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Women-led businesses are growing as women leave workplaces that aren’t working for them

The below article is co-authored by Diana Luu, Canada Country Manager at LinkedIn and Paulina Cameron, CEO of The Forum.

November 19 is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day globally and The Forum is amplifying the day with its community of Canadian entrepreneurs and their champions. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the vital contribution women entrepreneurs make to the Canadian economy.

Canada is joining 144 countries worldwide in raising awareness of the vital economic and social impacts of women-led businesses in their communities, and the essential role they are playing in the ongoing economic recovery.

So, how are women doing in moving their participation in the workplace from the margins to the mainstream?

LinkedIn and The Forum share a key goal – tackling the systemic challenges that women face advancing in their careers and in growing their businesses.

The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report 2022, which was prepared using LinkedIn data, tells us that around the world, gender gaps persist in labour market participation, care work, leadership positions, political representation, wealth accumulation and lifelong learning and skills prioritization.

The report also reveals that COVID-19 has cast a harsh light on the systemic challenges facing women in advancing in the workplace. The lockdowns caused women to lose jobs in the retail and hospitality sectors far more frequently than men. Due to business and school closures, many women were forced by the double burden of work and caregiving to step back from the workplace. The bottom line is that employment losses due to the pandemic were significantly worse for women than for men, reversing previous progress towards gender parity in labour-force participation.

In addition, recent LinkedIn data paint a difficult picture of the systemic barriers women face in advancing up the corporate ladder. Men are still significantly more likely to be promoted than women to leadership roles: “At entry level, 50% of roles in Canada are held by women. Climbing up the seniority ladder the share of women holding manager roles drops to 41%. And at the top, only 23% of C-suite roles are held by women.”

Men are more likely than women to be promoted to positions at director level in all the countries analyzed. According to LinkedIn data, Canada is one of the top 15 countries with the least difference between genders, but still men in Canada are 24% more likely than women to be internally promoted to leadership.

LinkedIn’s data also revealed a striking trend – that globally, the share of founders of new companies grew by 45% for women and by 32% for men in 2020 compared to 2019. The turmoil and uncertainty of the pandemic may have fuelled “necessity entrepreneurs,” as many female founders created their own opportunities by starting their own companies. Many women were also forced into choosing entrepreneurship because of the absence of available childcare. As LinkedIn’s Chief Economist, Karin Kimbrough, puts it, “Work wasn’t working for women, so many charted their own path as entrepreneurs to get the flexibility and autonomy they weren’t getting from employers.”

At The Forum, our mission is to energize, educate, mentor, and connect self-identified women entrepreneurs. The mission of The Forum is to energize, educate, mentor and connect self-identified women entrepreneurs. In the last 3 years, demand for programs at The Forum have grown by 345%, consistent with LinkedIn’s data demonstrating an increase in women-led businesses.

Going forward, what are the best ways to support women who are advancing their careers and businesses?

  • Create more women leaders: Offer training and mentorship programs for women at pre-manager level, highlight entrepreneurs in programming, volunteer as a mentor. Sponsor and support women by putting them forward for opportunities, awards, media features and leadership exposure.

  • Know the bias and beat the bias: Tackle training on unconscious bias in hiring managers and in funders, and focus on internal mobility for women. Ensure inclusive hiring practices by removing bias from job descriptions and provide diversity on interview panels.

  • Embrace flexibility: LinkedIn’s data shows that women are 24% more likely than men to apply to remote roles, so build in work flexibility to make the workplace more equitable.

The pandemic showed that women’s careers are more vulnerable to systemic shocks and that women pay a high price when there are major economic upsets. It also proved that when faced with hardship and challenges, women can seize the opportunities presented by entrepreneurship and succeed. As the economic recovery takes hold, women are poised to play a leading role in its success.