With International Women’s Day (IWD) upon us, it’s a time to celebrate and recognize the social, economic, political and cultural achievements women have made. It’s also a time to advocate for further change, correct disparities and rally for women’s equality. This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge”, which could not be more apropos. COVID-19 threatens to reverse the progress made in advancing female participation in the workforce. Women represent roughly half of Canada’s labour force. Despite this, recent studies revealed that women have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A sizable number of women left the workforce or seriously reduced their hours to take on childcare and home-schooling responsibilities when daycares and schools were closed. Women were more likely than men to suffer job loss – depending on the industry and the type of role held. Women of colour and Indigenous women are predominantly overrepresented in lower wage service industry jobs, which were among the first jobs to be eliminated when the pandemic erupted, putting many of these women at greater financial risk.
COVID-19 also had a disproportionate impact on female entrepreneurs and female business owners. Female business owners account for approximately 15% of all Canadian small and medium businesses and female entrepreneurs make up 38% of self-employed Canadians. Many female-owned businesses are newer, smaller service-related businesses that rely on in-person interactions. Because of the COVID-19 initiated lockdowns and closures, the service industry was forcefully slammed, many business owners had to lay-off employees. Overwhelmingly stressed, concerned with cash flow and debt, many female business owners are still not fully opened, staffed or generating typical sales. Female entrepreneurs haven’t fared any better. They are more likely to self-finance and less likely to access federal wage subsidy – making it more difficult for them to recover. The difficulties faced by both female business owners and female entrepreneurs are further compounded by the fact that many of these women have assumed the added responsibilities of childcare, home schooling and other domestic burdens.
Government Funding & Grants
Canada’s female entrepreneurs and business owners are critical to the continued economic success of our country. The unique challenges faced by these businesses have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Canada is committed to supporting women through this crisis with various programs and measures that are aimed at accelerating recovery. The list below, although not exhaustive, outlines available government programs:
Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) – interest-free loans for eligible businesses of up to $60,000.
Loan Guarantee for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises – up to $6.25M in new operating credit and cash flow term loans.
Co-Lending Program for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises – up to $12.5M for operational cash flow; commercial interest rate.
Highly-Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) Guarantee – the Business Development Bank of Canada will work with participating Canadian financial institutions to offer government guaranteed, low-interest loans.
Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) – funding requests up to $60,000 for small and medium-sized enterprises that don’t qualify for CEBA.
Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) – wage subsidy maximum rate up to 75%.
Canada Recovery Benefit – for self-employed individuals.
Canada United Small Business Relief Fund – money for reopening business physically and virtually.
Work-Sharing Program – provides employment insurance to workers with reduced hours to avoid layoffs.
Other Initiatives & Support
Visa Canada recently announced the extension of its global grant program to bolster Visa’s support for small businesses in Canada. In partnership with IFundWomen, 10 women entrepreneurs in Canada will have the opportunity to apply for grants of $10,000 each and receive a one-year mentorship to support the growth and expansion of their business.
Women Business Enterprises Canada Council (WBE Canada) launched – Canadian Women Brand – a logo that identifies that a product or service is made (or offered) by a Canadian women-owned business.
The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub is a one-stop source of knowledge, data and best practices for women entrepreneurs.
There are other grants and loans that are potentially available to fund women-owned businesses, depending on the industry and focus. Check programs available through the provincial government the business operates in. Other examples of programs that may be available to help include The Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant Program, Pitch for the Purse and The Amber Grant. Business Development Canada and The Women’s Enterprise Centre also offer complimentary Business Advisory Services to assist women business owners. Vexxit is another valuable resource that offers free support services to help match female entrepreneurs and business owners with accountants, financial advisors, lawyers and business consultants who can help navigate all available options.
Despite all the advances we have made in society, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the disproportionate burdens placed on women – the situation is compounded by existing gender inequalities. It’s hard being a female business owner any time. During a pandemic, it’s just that much harder. If nothing is done to address the impact of the pandemic on women or to confront gender inequalities, more women will leave the workforce and fewer will be inclined to start a business. Events like IWD are so important to empower and encourage women of all ages and socioeconomic status to ensure that despite the devastation caused by the pandemic, they forge ahead. The IWD theme this year asks us to “Choose to Challenge” because, in their words – a challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change.