as a husband’s disapproval.

Countries that need to shape up

“The lowest ranking countries are characterized by lack of equal legal rights, such as unequal inheritance rights and work restrictions in India, Pakistan (ranked #30) and Tunisia (ranked #27),” Aidis says. “In Egypt (ranked #28) and Malaysia (ranked #21), the husband has veto power since by law, he is the final decision maker for the household.”

While women in the US and Canada are still under-capitalized, access to basic economic facilities remains a barrier to female entrepreneurship in some parts of the world.

“In addition, access to basic resources is limited for women in the lowest ranking countries. For example, in Pakistan only 19% of women have secondary education, only 3% of women have a bank account and there are impediments for women accessing SME training programs,” says Aidis.

The results of Aidis’ study are unique in giving Canada such a high rank among women-friendly business environments. In the 2014 Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index, also funded by Dell, the United States received the top score, Australia was in second place and Sweden rounded out the top three. Pakistan was also ranked 30th in that study.

Photo via Flickr, Creative Commons

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Kate Baggott

Kate Baggott

Kate Baggott is the Managing Editor of B2BNN. Her technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun and the Bay Street Bull. She is the author of the short story collections Love from Planet Wine Cooler and Dry Stories. Links to recently published pieces can be found at www.katebaggott.com